To build a lasting foundation for Northern Ireland’s economic prosperity and security, the DUP will organise around the core challenges facing local people and their families — issues such as the economy, healthcare and education. By acting together, we can overcome the obstacles that for too long have prevented real change on the critical issues that we face day in and day out. Thanks to the achievements of the DUP we now have the chance to build upon a firm foundation of political stability; to leave behind the stagnation of the past and build support for real solutions for the future.
On Devolution & Political Stability
The DUP has consistently held the view that local decisions should be taken by local elected representatives within a democratic structure which can provide stable, accountable, effective and efficient government. Even in the face of the seemingly insurmountable difficulties that Northern Ireland has faced in recent years we still contend that devolution of the right type and in the right circumstances is desirable. Following the failure of the Belfast Agreement and the inability of republicans to rid themselves of their paramilitarism Northern Ireland was dragged into a period of serious political instability which ultimately resulted in the collapse of the NI Assembly. This forced the parties back to the negotiating table and this time with the DUP as the lead Unionist party, the St Andrew’s Agreement forced Sinn Fein to abandon terrorism and criminality while at the same time embracing the authority of the PSNI and Courts. This has, for the first time in a generation, given us three years of political stability in which we have been able to set out how we might change Northern Ireland for the better, for all its citizens.
Northern Ireland has made significant progress under the stewardship of the Democratic Unionist Party. There are two key themes to our campaign: Building stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland through improved and more efficient local political institutions, directing resources in public services towards preventative and early intervention measures, and frontloading funding for the first few years of life. We want tax-payers’ money to deliver the greatest long-term benefits for individuals and society. Across a range of sectors we are outlining comprehensive proposals for improving the economy, public services and quality of life in the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland in particular.
Within the overall UK context, support for the DUP ensures the best deal for Northern Ireland at Westminster and a successful long-term strategy for Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has made massive strides. There is still much to be done. Together we can make things better.
Let’s Keep Northern Ireland Moving Forward!
On the Economy
Growing the private sector is the key to economic success and it will be the private sector that will lead the UK into economic recovery. At the same time we need low interest rates and must reign back public spending and invest more wisely. Spending reductions must be pursued rather than seeking to increase taxes, though restricted spending cannot jeopardise recovery.
It is therefore crucial that we become much more competitive internationally. The UK suffers from high levels of corporation tax and regulation and serious consideration should be given to a reduction in Corporation tax in order to kick-start economic growth. We have a particularly strong case in Northern Ireland for a reduction in corporation tax as we are the only region of the UK that has a land border with another EU state. Of course, any reduction in corporation tax for Northern Ireland should not be on the basis of a compensating reduction from elsewhere or the Northern Ireland block grant.
Northern Ireland’s specific innovation and industrial heritage should be promoted. We advocate the formation of a UK Invention and Innovation Institute with a Northern Ireland base, and offering incentives to companies and international experts developing new products and ideas to encourage them to base their work here.
Northern Ireland should be designated a Special Economic Zone within the UK with the potential for investors to benefit from reduced regulation, lower taxes and other financial incentives to reduce the cost of business. We could adopt some of the more attractive elements of the successful regeneration of areas such as Aqaba, Jordan and Subic Bay in the Philippines. The redevelopment of the London Docklands similarly was aided by exemptions from property taxes and capital allowances.
The DUP have already succeeded in reducing the pressure on domestic budgets by reducing household bills and a hardship payment to 150,000 people. The regional rates were frozen and water charges deferred. Additional rate relief was provided for pensioners as well as a lone pensioner allowance. The DUP will continue to strive at local level to keep district rates as low as possible. The DUP had also succeeded in having the link severed between access to borrowing under The Reform and Reinvestment Initiative and closing the gap with GB Council tax rates. That link had led to double digit rate rises earlier in the last decade. Under Stormont control, business rates were also frozen, manufacturing rates capped and a small business rates relief scheme introduced. Assistance was also given to small companies to help them during the economic downturn.
The best possible education provision is an essential component of any society. Every young person should be encouraged to fulfil their potential in all aspects of their lives. Both at Westminster and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, DUP representatives are working to ensure the best education outcomes.
The DUP has sought to preserve and promote grammar schools in Northern Ireland and we believe Boards of Governors both in Northern Ireland and the mainland should be permitted to determine admissions criteria. A one size fits all approach simply doesn’t work and we must recognize that the ending of academic selection in Great Britain has coincided with a marked fall in intergenerational mobility. It is therefore essential that the academically gifted should be stretched throughout their learning and this ought to include an academically-oriented education which includes grammar schools. We need high achievers and a well-educated highly-skilled workforce.
Not everyone’s gifts and talents will be academic so a tailored system of schools is necessary to offer an education appropriate for each young person. Each pupil has different abilities and skills, and they should be matched to the most appropriate schools for their individual needs. For those who do not wish to pursue an academic path, more attractive vocational opportunities must be available.
The DUP will continue working to deliver a single robust form of assessment under the auspices of the Department of Education in Northern Ireland for matching pupils to the most appropriate post-primary school.
It is essential that in any reorganisation of arrangements in Northern Ireland all sectors are treated equitably. The DUP opposes existing privileges for integrated and Irish medium schools which have a detrimental impact on other schools. Teachers should have equal opportunities to work in all sectors, particularly if a single employing authority is to be created. The DUP advocates a single body both to own and promote controlled schools as the most effective model and one which offers equality with other sectors.
With regard to Further Education we would wish to establish vocational sector-specific training centres of excellence and we would aim to assist businesses to offer high quality apprenticeships in order to produce more skilled craftsmen. When it comes to Higher Education we would like to see a UK-wide review of number of universities, student places and subjects offered and the re-establishment of the independence of universities. Above all, we advocate the removal of the cap on student numbers in Northern Ireland which results in artificially elevated entrance requirements. Consequently many students are forced away from Northern Ireland to study and many obtain employment and settle elsewhere while those who wish to pursue a university education particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds should not be deterred by fees.
In line with international research the DUP advocates frontloading funding for the first few years of life in order to give young people the best prospects in life. The DUP supports increased investment in health promotion and disease prevention, and raising spending on preventative and early intervention measures.
The real way to prioritise public health is through strategic and funding prioritization driven by Ministers. The DUP considers the commitment to public health of the Minister for DHSSPS in Northern Ireland to be little more than cosmetic. The establishment of yet another health body, the Public Health Agency with 220 staff and annual management costs of £15.2 million, has resulted in vast numbers of staff doing exactly the same jobs within a re-titled organization.
As well as benefiting the individual, investment at an early stage also makes sense in terms of avoiding greater costs further down the line. We want investment in interventions that will at least pay for themselves. In order to ensure that funding is not wasted on ineffective interventions, we support consideration being given to the formation of a National Institute of Policy Evaluation based on the experience of Washington 28 State Institute of Public Policy.
In an increasingly stringent financial climate this approach can bring huge savings, protect services and ensure any surplus is re-invested in service provision. Every opportunity to do this should be investigated.
The NHS continues to serve us incredibly well after more than six decades. It comprises some of the most dedicated and highly-skilled staff. It can be empowered to do even better though. There are still inefficiencies. Our health service is more expensive than countries in Europe,yet on many measures not as effective. Staff are persistently working at maximum capacity often with staff shortages and at risk of burnout .Access to new technologies can be restricted and care is not uniform.
It is increasingly difficult to meet consumer expectations as costs of providing services rise. Efforts at reform have followed a managerial, bureaucratic approach rather than bottom up innovation. The NHS must be freed to fulfil its true potential. Not everyone reports having a good experience. Individuals who fall into this category should be provided genuine choice and permitted to opt out. Currently those from poorer backgrounds have no choice. Only those who can pay have the opportunity to look elsewhere. The DUP wants to release the NHS from the top down approach to funding and management. We support power being shifted away from the Secretary of State, Ministers and officials into the hands of patients.
On Older People
The Democratic Unionist Party has consistently sought to assist older people. Concessions to pensioners from a DUP Finance Minister under the domestic rating review are assisting many of those on low and fixed incomes. The lone pensioner allowance is having a dramatic impact on a significant number of pensioners’ rate bills, keeping nearly £7 million in the pockets of 25,000 people aged 70 and above.
Today’s state pension is too low to bring pensioners above the poverty line without significant supplementation through private means. We believe an increased basic state pension, ideally linked with earnings, should be introduced with immediate effect. Pensioner poverty is 5% higher in Northern Ireland than the rest of the United Kingdom, with increases in the prices of food, gas, oil and electricity impacting on older people. We also support a substantial increase in the Winter Fuel Payment to reflect high energy prices.
70% of those aged 65 plus identified keeping warm in winter as the biggest problem they face. 34% of Northern Ireland households are considered to be in fuel poverty compared with 11.5% in England. The DUP is rightly proud of having introduced the Warm Homes Scheme in 2001 and welcomes the fact that it has helped over 70,000 households in Northern Ireland to obtain insulation and heating assistance. We advocate a more flexible approach to the Scheme so those with oil or gas boilers can receive repairs or upgrades. The current funding of care is extremely complex and poorly understood by the public. It must be simplified and made more equitable.
The DUP is committed to the provision of universal free personal care. However if Ministers from other parties continue to resist this, we believe doing nothing is unsustainable and that consideration should be given to measures including examining the system which operates in Japan where a substantial fixed proportion of domiciliary or care home costs is supplied through the public purse with the remaining small set percentage being made up by the individual.
66% of people have identified fear of crime as being the main problem facing older people today. It is essential that older people feel safe and secure in their homes. Crimes against older people and the fear of crime they experience must be reduced. Fear of crime also has implications for the psychological and emotional wellbeing of our older population. A strong integrated community safety strategy is necessary for older people.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the older generation who have contributed so much to society in Northern Ireland during their working lives and they deserve better treatment when the time comes for them to slow down. Their contribution must be acknowledged.