Dr Stephen Farry MLA stated: “This budget rightly places an emphasis on economic growth, but I am sceptical as to whether it will actually do what it says in practice. With respect to economic policy, it is essentially more of the same.
“Direct Rule Ministers produced a draft Regional Economic Strategy which only envisaged an extremely small convergence in output between Northern Ireland and the UK average by 2015.
“A number of challenging targets have been set to go grow the private sector, attract more high paid jobs, and to develop exports. In particular, the Executive wants to halve the output gap with the UK average over the course of the next three years.
“Yet, the identified economic drivers, namely skills, infrastructure, enterprise and research & development, are the same as before with the same economic tools at the disposal of the Executive.
“In its submission to the Varney Review, the Executive argued these economic drivers alone were insufficient to generate a step-change in the Northern Ireland economy, in terms of attracting hi-value added, hi-paid, export-orientated jobs. So what has changed?
“It is interesting to note that there was no reference to the prospect of a differential rate of corporation tax in the budget statement, nor any funding set aside to cover to cover the loss of revenue.
“Perhaps, in implicit recognition of its flawed approach, the Executive today shifted the goalposts. Out go the booming, affluent parts of the UK. Rather than comparing Northern Ireland with the UK average, we will now be compared to the UK average, minus the South East of England.”