Ms Long said: “The implications of the breaking of national pay agreements, in favour of local pay settlements, whilst likely to affect only certain workers in England and Wales initially, are potentially far reaching. The effect could be to create downward pressure on all earnings, resulting in an accelerated drain of talented people, both local and others, out of Northern Ireland to higher waged regions and less disposable income to feed the local economy. The Government have a commitment to rebalance the UK economy to create higher value jobs outside London and the South East. Northern Ireland, like 9 of the 12 UK regions, is dependent on economic subvention from the UK Treasury. Whilst Northern Ireland is the most dependent of the other 9, with an overall Gross Value added of only 80% of the UK average, this can only be addressed by more active regional policy to promote a more even distribution of economic activity across the UK.
“It is not right or fair to concentrate wealth creation activity in the South East and for the Treasury to then redistribute the proceeds from that across other regions, as it impacts affects the economic prospects of those regions and the individuals who live there, and also their health and well-being. There is a link between the degree to which regions are contributors to the Treasury and the level of dependence on the public sector, for example, leaving those regions most heavily dependent upon subvention also those most acutely affected by both cuts in public sector spending and by welfare reform. Successive Governments have been nominally committed to regional convergence; however, this proposed move to devalue some of the lowest paid workers in those regions is unfair and will reinforce the perception that rather than distribute opportunity, Government puts a higher premium on the South East.
“The focus in the run up to the Budget on removing the 50p rate of tax, which would benefit only the wealthiest in society, is also of concern given the degree to which low and middle income families have been squeezed over recent years. It is important that the burden of debt reduction and budgetary restraint are shouldered by all in proportion to their ability, rather than primarily by those who can least afford it.
“I will also be looking closely at any announcements in relation to air passenger duty and fuel duty, both of which have a direct impact on Northern Ireland’s economic competitiveness and, in the case of fuel duty in particular on the budgets of ordinary families.”