National Competitiveness Council Report

The National Competitiveness Council is a social partnership body set up in 1997. It “reports to the Taoiseach on key competitiveness issues facing the Irish economy and makes recommendations on policy actions to enhance Ireland’s competitive position.” As with all such bodies, the Council members are the usual smorgasbord of trade unionists, business and financial interests and civil servants, chaired by a safe pair of hands in the form of a former senior civil servant.

Today, the NCC released a report titled Getting Fit Again: The Short Term Priorities for Restoring Ireland’s Competitiveness. You can find it here.

The report makes various recommendations to the government. Some of them—like introducing a property tax, reforming the public sector and, uh, resolving the banking crisis—are generic and would be agreed with by the vast majority of economists and other bodies advising the government. A picky person like myself will find something to disagree with (such as the recommendation to prioritise capital spending) but most of it is fairly unobjectionable.

But that’s the problem. By and large, the report looks and reads like exactly what you’d expect from a body of this type. It’s a glossy and somewhat bland document that does not in any way challenge entrenched government positions (for instance, the document regularly pauses to praise the Smart Economy plan, which most informed economists that I’ve spoken with consider to be an excellent example of Emperor’s New Clothes).

There’s plenty of evidence to show that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the Blueshirts. But on this issue, I was reminded of a passage from their Streamlining Government document. The FG document pointed out that social partnership

has given rise to the creation of new state agencies. For example, the desire of unions to show that they were using the social partnership system to assist their members who could not afford a home during the housing boom gave rise to the Affordable Housing Partnership (AHP). Unfortunately, it has not given rise to many affordable houses.

In a similar vein, business and corporate interests were given the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) so that they could tell their members that the social partnership process was being used to address Ireland’s loss of economic competitiveness. In reality, our competitiveness has continued to decline. When it comes to housing and competitiveness, we do not need more agencies, what we really need is the right policies and ministers who will to implement them.

The NCC believe the government should cut current expenditure. I reckon that eliminating their budget would be a good place to start.