Employment: Former Textile Workers

Oral Answers to Questions — Enterprise, Trade and Investment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 26th March 2001.

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Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP 3:00 pm, 26th March 2001

8. asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to detail what action he has taken to assist the creation of alternative employment in those areas affected by job losses in the textile industry.

(AQO 1155/00)

Photo of Reg Empey Reg Empey UUP

The IDB is promoting employment opportunities in areas affected by job losses in the textile industry to potential investors at home and overseas. The IDB is working with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Training and Employment to ensure the availability of retraining and is working with councils to address local issues. LEDU is stimulating the development of smaller businesses and opportunities for self-employment.

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP

Can the Minister give an assurance that the infrastructure will be available and will be assisted, given the benefits of the growth of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector of the economy? Will skills be available to meet the challenge, and at the same time will he ensure that there is not an overdependence on a single industry type and that we have a diverse economic base?

Photo of Reg Empey Reg Empey UUP

The point the hon Member makes about dependence on a single industry type is well founded. In Northern Ireland, overdependence on certain areas has been a pattern over the years.

On the question of infrastructure, I was recently in Strabane, in west Tyrone, and announced that we are trying to procure further factory space in that area. That flexible facility at Orchard Road in Strabane could take ICT-related businesses. We also have available space in Omagh, and I can assure the hon Member that one of the objectives of the Programme for Government is to ensure broad-band capability. We are pursuing a national approach with Patricia Hewitt, the Minister for Small Business and e-commerce, and others. A target has been set to have the best facilities in the G7 countries in place by 2005. I have endorsed that, and my Executive Colleagues are actively considering what access can be made to the Executive programme funds to ensure that adequate facilities are made available in remote rural areas to create a level playing field.

My Colleague Dr Farren is acutely aware of the skills issue, and his Department is actively taking steps to ensure that a broad range of skills in particular areas is available. Where people have run into difficulties, particularly in the textile sector, they are offered retraining so that they can avail of the opportunities arising in newer industries.