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Hamilton Says Welsh Economy Experience Similar To Northern Ireland
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Northern Ireland and Wales face the same challenges with similar answers says Finance Minister.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has told an audience in Cardiff that Northern Ireland and Wales face many of the same challenges and can learn from each other about the best answers.

The Minister joined his Welsh counterpart Jane Hutt AM to address the Finance Leadership Network National Conference in the Cardiff City Stadium.dn_screen

Speaking at the event, Simon Hamilton MLA said: “Northern Ireland and Wales have much in common.

“Our two nations are similar in size. Our populations are comparable with large rural communities. And we’re both peripheral to London.

“The economies of our two countries aren’t hugely different in terms of fiscal gap, Gross Value Added (GVA) and unemployment. And of course we are both on the same devolution journey. Still learning how to use the powers we have to shape our own destiny as well as seeking additional responsibilities which we believe we are able to use to benefit our citizens.”

Referring to challenges ahead Simon Hamilton continued: “The challenges that Northern Ireland and Wales face are the same and so are the answers.

“There is much for the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to learn from each other in how we grapple with the challenges of returning to economic growth in the context of less and very different public spending.

“One area where we can see that mutual learning in action is how we have assisted businesses in our towns and city centres through the rating system. A few years ago we followed the lead from Wales by introducing a Small Business Rates Relief scheme which we’ve now extended so that over half of Northern Ireland’s businesses receive at least 20% off their rates bills. Wales has just this last week introduced through the Open for Business and New Developments initiatives mirroring what we’ve done in Northern Ireland for just over a year. Our Empty Property Relief scheme has allowed over 160 new businesses to open and avail of the 50% rates relief it offers in the first year of business.”

The Minister added: “Our two governments have demonstrated a desire to do what we can to assist businesses to survive the recession and then thrive in the recovery, but perhaps the biggest challenge we both face is the need to deal with continued constraints in public expenditure with increasing expectations of service improvements.

“For me, the answer lies in pushing a robust efficiency agenda and driving forward a meaningful reform programme.

“I have recently established a Public Sector Reform Division within the Department of Finance and Personnel to focus our attention on precisely this problem. I have specifically tasked this unit to look beyond Northern Ireland to learn lessons about how transformation in the delivery of public services has been achieved elsewhere.
“In this area of work too, we can share experiences and tailor what works in each other’s jurisdiction for the benefit of our own citizens. Issues like collaborating across the public sector, focusing much more on outcomes and a results based system of accountability and delivering change in how we deliver services are shared problems in Wales and Northern Ireland and could perhaps present shared solutions.

“I am especially interested in exploring the potential of developing different models of service delivery and I intend to keep a close eye on the work of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission.”

Continuing on the theme of challenges that both Northern Ireland and Wales face the Minister said: “It is undoubtedly the case that both Northern Ireland and Wales contend with considerable challenges. But with challenges come opportunities. Opportunities to improve the services we deliver with a renewed emphasis on the outcomes we desire rather than the inputs we inject.

“Opportunities to design the right model of service delivery instead of slavishly sticking with systems that haven’t succeeded. And, opportunities to work across traditional boundaries in the public sector to solve longstanding problems.”

Concluding Minister Hamilton said: “The challenges sometime seem almost too large to overcome. But we can seek some comfort in the fact that we aren’t doing this alone. The answers that we develop in Northern Ireland and Wales will assist both of our governments in getting to grips with these testing times.”