I thank the Member for her question. It was my first opportunity and that of the First Minister to meet the relatively new governor of the Bank of England, Mr Mark Carney, when he was in Belfast at the tail end of last week. I very much welcomed the opportunity to have a full, frank, long conversation with him on a range of subjects. As the House would expect from somebody in my position, we focused on the economy and what he thought the prospects are for our economy, which I have to say are positive.
We also concentrated on the issue that we have talked about many times in the House, which is national lending initiatives not reaching Northern Ireland and having a positive impact on businesses in Northern Ireland. From talking to business representative organisations in Northern Ireland, I can say that there still appears to be issues with access to finance. The governor listened to our concerns and understood the issues that we have with access to finance. He also understood the very different nature of the banking system in Northern Ireland and the problems that that has caused, particularly the issue of property overhang, influenced by our Irish banks. It was a useful conversation and the start of a dialogue that we hope to keep up in the years ahead.
We did. Before we had our meeting, I noticed that he had been quoted in the national news talking about likely interest rate rises and the level that they might reach. Inevitably, that did come up in conversation. The First Minister and I obviously came from a particular Northern Ireland perspective, and we agreed with the governor that, if the economy rapidly improved, there might be scope for him and the monetary policy committee to look at interest rates. We impressed on the governor the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland and told him that, whilst we are seeing an improvement in our economy — the 2·6% growth last year that I mentioned — falling unemployment and rising employment, there are still problems with disposable income in Northern Ireland. Therefore, any sudden and sizeable increase in interest rates may have more of a negative effect here than it might have in London, the south-east of England or the rest of the United Kingdom.