Could minister's new economic blueprint be 'Strategy 2010' in disguise?

Simon Hamilton is consulting on his 'Economy 2030' vision for growth in the north
Gary McDonald Business Editor

AS consultation opened on a new draft industrial strategy for Northern Ireland, there may have been a sense of deja vu for businesspeople of a certain vintage . . .

Simon Hamilton, in his parting shot as Stormont economy minister, has published details of his draft 'Economy 2030' plan, which sets out five priority pillars for improving the north's economic competitiveness.

But rewind two decades and the plan could almost mirror the 'Strategy 2010' document, commissioned under direct rule minister Adam Ingram and setting out many largely similar goals, some of which were achieved, others which floundered.

By way of comparison, take a look at some of the language used 20 years apart:

:: Simon Hamilton says: "Economy 2030 is an ambitious, long term vision to transform Northern Ireland into a globally competitive economy that works for everyone".

:: Adam Ingram said: "Strategy 2010 is an imaginative and ambitious package designed to make Northern Ireland more competitive in the European and world markets".

:: Simon Hamilton document is based around the five key areas of accelerating innovation and research; enhancing education, skills and employability; driving inclusive, sustainable growth; succeeding in global markets; and building the best economic infrastructure.

:: Adam Ingram's document was based around combing the economic development agencies of the day (IDB, LEDU and the IRTU) into a single body; enlarging the private sector compared to public sector; reducing investment grants and focusing more on private equity finance; halting out-of-town shopping developments; implementing a special rate of corporation tax; improving transport infrastructure; attracting public investment in key strategic energy schemes; encouraging hi-tech industry with more resources for university/ business partnership, and more research and development spending; having a greater integration of economic and education policy to improve skills training.

While not all of the Strategy 2010 vision came to pass, there's nothing to suggest its 2030 equivalent won't deliver in full in seeing Northern Ireland emerge, in Mr Hamilton's words, as "one of the world's most innovative and competitive small advanced economies".

But business organisations may be excused for just wanting to wait and see . . .

However, they've broadly welcomed the document and say they are prepared to give the current minister the benefit of the doubt in believing the blueprint lays firm foundations for growth and prosperity if its proposals are sensibly and skilfully applied, so that that everyone enjoys an improving economy with more jobs and rising incomes.

The consultation period will run until April 25.

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