Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence from Wilbert Garvin

For some years now we have had an apparently relatively prosperous society, but things have changed dramatically and there is no doubt that they will change even more in the future. It is obvious that we are, and have been, spending much more than we are earning, so there have of necessity to be cutbacks. We need to seriously adapt to these changes if we are to survive and prosper. The alternative is unthinkable and unacceptable.

Northern Ireland is well placed to become an enterprise zone, particularly because of its small size. All it takes is the vision and the will—but it depends on the powers that be to exhibit that vision and will. I trust that the concept will be implemented.

All of our public expenditure comes from tax revenues. For too long the public sector in Northern Ireland has been far too large compared to the private sector. We need to ensure that the public sector becomes as efficient as possible and that we implement ways to encourage the private sector to grow. Only in this way can our economy not only become balanced, but even grow in the future. This is a big challenge but there is no alternative.

How can we become self-sufficient, not even depending on hand-outs from the Treasury in Westminster? We need to create more wealth. How can we do that—a tiny country that has to compete on a world scale? It is possible—we are small enough to adapt and develop as an innovative society. Small can be more innovative than large, with the ability to change and adapt rapidly. This could be one of our greatest strengths. We need to be inventive—looking at everything in a different light.

Naturally it is important to attract inward investment, but more vitally we need to develop indigenous industries—producing products and services here that can be exported on a world-wide basis. SMEs are crucial to our future. Large amounts of revenue given to inward investment could be far better spent on home-spun industries—at least they won't decide to close up shop after a few years if things get tight. A balance is required.

Wealth is created by adding value to the natural products of this planet and also by providing services that others require. We add value to natural products by making things (manufacturing) which includes farming (food products, wood etc) and what we could call industrial and/or artisan products (products of all sorts made from a range of materials). Wealth creation also involves the arts (film-making, TV and radio programmes, artists, sculptors, music makers of all sorts, play-rights, poets, novelists etc). It can also involve a variety of services including financial services (but I better not say too much about that one!).

Wealth creation depends ultimately on creativity—on the development of new ideas in an increasingly competitive world. To develop Northern Ireland as an enterprise zone we need above all else to develop a creative society in which everyone could, and be encouraged to, become involved.

I would like to stress the difference between an inventor and an entrepreneur. An inventor conceives or devises a previously unknown device, method or process whereas an entrepreneur organises, operates, and assumes the risk for business ventures. An inventor can be anyone, of any age—very young, a teenager, middle-aged or third-aged—employed or unemployed etc whereas not everyone has the inclination or aptitude to become an entrepreneur. We do however need to recognize and encourage both so that they can work synergetically.

What we actually need are as many good new ideas as possible which would have local, national and international market potential. To achieve this two things are required. Firstly, we need a very large number of ideas, and secondly, an effective selection process to differentiate between them. We need a system which can assess the potential of new ideas and to do everything to ensure that these are brought to fruition—R&D, production, market research, marketing etc. Only in this way can our economy be developed.

Where could this large number of new ideas come from? Since they come from individual minds, or interacting groups of minds, I would like to offer a process which I have summarised in the enclosed diagram since it is the best way to demonstrate what I envisage. I know that you asked for words but it is well known that a picture is worth a thousand words!

We require a very large number of ideas to be generated, evaluated, and assessed for their potential. Those that pass the rigorous selection process should then be given all the assistance required to bring them to fruition.

Two approaches could be taken by asking as many people as possible, of all ages, occupations, interests etc.

  • (a)  if there are any needs that are not, or inadequately, satisfied, and
  • (b)  if they have any specific ideas for products or services.


Procedures would have to be devised so that people could send their identified needs to a Centre which could distribute these to interested parties. The media could place a significant role here—local newspapers, radio and TV programmes, a dedicated magazine etc. IT could be utilised, with appropriate web-sites etc. The problem of outsiders obtaining this information would have to be addressed and solved. Once needs have been identified, classified and stored, market research could be carried out to determine the extent of the need—local, regional, national or international. A triage system of selection would be required so that we end up with distinct possibilities.


Ideas could then be developed to satisfy these needs. The same procedure could be followed for ideas. Individuals or groups could submit ideas. Local groups could be set up to look at needs and develop ideas from them. I can envisage the setting up of local creativity groups that meet on a regular basis, to come up with ideas. (I mooted this concept originally way back in 1992—see 'A Citizens' Enquiry—The Opsahl Report', page 344).[15]

  • 2.1  Low-tech problems. Examined by local creativity groups, schools etc. and appropriate solutions devised.
  • 2.2  Medium/High-tech problems. Examined by agencies, appropriate university departments etc.


Severe selection procedures would be required since only a small number out of thousands of suggestions would turn out to be successful. Market research in a dedicated Centre would be required that could call on appropriate outside expertise when required. A triage system could be employed. At this stage preliminary patent searches would also be required.


Once selected, ideas would go forward to the R&D and design stage, utilising appropriate personnel. Prototypes to be produced and research carried out etc.

  • 4.1  Low to Medium tech.
  •    Design and Technology departments of schools, Technical Colleges etc. would be ideally placed to carry out such work. They are always looking for ideas to develop. Competitions could be run for the best solutions thus encouraging pupils/students to come up with innovative solutions.
  • 4.2  Medium to High tech.
  •    The Universities and interested businesses. Ideas for MSc and PhD work. Again departments are always looking for project ideas. A dedicated R&D Centre could be set up with appropriate expertise.


Prototypes and processes are developed and tried out. The originator might have developed a prototype or process. Appropriate workshop facilities could be set up so that inventors could work with experienced personnel to develop this aspect of their work.

  • 5.1  Low tech. Again local institutions could be involved.
  • 5.2  Medium/High tech. Ideal for University research departments. A dedicated centre would also be important. There are opportunities for cross-disciplinary teams to be set up if required. Any R&D costs should be fully covered.
  • 5.3  At this stage further patent searches would be required to ascertain the viability of the ideas. Expert assistance provided for this.


  • 6.1  Low tech. See 5.1 above.
  • 6.2  Medium/High tech. See 5.2 above.
  • 6.3  Patents.

Applied for—a department within the dedicated Centre could look after this. There should be full financial backing for patents if the idea has passed the selection process. This should be not only for UK patents, but world-wide patents if appropriate. All costs should be covered. No individual, or group, should have to pay for work by patent attorneys etc. If the ideas are good enough then they are worth backing since they would create employment and income in the future, so that they would make an excellent investment.


Once everything is in place and the most suitable methods of production devised, the individual or team who came up with the ideas could either licence their patent or decide to set up their own business. Production, where possible, could be carried out by existing Northern Ireland businesses or by the setting up of new production facilities. In particular cases, parts could possibly be made by existing firms and new assembly facilities set up. There are a number of options that could be employed.

As an incentive to local communities, production could be located in the area from which the original idea came from, thus creating local employment. This could generate a bit of competition within Northern Ireland which would be a good thing.


Products and services would be marketed locally, nationally and internationally. A dedicated Centre could concentrate on marketing, assisting in attendance at national and international exhibitions etc. Everything should be done to publicise these products and services.


Naturally appropriate incentives and rewards need to be built into the system? The most cost- effective and stimulating system would be for royalties to be paid as a percentage of the final price. It would not be difficult to work out appropriate royalty percentages for the various contributions to the final product or service. Everyone would thus be satisfied and encouraged to continue their efforts. I suppose the process could be called product/service publishing since it would be similar to the publishing process. Alternatively some people might well be encouraged to set up new businesses, depending on their circumstances. Any costs incurred in setting up a company and/or carrying out appropriate R&D should be covered. Every incentive and encouragement should be provided, particularly where investment is required. There should be no skimping whatsoever. There is always some risk but that should be fully understood—no risk no gain! The risks can however be minimised.


The benefits of such a system are obvious—not only individually through increased employment but also for the common good through taxes, and enabling us to compete successfully in the world economy.

At least such a system could benefit those who are pure inventors, those who are innovators and those who are entrepreneurs. Many of the young inventors could eventually turn out to be effective entrepreneurs etc. if given the opportunity.

Above all, we need to develop such a creative society. Creative synergy arises when people of different backgrounds and skills work together. Such creative synergy leads to successful problem-solving and revolutionary ways of seeing and thinking. Let us devise realistic ways of developing that creative synergy.

We thus need to develop an environment which encourages creativity. How can we move forward—giving people time to experiment, to fail, to try again, to ask questions, to discover, to play, and to make connections among seemingly disparate elements. All original ideas and products spring from an initial period of experimentation—trying out of various ideas, improving them and selecting from among them.

It would not take long for word-of-mouth information about ideas to get around in such a closely knit region as Northern Ireland, although secrecy is naturally required prior to patenting.

I have received much good information from the writings of Sir Ken Robinson, who was actually involved in developing the new curriculum for Northern Ireland schools. We should have taken his ideas much more seriously.

Creativity is a basic human attribute that must be nurtured among all of our people. We know from research that as young people pass through the education system they become less and less creative. Something happens to them which stifles or even destroys this essential aspect of thinking. Far too much time is spent on simply passing on knowledge since examinations and school assessments are based primarily on gained knowledge. League tables are a complete disaster. They kill creativity not only in our young people but in the teachers. Our education system, indeed our society as a whole, should be developing the freedom to learn, to create, to take risks, to fail or to ask questions, to strive and to grow. We actually need to promote creativity not only among our pupils and students but among people of all occupations, ages, economic classes and ethnic backgrounds.

It is essential that we allow teachers to get on with their job and to be creative in their teaching. Many, if not most of them, feel stifled and frustrated. Knowledge can be obtained nowadays by all sorts of means. Teachers could be doing much more than simply passing on knowledge and filling in forms to satisfy needless bureaucracy. Pupils and students need to be taught how to think—they need to be challenged. The most crucial aspect of teaching is the personality of the teacher. Good teachers need to be encouraged. It is also imperative that we pay teachers properly—a good teacher is worth their weight in gold! Just compare the salaries of teachers with, for example, doctors and lawyers. The irony is that there wouldn't be the doctors or lawyers if it wasn't for the teachers. We must encourage the proper people to become teachers—there is no more important job in society—everything else depends on it. These comments naturally also apply to lecturers. We need to examine this aspect of our society in detail and sort it out.

We also need to look to our common good and remove all the pathetic religious/political division from our society. It is crucial that we educate all our kids together—a system based on religious segregation is simply wrong in this day and age. We need to move forwards instead of backwards. That should be our aim for the future. We need to realize that we are in dramatically changing times and we must adapt or lose out. We are stuck in the past and our young people are becoming increasingly frustrated, let alone many older folk. Without radical change how can we move forward?

We also need to carefully examine our education system since it needs to have balance across the curriculum, within the teaching of disciplines, and between education and the wider world. The emphasis at present is on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and language teaching, and it is of course important that these are well taught. A sound foundation is essential—our thinking has to be based on something concrete. We also need the development of relevant skills. However, this approach has been at the expense of the arts, humanities, music and physical education. There should be more of a balance between these areas of the curriculum since each addresses a different mode of intelligence and creative development. A narrow, unbalanced curriculum such as ours leads to a narrow, unbalanced education for our young people. This needs to change—we need balanced individuals. There is a mental interaction by studying subjects across the curriculum which is essential for the development of creativity. I know that the new Northern Ireland curriculum addresses some of these issues, but only some—there needs to be a radical shift of attitude. All schools and colleges should set up innovation centres/departments.

I understand clearly the concept of natural selection—that over time, the organisms that succeed are those that can adapt to changing environments. Those that cannot adapt do not survive. For our society to survive in our present rapidly changing economic environment we must adapt—to do so, as a people, we must therefore become a much more creative society. The potential is there—all it needs is to be recognized, encouraged and appropriately focussed and funded. Considerable research needs to be carried out in this area—the more we know, the better placed we will be to make the appropriate and necessary changes.

There is a whole raft of organisations across Northern Ireland such as Probus and U3A. These should be encouraged to set up programmes where members with a lot of experience in various areas could get together to look at needs and come up with innovative ideas. Members are third-agers and since this age group will increase dramatically in the future many ideas could be addressed which benefit this age group.

I trust that the ideas to develop Northern Ireland as an Enterprise Zone will be implemented as soon as possible. Many of the ideas proposed above already exist to some extent within Invest NI, but much more could be done to assist and develop indigenous businesses and inventors. Above all, our antiquated education system needs a real overhaul. Teacher training should involve close links with industry and there should be many more links between pupils/students and the world of work.

We have had far too much division in politics—that needs to disappear—the politicians need to get their heads together and fully support any efforts to develop Northern Ireland as an enterprise zone. All the departments at Stormont need to co-operate fully with each other. It will not be easy, but it can be if the will is there. There needs to be wholesale change with the appropriate people in charge.

We will all rise to the occasion or fail depending on co-operation at all levels. Let us see a considerable amount of new innovative thinking and with resolve we will succeed. It is up to us, no-one else!

4 January 2011

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