New Finance Minister Simon Hamilton Aims To Boost Economy

Northern Ireland’s new Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has pledged to try to develop a more positive relationship with the banks to help generate investment and jobs.

In a marked change of tone from his predecessor Sammy Wilson, the new incumbent said while banks had been part of the problem they were also part of the solution.

Mr Wilson was a trenchant critic of the banks saying earlier this month that businesses were not being “given the time” to work through their debts by the Ulster Bank.

He also urged banks to cooperate over local branch closures and last year said banking in general in Northern Ireland “is in a very poor state.

“…their main focus is what do they do to repair their balance sheets … rather than what do they do to oil the wheels of our economy.”

Without criticising the now former minister – who he has shadowed for two years – Mr Hamilton said it was too easy to “kick the banks” and added: “I want to work with them.”

He told the Belfast Telegraph: “They (the banks) are clearly very scared and do not want to go back to the way it was and nor do we want them to go back to the way it was – the reckless lending practices again.

“I want to work with them. The banks may have been a large part of the problems that we currently face but the truth is that they will also be part of the solution.

“We need banks to lend and sometimes I think that government spends a lot but it is nothing in comparison to what banks can spend to get the economy functioning.” Mr Hamilton pointed to the Housing Co-Ownership Scheme devised by Mr Wilson and Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland as a potential model for the future.

“We have had some bad experiences with the banks but we have also had some good. The Co-Ownership scheme gave a boost to the housing market.

“We were prepared to put our money where our mouths were but that was only going to be beneficial if the banks rolled in behind it. They did and they created new products and that is one of the reasons why you are starting to see movement in the housing market.

“There are sectors of our economy that need cash to grow.

“There are some issues with lending and we are trying to work alongside the banks to get investment and create jobs.

“The easiest thing in the world is to have a go at the banks and kick the banks, and whenever they deserve a kick I will give them a kick.

“But I would rather work with them, and develop a positive relationship of working in our mutual interest.”