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I welcome this commitment in the Queen’s Speech:
“To bring different parts of our country together, my Government will…bring about a balanced economic recovery.”
That is, first of all, essential economically, because, if we are to avoid certain parts of the economy overheating while resources lie idle in others, we will need to take that balanced approach. Secondly, as a Unionist, I believe it is essential politically, because nationalist parties in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are good at exploiting economic grievances—or perceived economic grievances. Therefore, it is very important that together we have an economy that is growing.
Unfortunately, the Government’s record over the previous five years has not been one of promoting a balanced economy. Yes, there have been successes—we have seen economic growth and an upturn in the economy—but it has not been universal across the United Kingdom. There are still parts where unemployment is high, where there is huge dependency on welfare and where there is still very little economic growth. It will be interesting, therefore, to see how that promise is put into practice.
Devolution is one of the ways it can be done. In Northern Ireland we have been working at coalition government with five parties—which makes the coalition Government here in Westminster look like a love-in, because we have been dealing with people who are, quite frankly, almost impossible to work with. Despite that, with the powers we have had we have kept unemployment in Northern Ireland at this stage of the economic cycle at a level that would not have been experienced in the past. We have promoted the best inward investment of any region in the United Kingdom, and we have built more social and affordable housing, despite the cuts in capital budgets, by using resources and selling assets.