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Research: Martin Melaugh
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Devolved Government in Northern Ireland
Secretary Assembly Executive Departments Committees North- South British- Irish Conference Civic Forum

Programme for Government

5. SECURING A COMPETITIVE ECONOMY

5.1

Introduction

If we are to achieve a cohesive, inclusive and just society which places people and communities at its centre, it is essential that we create a vibrant economy, to produce employment and wealth for the future. Doing this we must recognise the needs of all; provide sufficient employment opportunities; protect the environment by using our natural resources prudently; and at the same time maintain a high and stable level of economic growth. We will focus on:

  • working to ensure that our communications, energy, and physical infrastructure is of the standard that a modern information age economy requires;
  • creating a more co-ordinated and efficient planning process;
  • promoting competitiveness, enterprise, innovation and creativity;
  • working to make Northern Ireland more attractive for inward investment;
  • working to increase Northern Ireland's attractiveness to visitors;
  • working to improve efficiency in our economy and ensuring that businesses and consumers have access to regulatory services of an international standard;
  • working together to regenerate the rural economy; and
  • ensuring the protection and enhancement of the environment.

In this priority area, EU support will play an important complementary role.

5.1.1

Creating the infrastructure for competitive regional development

A competitive, knowledge based economy requires the right education, skills and infrastructure policies. While we have good physical infrastructure in certain fields, for example, ports and airports, in recent years we have become acutely aware of deficiencies in the roads, public transport, energy, telecommunications and water and sewerage infrastructure. We face tough decisions on where money can be best spent.

This infrastructure not only serves the economy's needs but also helps to create an improved quality of life in terms of housing, leisure and recreational facilities and access to public services. The development of an effective, safe and reliable road network and a quality public transport system, providing choice while minimising congestion and environmental harm, is central to the future development of the region. The Regional Development Strategy will provide an important planning framework for tackling the deficiencies in our infrastructure and helping the overall development of our economy and society.

5.1.2

Creating the conditions for economic growth

Creating the right conditions for economic growth depends, of course, on much more than putting the physical infrastructure in place. The promotion of enterprise, innovation and creativity are vital if local industry is to compete and prosper in the global economy. So too are policies for business regulation and consumer and employee potential.

Strategy 2010 set out a vision for a knowledge-based economy and recognised the need to integrate a range of industrial development policies, including inward investment, Research & Development, enterprise and the Information Age Initiative, to promote the innovation capacity to achieve this vision. The contribution of education and training, as recognised in the "Investing in Education and Skills" priority, will be huge: the knowledge based economy will need not just skills in new and emerging technologies but creative skills across our economic activity if it is to prosper.

We will take advantage of the North/South Trade and Tourism bodies and any linkages developed via the British-Irish Council.

Creating the right conditions for growth also includes developing the legal framework in relation to matters such as property rights and inheritance. It is affected by fiscal policy and the institutional and legal framework within which finance is available. It requires more positive attitudes to risk. It also involves support for innovation and creativity and the ability to market ourselves abroad as a centre for tourism and investment.

While many of the factors that encourage or inhibit the economy are outside the control of the Executive, we can act in a number of areas. We can for example, at relatively little expense provide information, improve planning and regulation and provide better co-ordination of local economic development.

5.1.3

Regenerating our rural economy

In the rural areas, falling incomes in recent years have increased the difficulties of rural areas and fishing ports. There is a need to assist the modernisation of the agricultural industry and to promote other sources of income generation in the rural economy. We need to support farmers and others who choose to live in the country, as well as addressing access to public services, such as schools, hospitals and transport.

5.1.4

Protection of the Environment

A related issue, particularly relevant to the rural economy, is the protection of the environment. Key aspects of this have been dealt with in relation to public health but it is also of major importance in relation to the development of our economy and infrastructure. The philosophy of sustainability must be integrated into the development of our economy, ensuring that we pass on a high quality environment to our children.

5.2

The Infrastructure for Competition

5.2.1

We will work to ensure that our transport and communications infrastructure is of the standard that our economy requires

Business is increasingly being conducted electronically and in order to compete effectively in the global economy, we must have a cutting-edge telecommunications infrastructure, and the Executive will work hard to encourage this. We will also ensure that access to the opportunities provided by e-business is available to all sections of our society and all areas.

The movement of people and goods are equally important, particularly in light of increasing congestion on our road network and long-term under-investment in public transport, especially since a high proportion of households have no access to cars. We must, therefore, use resources innovatively to keep our economy moving while minimising harm to our environment. We also need to provide genuine choice of forms of transport for all, whether we live in rural or urban communities.

We will undertake a programme of roads structural maintenance based on good practice treatments. This will, in time, cut the significant backlog in roads maintenance that has built up over recent years. It will target specifically the non-motorway and non-trunk route network which accounts for 94% of the total network. We must undertake high priority maintenance projects on large bridges, including the Craigavon Bridge, to ensure that key routes are kept open.

We will ensure that the policy and regulatory framework within which ports and airports operate is kept under review. We plan a legislative programme aimed at extending the power of the Trust Ports and improving their public accountability.

We will work in the North/South and East/West contexts to develop co-operation in strategic communications and transport networks with the potential of generating economies of scale. We will also ensure that the EU INTERREG Programme is implemented successfully.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • by December 2001, working with the private sector, develop and begin to implement a strategy that will ensure that all of Northern Ireland has a world class telecommunications infrastructure in terms of broadband capacity, access and cost;
  • by the summer of 2001, produce a 10-Year Regional Transportation Strategy that will include consideration of new funding sources;
  • agree and implement, from the spring of 2001, a strategy for tackling the under investment in rail services in Northern Ireland;
  • from 2001, assist Translink to replace its buses after 18 years of service and its coaches after 12 years;
  • by spring of 2002, complete a Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan;
  • early in 2001, publish the first tranche of legislative proposals for Trust Ports;
  • provide assistance for the introduction of a new ticketing system for Translink;
  • initiate work on a number of the Strategic Route Improvement schemes announced by the Chancellor in May 1998 and the Minister in April 1999. Network improvements will include 12km of single carriageway and 8km of dual carriageway;
  • advance a Railways Safety Bill to provide a new legislative framework to support modern and safe rail travel;
  • advance a Transport Bill to facilitate the development of public private partnerships to improve bus and rail services, road user charging and work place car parking levies; and
  • by 2001, put into operation 15 rural community transport partnerships.

5.2.2

We will work to ensure that our energy infrastructure meets the standards that our economy requires

Our energy market is relatively small. We must seek to strengthen gas and electricity interconnection North/South and East/West. We also need the progressive opening of these markets. This should help improve business competitiveness and create greater consumer choice at affordable prices.

This approach needs to be linked to a sustainable development policy, which will promote action in all sectors to reduce consumption and encourage the development of renewable sources of energy.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • by December 2001, prepare an energy market strategy for Northern Ireland in an all-island and European context;
  • by April 2001, working with our Southern counterparts, seek to secure firm private sector proposals for North/South and North/West gas pipelines; and
  • by April 2001, seek to secure Northern Ireland Electricity/Electricity Supply Board agreement on action to address the conclusions of a joint feasibility study into further interconnection between their networks.

5.2.3

We will create a more co-ordinated and efficient planning process

We must give careful consideration to where people live and work and other key social, environmental and community factors so that we can plan our public infrastructure most effectively. A Regional Development Strategy will provide the strategic planning framework for this purpose. This will require innovative arrangements at the sub-regional level and regular monitoring to ensure that the Strategy is sufficiently flexible to enable it, Area Development Plans and the Development Control process to respond to emerging trends and opportunities. It will also be necessary, and appropriate to take account of the cross-border context.

Actions

The following actions will be taken:

  • the Executive will agree a Regional Development Strategy and seek the Assembly's agreement;
  • from the spring of 2001 onwards, we will co-ordinate and monitor the implementation of the Regional Development Strategy;
  • in 2001-02, we will issue Regional Planning Policy Statements on Transportation and Land Use, Housing and Settlements, and Retailing and Town centres, and initiate the process to prepare a Regional Planning Policy Statement on the Countryside;
  • by end December 2002, we aim to eliminate the backlog of planning applications;
  • by end December 2001, we will review the systems for operational planning policy, development planning and development control;
  • by end March 2003, we will adopt 5 development plans and publish 7 in draft form;
  • we will examine the scope for closer co-ordination with the relevant southern authorities on regional planning, spatial and development issues;
  • we will develop and enhance the mapping and geographic information infrastructure by :

    1. developing a geographic information policy for Northern Ireland by June 2002; and
    2. capturing and providing all significant topographic changes into mapping databases.

5.3

Promoting Economic Growth

5.3.1

We will promote enterprise, innovation and creativity

The range of assistance measures to competitive indigenous business continue to be important. We will reassess the contribution of equity and loan capital and Selective Financial Assistance to the achievement of an enterprising, knowledge-based economy.

We must also ensure that administration can contribute most effectively to improving the economy. In the Agenda for Government we announced the reorganisation of the DETI economic development agencies. We will restructure the agencies next year to more effectively focus on the new economic challenges.

We will seek to increase competitiveness in areas such as skills availability, telecommunications, information technology, electronic commerce and supply side management. The work of the North South Trade and Business Development Body will assist us in this.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • by March 2002, publish a Northern Ireland Regional Innovation Strategy and separate departmental Research & Development/Innovation strategies;
  • promote collaboration between researchers North and South;
  • during 2001/02, stimulate the private sector to increase the level and scope of research and development expenditure by 10%;
  • by March 2002, increase, in collaboration with the newly established Science Park at Titanic Quarter, QUB and UU, the capacity in research based incubation units across Northern Ireland to sustain 50 high technology/value added new start-up companies each year;
  • during 2001/02, promote Northern Ireland as a world-class centre for e-commerce following the strategy set out in Leapfrog to the Information Age and working in co-operation on the question with the North/South Trade and Business Development Body and with the British-Irish Council in sectoral format to achieve progress;
  • review provision of venture capital in particular seed capital for Small and Medium sized Enterprises, taking account of the work of the North/South Trade and Business Development Body;
  • during 2001, implement a small business strategy with a view to achieving better co-ordination and effectiveness of local enterprise support, particularly within disadvantaged and rural areas;
  • by April 2001, develop a strategy for the creation of more sustainable business start ups with the potential for future growth;
  • by June 2002, complete a programme of research on the potential development of creative industries;
  • provide grant aid for private fish farms to improve competitiveness internationally;
  • increase further education and training provision in priority skills areas by providing, by March 2002, an additional 500 places in skills shortage areas; and
  • by April 2001, working in conjunction with the voluntary and community sectors, agree an integrated approach to the development of the social economy in order to maximise its contribution.

5.3.2

We will work to make Northern Ireland more attractive for inward investment

Inward investment can play a useful role in seeding new sectors and skills in the local economy and increasing high quality employment opportunities. A challenge will be to change international perceptions to ensure that we can be a competitive location for investment and to ensure sufficient investment in areas of disadvantage and high unemployment. We will aim to attract 75% of all first time inward investment projects to such areas. Other actions of the Executive, particularly in relation to skills and education, will be of major importance.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • during 2001/02, working with the universities, further education colleges and the private sector, seek to attract investments by 25 knowledge-based businesses;
  • work with the regional groupings of District Councils to co-ordinate marketing information about Northern Ireland and the Council areas as a location for inward investment; and
  • complete current work on branding Northern Ireland as an inward investment location and, from June 2001 onwards, roll out agreed new marketing initiatives.

5.3.3

We will work to increase Northern Ireland's attractiveness to visitors

While we are experiencing significant international interest and goodwill we must work to ensure that tourism is developed in a way which exceeds the expectations of visitors and respects our cultural and natural environment. It must also be acceptable to the people who live here as well as being economically viable in the long term. An agreed strategy for the development of tourism will identify priorities for: product development in the area of cultural tourism including events that are unique to Northern Ireland; product development in the area of activity tourism including opportunities for visitors to access our countryside, waterways and coast; visitor servicing including the provision of visitor information; and visitor management in recognition of the need to ensure that the cultural and natural resources available for tourism are not undermined.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • by October 2001, have in place a marketing strategy for the promotion of Northern Ireland. This will be taken forward in conjunction with the tourism marketing company for the whole island and with the tourism industry;
  • by October 2001, have in place a market focused strategy for the development of tourism. This will be developed by NITB in conjunction with the industry and relevant partners in government;
  • by June 2001, develop a programme to enhance the range and quality of culture and leisure facilities;
  • take forward the work of Waterways Ireland;
  • by March 2003, prepare a strategy to develop the recreational potential of inland waterways as a tourist attraction;
  • by March 2002, prepare and initiate an action plan for the development of the public angling estate and make it more attractive to local anglers and visitors from abroad;
  • by April 2001, launch a Water Based Tourism Programme; and
  • support the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission in its role, including the promotion of the Loughs, aquaculture licensing and marine tourism.

5.3.4

We will work to improve efficiency in our economy and ensure that business and consumers have access to regulatory services of an international standard

To improve efficiency in our economy, promote the right conditions for growth and protect consumer rights, it is important that efficient regulatory services - in relation, for example, to the conduct of business and the protection of consumers - are maintained and developed. Accidents and ill health in the work place also reduce the efficiency of the economy and we will continue to put in place, maintain and enforce an effective and up to date health and safety at work regulatory regime.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • from 2001, have in place legislation which updates, clarifies and provides effective remedial action in relation to street trading with the objective of reducing illegal street trading;
  • by December 2001, develop and publish a new strategy to enhance consumer knowledge and protection, particularly amongst disadvantaged people and areas, and to encourage businesses to become more competitive by learning from consumers;
  • by April 2001, establish an ICT based Information and Advice Centre with regional outlets to provide easy access to information and advice relating to health and safety at work issues;
  • by April 2001, complete the first phase of a "Managing Risk - A Key Investment" campaign aimed at reducing the cost and burden of occupational accidents and ill health to the economy; and
  • continue to work with the construction industry through the new Construction Industry Forum for Northern Ireland to promote new standards for efficiency, innovation and excellence and to improve the public sector's procurement of its services.

5.4

Rural Regeneration

5.4.1

We will work together to regenerate the rural economy.

We will develop a programme to modernise and diversify the structure of farming and to assist fishery areas. Our aim will be to have more businesses producing food which people around the world will trust and buy; and to stimulate alternative sources of employment in the countryside, such as in tourism. We will also improve the management and co-ordination of local economic development initiatives in rural areas. This programme will involve close links to the actions in the "Investing in the Education and Skills" priority.

We will examine how public services can fairly be provided in these areas to improve social conditions. We need also to ensure the conservation and enhancement of the region's natural resources and heritage. We will ensure that the rural dimension is routinely considered as part of the making and implementation of policy, by a new process of "rural proofing". We will support the North South Implementation body to promote development of the Foyle and Carlingford areas.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • during 2001, consider the outcome of the Vision for Future of Agri-Food Industry exercise and implement appropriate measures based on these considerations. Examples could include:

    • integrated food information and learning centre;
    • organic farming; and
    • farm waste/nutrient management;

  • by 2006/7, under the Beef Quality Initiative, increase the number of clean cattle achieving E/U and R grades to 30,000 and 150,000 respectively per annum;
  • consider an enhanced Forestry Programme involving environmental and recreational improvements and expansion of woodlands;
  • by December 2001, initiate a Natural Resource Rural Tourism Programme targeted at disadvantaged areas;
  • between 2000-2006, assist the sea fishing industry to adjust its fishing effort in line with the availability of stocks, and to develop in a sustainable way;
  • participate at European level in efforts to ensure the recovery of Irish Sea cod;
  • establish a Ministerial-led Group to proof all government policies for their rural impact; and
  • develop a strategy to promote rural development in a cross-border context.

5.5

Protecting the Environment

5.5.1

We will work to ensure the protection and enhancement of the environment

Environmental protection, to ensure sustainability for our economic activity, is essential. A key issue therefore is to ensure effective protection of the environment, to a high level, as an integral part of our economic planning, and ensuring that the polluter pays. A high quality environment with good quality water and air and an unpolluted environment are important parts of building our future economy, for example in tourism, and a major focus must be maintained on this issue. Protection, conservation and enhancement of the environment is a key aspect of our policy on the development of the countryside, as part of the regeneration of the rural economy.

Services such as water and sewerage, which are absolutely essential to quality of life, attract most attention when things go wrong. We will use whatever levers we can to ensure continuity of these basic services, and to promote competition where it leads to greater effectiveness. There has been a major under-investment in these services over the last decades, and along with transport there are serious problems that need to be addressed in the coming years. The provision of wholesome drinking water and effective wastewater disposal through the management of a modern water and sewerage network is critical to the future development of the region. This issue fits closely with chapter 7, "Working Together", in which the search for alternative sources of funding for public services will be considered.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • by April 2001, publish a strategy for sustainable development;
  • assist District Councils in implementing acceptable arrangements for the disposal of waste by production of Group Waste Management Plans;
  • achieve 80% compliance with the waste water treatment works discharge standards set by the Environment and Heritage Service;
  • maintain effective arrangements for the treatment and disposal of sewage and sewage sludge;
  • achieve 98.2% compliance with drinking water standards set in the Water Quality Regulations (NI) 1994;
  • during 2001, publish NI Biodiversity Strategy;
  • work in the North South Ministerial Council on environmental co-operation, concentrating in the initial work programme on environmental research, water quality management and waste management;
  • produce, by end of 2001, a strategy seeking to reduce eutrophication levels through a combination of advice and research;
  • during 2001/2002, extend the area of woodland by 700 hectares and continue to manage our woodlands sustainably;
  • by March 2004, taking account of New TSN, provide an additional 12,000 places for environmental training for farmers; and
  • ensure the conservation and protection of fish stocks by providing grant-aid to the Fisheries Conservancy Board by April 2001 to enable the Board to carry out effectively its statutory conservation functions.

The departments with the main involvement are:

    Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment
    Department of Further and Higher Education Training and Employment
    Department of the Environment
    Department for Regional Development
    Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
    Department of Culture Arts and Leisure
    Department of Finance and Personnel
    Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister



Contents     Preface     Consultation
Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3     Chapter 4     Chapter 5     Chapter 6     Chapter 7
Annex A     Annex B     Annex C

 


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