Alasdair McDonnell speaks on the economy

Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP, Enterprise and Economy spokesperson, gave a speech tonight at the SDLP Conference on the economy.  Just in case nobody knew, there is a recession on.

This introduced an SDLP panel debate on the subject.

As an MP and practicing politician I won’t pretend to understand all the intricacies of financial policy or economic strategy but I make it my business to get to know about it when I see people around me struggling to make ends meet.

The SDLP is in the businesses of making life better for people.

And I see it as my job to articulate an economic agenda which creates a fair and socially just society, where there is equality of opportunity for all the citizens of Northern Ireland whether they are born in the Shankill, the Bogside or Hillsborough.

And it is in that context that I see my challenge and the SDLP’s challenge.
We need to create ways and means of setting an agenda for change and making sure that real change happens.

The great difficulty that we have across all of our economic sectors in Northern Ireland is not that there aren’t many people out there generating new ideas.

They are out there and there in abundance. The difficulty is that they feel deeply frustrated by the inaction and inertia of Government, and by that I mean the Executive and the Assembly. As they tell me time and time again, our devolved Government is more interested in ticking bureaucratic boxes than delivering results.

I believe it is our job to bridge the gap between silo-minded policy makers and faceless bureaucrats and the entrepreneurs who are leading the fight to rebuild our economy, the men and women trying to drive forward the construction industry in very challenging times and those prepared to push frontiers within the new renewable energy sector.

Systems and processes are wonderful instruments when used to streamline activity.  But when the systems and the processes become an end unto themselves with no meaningful productivity or output, then the harsh reality is that we are failing the people of Northern Ireland.

We need to devise and deliver an economic strategy here that is focused on removing bureaucracy and barriers, which cuts out red tape where possible and makes it easy for people with good ideas to turn them into wealth and job creation.

To do that we need to talk to people out in the community.  We need to talk to business leaders.  We need to talk and more importantly we need to listen and we need to involve them.  It is only then that we will be in a position to produce fresh ideas and new priorities.

The words ‘Economy’ and ‘Jobs’ are on everyone’s lips at the minute.  This is not surprising since we find ourselves in the middle of a severe recession, with a severe budget deficit and with our heads on a plate before the axe wielding Tory/Lib Dem coalition of convenience.

Last year our widely acclaimed financial document, New Priorities in Difficult Times, was just the latest proof that the SDLP can lead, and is leading, on the issues that matter like the budget and public spend priorities.
It is interesting but not unique to watch its ideas being appropriated by those who voiced criticism and poured scorn at the time.

Long before any other political party, we articulated some of the problems, identified the tough choices and the tougher decisions that had to be made, we pointed out where public savings could be made and how jobs could be sustained and created.

But that was about better prioritising our spending and was only the first half of the economic equation.  For me, our efforts must now be focussed on developing a long term vision and a serious plan for building a prosperous, socially just and sustainable high valued added economy on the whole island of Ireland.

That is why we have been up and down the country holding a series of consultation road shows with business people involved in:

· The tourism sector,
· Renewable energy
· The construction industry,
· New technologies
· The bio-technology industry.
· And Agricultural economy and food production.

We have focussed on these sectors because we believe they present tremendous opportunities and hold huge potential which is just waiting to be tapped into.

We are running these road shows because the SDLP doesn’t believe in talking at people,
We believe in listening TO people - to those at the coal face socially, economically and in business.

We recognise and value the importance of drawing on the wealth of experience and expertise in education, finance, business, tourism, agriculture (a sector of the economy often forgotten about), the renewable energy sector and other related fields, to spell out clearly where we want to be economically in 10 – 20 years time and how exactly we plan to get there.

Do we want to be a low value, low wage economy or do we want to be a high value added, high wage economy?

There are a number of key questions we need to ask ourselves if we want to build a sustainable, high value added, high wage economy.

· How can people in Northern Ireland make more money and generate real wealth?
· How can we retain existing jobs and generate new high paid jobs?
· How can we strike the right balance between the public and private sector?
· How can we embrace the new technologies and all of the opportunities offered by this and other newly emerging industries?
· How can we successfully promote Research and Development?
· How can we generate more wealth for less expense?

I have been and will continue to work with Junior Spokespeople, Party Members and any interested volunteers inside and outside the SDLP to establish sub- groups to sharpen our focus on the various divisions of the economy and to get the right answers to all of these questions.  The SDLP will not stand idly by while the Executive continues to procrastinate and produce theoretical strategy after strategy which are then left gathering dust on the shelf.

Conference, I have put before you a number of economic papers on various sectors of the economy. These detail the obstacles faced by business people across Northern Ireland as told by them.  These represent the beginnings of the SDLP spelling out clearly where we want to be economically in 10 – 20 years time and how exactly we plan to get there.

Every member of the Party, everyone of you in your own life and work experience has a vital role to play in outlining and delivering the change we need; the change the people of Northern Ireland are crying out for - a fair and socially just society, where there is equality of opportunity and a respectable wage for all the citizens of Northern Ireland regardless of class, colour or creed.


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