28 APRIL 1961, Page 19

More Jobs Needed


WHEN the Ulster Commons debated unem- ployment last year a leading Tory back- bencher tartly reminded the Government of

Ernest Bevin's advice: . bleeding 'earls ain't no use; what we want are bloody brains.'

Since then the economic problem has worsened and the exasperation felt by the Hon. Phelim O'Neill is spreading to every section • of the Ulster people. And it is an understandable exasperation; Ulster is an integral part of the United Kingdom, yet the Province has to bear an unemployment rate which is constantly three or four times higher than the national average.

Heavy unemployment is, unfortunately, no stranger to Northern Ireland. Since 1945, for example, the rate has varied between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. The present figure stands at 7.3 per cent. and with large-scale pay-offs starting in the Belfast shipyard (as many as 10,000 men may go) the immediate prospects are not en- couraging.

Shipbuilding is one of Ulster's greatest in- dustries and along with linen and agriculture it has dominated the industrial scene for many years. Recently, however, the newer industries have been making their mark and the Ministry of Commerce has officially encouraged this trend.

A great variety of aids to industry have been made available by the Government. These in- clude grants towards the purchase of building. plant and machinery at a rate of 331 per cent.. sites and modern factories at attractive rentals (as low as 9d. a square foot). and grants towards removal and fuel costs.

Many British and American firms have taken advantage of these facilities and, though there has been some criticism of the operation of the grant system, the overall effect has been to bring about a much-needed diversification of the Ulster economy. An adaptable working popula- tion with a good record of industrial relations has cased the settling-in problems of the incom- ing industrialists. More such firms would be welcome and continuing government assistance —£44 million in the next five years--is promised.

But despite all this activity—and herein lies the exasperation of the Ulster people—in terms of the unemployment register the industrial policy of the Northern Ireland Government has been a failure. In the months ahead more strains will be put upon that policy by the shipbuilding decline and by the need to absorb an increasing flow of school-leavers from a population which rises more rapidly than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Undoubtedly the most outstanding defect of government economic policy has been its failure to take account of the peculiar difficulties that have to be faced in Northern Ireland. There has also been a tendency to rely on methods which, however suitable for other communities, do not suit the more complex problems of the Northern Ireland area. In the main. government action has been confined to encouraging others ti provide jobs. 'It is not,' as one Minister has put it, 'the task of the Government to provide employment, but rather to provide the conditions in which industry and commerce may flourish.' This sounds very well, but what the Govern- ment has not realised is that the Ulster economy faces problems which call for a great deal of government initiative.

Indeed, some of the most obvious fields for development cry out for direct and indirect government participation. A recent decision to give the Belfast aircraft factory a loan of £5 million is an example of what can be done. In other sectors direct government sponsorship is required. Tourism. for instance, is greatly under- developed and under-assisted; more industries based on indigenous resources and especially on agriculture are needed; and many extensive public works schemes are required. But so. far even the suggestion of a Development Corpora- tion has proved unacceptable to the Government.

In other aspects of its industrial policy the Government has been weak. For example, very little has been done to train the large numbers of young people .who leave school each year and for whom no apprenticeships are available. Yet there is an obvious need greatly to increase the proportion of skilled workers. Nor has nearly enough been done to establish contact and con- fidence with the trade union movement. Only in 1958 was the Trade Disputes Act repealed (and, even then, not entirely). The Province has also been denied the services of a Productivity Coun- cil due to the reluctance of the Government to co-operate with the unions.

But behind all the internal difficulties of

Northern Ireland lies an external. weakness—the failure to co-ordinate the economic planning of the Province with that of Britain. The two econo- mies are intimately linked, yet too often one seems to act in ignorance of how the other fares. It has been truly said that when Britain sneezes, Ulster gets the cold—this becomes especially obvious when credit restrictions are applied by the Treasury or when measures like the Local Employment Act are introduced. The effect of such decisions on the British economy may be measured in advance—the effect on Northern Ireland is usually considered as an afterthought.

For these reasons it has been argued that there should be a Minister for Ulster Affairs in the British Government with special responsibility for the area. The Northern Ireland Government is not in favour of this idea and prefers the pre- sent arrangement whereby Mr. Butler keeps a fatherly eye on the Province. But if the economic and financial relationship between Ulster and Britain is to be given the attention it deserves something more than a fatherly eye will be needed in the future.

For some months now, inter-departmental talks on these problems have been taking place between Ministers in Belfast and London. The talks are to continue. In the meantime, 5,000 jobs have been promised for each of the next two years and more money is being offered for new industries. All this is a step in the right direc- tion. But with 10,000 shipyard jobs in immediate peril and with instability in other sectors of in- dustry, Ulster will have to take more than a step to catch up with the rest of the United Kingdom. What is required is a great economic leap forward. The Ulster people are anxious to take the leap. They await a government policy that will make it possible.