Finance Minister Sammy Wilson was in Newry on Monday night to discuss economic matters with local business leaders. However despite being presented with challenges by Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade president Cathal Austin and MC Tom Kelly, it was a case of make no promises, tell no lies.
Instead Minister Wilson gave a refreshingly honest if reserved view of the economy – at one point jokingly referring to himself as ‘Scrooge’. The Canal Court function was the latest in the Chamber’s business dinners sponsored by Michael McKeown of Crash Services which provide stakeholders with an insight into developments in the economy – direct from the mouth from key players.
In his initial greeting chamber president Austin thanked Minister Wilson for the extension of the Small Business Rates Relief Scheme but the soft soaping ended there with the president then impressing the Chamber’s view on the economy, its proposals for stimulating growth and its aspirations for the future. These included the delivery of a reduction in Corporation Tax, increased public sector investment in terms of employment and infrastructure, tackling deprivation, The Green New Deal, the Marina in Warrenpoint, a greater Newry Regeneration Office and the long term security of Daisy Hill Hospital – something Mr Austin said could be avoided by greater cross border agreements.
In the question and answers section with Mr Kelly that followed Minister Wilson said that despite a perception of neglect from government Newry had received a considerable degree of investment. “We are not Greater Belfast based,” he said. “There is a need for investment everywhere. Everywhere I go people say they are neglected so I have become immune to that. In Newry the bypass is wonderful. I drove here tonight on roads free from traffic that you previously had to endure. I have spoken with people from the Harbour about the Marina bid that will be submitted and considerable investment has been made in schools, the railway station and the hospital. The Carnbane Industrial Estate project will also be finished early next year. We haven’t been ignoring this area but it just isn’t what governments can do for an area but also what entrepreneurs can do – and bodies like this (The Chamber) must make their local economies work.”
Minister Wilson added that the government did have to work better – particularly in terms of reducing the ‘silo mentality’ of how departments operate. “Departments are allocated budgets so there will always be semi-silos but we need to find synergies,” he said. “One department’s spending has to take cognisance of what other departments are doing. For example we have one department trying to upgrade town centres but another introducing parking charges.”
Despite referring to himself as ‘Scrooge’ Minister Wilson said he was prepared to take criticism on tough decisions. “We have four years to get through with a diminished restricted budget,” he said. “We must take the flack for that. We have to stop being scared of barbs and criticisms.”
1st February 2012