Arts and culture play an important role in strengthening the local economy and supporting regeneration. In 2005, it was estimated that there are more than 2,500 creative enterprises in Northern Ireland, employing 34,600 people, and representing 4·7% of employment.
Cultural and creative industries and a thriving art scene act as catalysts for developing tourism, inward investment and enhancing the quality of life for all. Cultural tourism is growing faster than any other tourist segment, with an estimated 224,000 visitors a year to Northern Ireland engaging in cultural activities. Arts Council programmes, such as the art of regeneration and re-imaging communities, help to regenerate public spaces.
I aim to exploit the potential of culture and the arts to develop Northern Ireland as a world-class creative and cultural region that generates wealth and sustainable employment opportunities in the creative-industries sector.
The arts are the backbone of the creative industries, and I recognise that a public-funding deficit has accumulated in Northern Ireland over many years. I have called for an increase in funding for the arts in the comprehensive spending review; I am bidding for seed funding to help emerging businesses in the creative-industries sector, and I will continue to support Northern Ireland Screen to develop the film and television industry, which has gone from strength to strength in Northern Ireland.
My Department is investing more than £27 million to significantly enhance the arts infrastructure in Belfast and Londonderry, and I am bidding for additional capital funding from the investment strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI 2).
DCAL will continue to work with colleagues in the Department of Education, the Department for Employment and Learning, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and with Invest NI to promote the creativity agenda.
DCAL established a creativity seed fund in 2001 using Executive programme funds and distributed £2·8 million to 96 creative-learning and creative-industries projects between 2001 and 2004. That funding has now been terminated. However, there is still a gap in support. Many micro-businesses and small enterprises operating in that sector are too small to become Invest NI client companies. Many entrepreneurs in the sector require start-up finance, business-planning assistance, access to finance and help with product development and marketing. Therefore, the Department will be bidding for a further creativity seed fund in the 2007 comprehensive spending review.
I thank the Minister for his answer, which underlines the importance and potential of the creative-industries sector. Has he considered how his Department might work with Invest NI, and others, on bids and plans to support growth in that sector using new money from the innovation fund, arising from the representations made to the former Chancellor by all parties prior to devolution?
As some people seem to think that there are going to be difficulties in spending that money, the creative-industry sector could have come up with a sound platform for expenditure.
We are happy to work with Invest Northern Ireland, and, indeed, with DETI in assisting them to spend the funding that comes from the innovation fund. Obviously, DETI has the lead role regarding the creative industries; we are involved in seed funding, particularly for the creative youth categories. Therefore, if the Chairman of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment is encouraging my Department to get some of that money, we would be happy to oblige.