Regional Investment Inequalities

Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 am on 7th October 2008.

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Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker 2:45 am, 7th October 2008

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.

One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes in which to propose and five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

I beg to move

That this Assembly calls on Invest NI, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Executive Committee to develop urgently, and implement, new and innovative measures for tackling the existing patterns of regional investment inequalities; and to target resources and efforts towards those in greatest objective need.

Sinn Féin’s decision to table the motion is part of a necessary political campaign to fundamentally challenge Invest NI’s corporate mindset and to positively transform the existing patterns of inequality and disadvantage in regional investment. The Programme for Government pledged all Departments and Government agencies to:

“develop new and innovative measures that will address existing patterns of socio-economic disadvantage and target resources and efforts towards those in greatest objective need.”

The irony of the Alliance Party’s amendment is that that party supposedly campaigns for the Executive to meet to address social needs, yet the same party has called for the deletion of that Programme for Government objective from the motion.

Sinn Féin will not allow that overarching commitment to be sidelined or soft-soaped by the Alliance Party or by the vacuous statistical contortions that have increasingly become the hallmark of Invest NI’s propaganda workshops. Sinn Féin supports indigenous small and medium-sized enterprises, but that sector must be bolstered. Although Sinn Féin is conscious of the effects of the global credit crunch, when it comes to the location of foreign direct investment initiatives sponsored by Invest NI, there is, undoubtedly, a major institutionalised problem in the Six Counties. Therefore, Sinn Féin is not merely questioning or criticising, but actively lobbying for major investment from overseas urgently to locate in the most deprived areas of the Six Counties and the border corridor. That will ensure that those who suffer most from the conflict do not get left behind in the peace.

A fine example of Sinn Féin’s efforts came during the US investment conference in May 2008. Sinn Féin worked successfully, despite Invest NI, with local communities and human rights activists to persuade the New York State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, and representatives from the New York City Office of the Comptroller to visit some of the most deprived areas in Belfast and Derry to see for themselves the huge potential for regeneration. For the record, Invest NI did not even put west Belfast or anywhere west of the Bann on the golfing itinerary, never mind on the investment agenda.

That is only one of many reasons that led Sinn Féin to step up its campaign for a full inquiry and report from the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee. Their focus should be on patterns of investment distribution and, notably, Invest NI-sponsored foreign direct investment across the Six Counties over the past decades.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) is belatedly and as a consequence of the Varney Review II organising a general review of Invest NI. As far as Sinn Féin is concerned, the more scrutiny of Invest NI’s failings, the better. Therefore, I publicly invite every political party in the Assembly formally to support Sinn Féin in its campaign for those two substantive reports on Invest NI.

It is worth remembering that the last substantive report on investment distribution patterns in the North was published by the Westminster Public Accounts Committee some 10 years ago, and the areas of social economic deprivation have hardly changed in the interim. That is what makes the patterns of inequality that Sinn Féin uncovered over the past decade so shocking. For example, one in three of all first-time inward investment projects promoted by Invest NI was located in South Belfast — although not, I hasten to add, in the Markets area or Donegall Pass. Furthermore, one in two of all new jobs promoted by Invest NI was created in the three north-eastern constituencies of South Belfast, East Belfast and East Antrim.

Over the past decade, the constituencies of east Derry and North Antrim, both served by MPs from the DUP, received no new first-time inward investment projects promoted by Invest NI. Using a range of indicators, the amount of Invest NI jobs created and projects promoted in South Belfast routinely exceeded the combined total for the entire border corridor of Foyle, West Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and Newry and Armagh. Worst of all, Invest NI and DETI have refused to provide Sinn Féin with detailed statistics of the number of jobs created or lost either by parliamentary constituency or with specific reference to client companies in Foyle. Its excuse was the absence of a so-called comprehensive data set.

Moreover, Invest NI and DETI have refused to provide Sinn Féin with detailed statistics on the amount of financial assistance and overall investment that has been secured in parliamentary constituencies and, specifically, in client companies in Foyle. They claim that the cost of publishing that information would be too expensive; however, I presume that that refers to the cost of their own credibility.

It is important to note that Invest NI’s failure to collect and collate that basic statistical information for public scrutiny contradicts directly the clear recommendation that was contained in the respective reports of the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee 10 years ago. Some Members will, undoubtedly, seek to defend Invest NI by using empty buzz words such as “labour mobility” or by referring to the type of creative accounting that characterises Invest NI’s bulging expenses sheets, which I recommend are examined and held up for public scrutiny. However, I will leave it to some of my party colleagues to tackle the spurious arguments that Invest NI has creatively concocted to defend its maintenance of regional structural inequalities. When scrutinising Invest NI’s expenses sheets, the media could perhaps investigate the close relations between the Assembly’s business-class membership and Invest NI’s extended family.

Although parties might argue about the causes of the existing regional investment inequalities, it is Sinn Féin’s firm view that the reasons are structural and systemic. No party can credibly dismiss the realities. The Alliance Party’s attention-seeking amendment is merely a spoiling exercise that, as usual, ignores the needs of society’s most vulnerable individuals. In contrast, Sinn Féin supports a modern economic agenda that recognises the interdependency of sustainable economic growth and sustainable social improvement. Therefore, unsurprisingly, we reject the amendment.

For those reasons, Invest NI, DETI and OFMDFM must introduce new and innovative measures urgently to tackle existing inequalities and target objective need. Sinn Féin will work with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to ensure that such measures promote new standards of equality in regional investment patterns on the basis of efficiency, effectiveness and economy. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance 3:00 am, 7th October 2008

I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all after “inequalities;” and insert

“recognises that businesses will seek to make investment decisions primarily for economic and financial reasons; and calls for action to address the current barriers to labour mobility.”

The Alliance Party welcomes the motion, given that it highlights a relevant issue. The increasing numbers of visitors to Northern Ireland have not failed to notice that Belfast city centre is booming. However, they have also noticed that such prosperity is not shared across Northern Ireland or, indeed, in Belfast. In fact, the Belfast City Council area has the third highest gross domestic product or gross value added per capita of any UK city except Edinburgh and London.

Members are entitled to question why that strong performance has not spread elsewhere; however, the issue cannot be resolved by resorting to outdated ideology.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

Sinn Féin has a particularly high representation in areas of greatest need. However, the areas of Northern Ireland that are in greatest need now are the same places as 10, 20 and 30 years ago. That indicates that the Assembly must try a new course, rather than seek Government intervention or allocate Government resources, which will, certainly, be more limited in the future.

One of the proposers of the motion represents West Belfast, which is the most deprived constituency in Northern Ireland. However, almost one third of all Northern Ireland’s employment lies within two miles of the centre of that constituency.

Opportunities exist, but segregation, division and poor services — particularly in housing, transport and education — disable people’s access to those opportunities.

This issue needs practical solutions that are focused not on increasing red tape and Government intervention, but on enabling people to share growing prosperity by ensuring that they have access to jobs — wherever those new jobs are located. For that to be achieved, it must be remembered that businesses create wealth and high-quality employment. The role of Government is that of an enabler. The costs of dividing our society are paid by the very investors who should allocate all their resources to tackling exclusion — not propping up artificial segregation. People must have access to jobs, both physically, through sustainable transport and housing; and educationally, through training and skills.

Ultimately, this issue — like so many others — is about ambition. In our society, in our economy and even in this Assembly, we are obsessed with looking after our own communities. Rarely are we interested in looking after the community as a whole. As a result, we get the idea that what is good for one community must be bad for another community, whether the segregation is along the lines of religion, class, or whatever. It is time that we got rather better at looking at the bigger picture — getting to a stage at which training or job opportunities that are created anywhere are good for people everywhere, not just in one small district.

The segregation of our society continues to come at a great cost. It means that ongoing fear and distrust are present in society, in the economy and even in the Executive. For our economy, it means that there are severe limitations on labour-market mobility. In other words, it is time that many people got on their bikes.

We live in uncertain economic times, but one economic absolute is that prosperity comes to places with the highest levels of labour-market mobility. If people cannot move house or workplace for fear of being labelled by the other side, we will all be condemned to poor economic performance and, therefore, to relative deprivation compared to our neighbours.

Segregation is a clear competitive disadvantage. It is to the shame of this Executive that they have failed to tackle it, despite claiming to make the economy their priority. The cost of division and the need to rebalance the economy have an impact on the public services that potential investors could use. During this Assembly term alone, the provision of education, leisure and health facilities on a segregated basis has already cost billions — money that could have been invested in our workforce.

The unbalanced economy means that the skills that are available to businesses are limited because they are seized by the huge public sector, or by the brain drain due to private-sector opportunities elsewhere. It is no good saying that investment opportunities are limited in certain locations when our investment potential is not being maximised in the first place.

Other aspects of Executive policy have failed to tackle levels of economic inactivity and exclusion. Nearly half of those who are economically inactive in Northern Ireland have mental-health problems. Despite the budget for tackling such problems already being comparatively lower than those of our neighbours, we find the Executive content to cut the health budget in real, comparative terms.

Social exclusion can be tackled by reforming our education system, delivering better social housing and investing in a much more ambitious public-transport system, so that people have access to a range of job opportunities. In that regard, the Executive are either gridlocked or blocked.

Although the Alliance Party welcomes its broad content, the motion hints at the passive acceptance of a failed policy, rather than a determination on behalf of one of the main Executive parties to put things right.

The issue is not that investment is not going to certain locations, but that people in certain locations are being denied access to the jobs and prosperity that would result from such investment, which is limited anyway due to the Government’s failure to tackle the root causes of segregation, division and exclusion in our society. It is time for change, and it is time for Members of the Assembly to realise that it is time for change.

Although there is some value to this debate, the debates that are being undertaken in the Chamber remind me of those in the Forum for Political Dialogue in the Interpoint building. In other words, unless the Executive meet again soon, the Assembly will be discredited not only in the eyes of the public but in the eyes of the world.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

On my own behalf, I welcome the motion, and I commend the Member who proposed it.

For some time, the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment has been awaiting the answers to several questions about matters relating to the motion. Last year, the Committee welcomed the fact that growing the economy was stated as a top priority for the lifetime of the Programme for Government, which built on the consensus that had been achieved prior to devolution in the Preparation for Government Committee.

In addition, the Committee welcomed the fact that DETI and Invest NI had been given a high-profile budget to deliver on that commitment. Accompanying that responsibility is a compelling need to address regional investment inequalities, and the enhanced budget capacity provides an opportunity for a properly planned subregional commitment, incorporating real financial capacity, which the Committee has discussed on several occasions.

In the past, the Committee has expressed concern that the Department’s spending priorities did not include sufficient resources for the social economy and offered only limited resources for local economic development. Committee members were concerned that DETI appeared to be reducing its budget in that area of growing importance, and having expressed concern, we received assurances from Ministers and Invest NI about the suggestion of psychological withdrawal from local social-economy initiatives.

The Committee is also concerned about achieving the best balance between the effort to attract foreign direct investment and support for local businesses — both existing businesses and newer, more innovative enterprises.

Committee members have continued to stress that, in order to tackle social and economic inequalities and to add to the sum of opportunity in the region, the Executive must provide joined-up support for local businesses in areas of economic disadvantage.

At Budget time, the Committee expressed concern about the removal of the integrated development fund, which was a good means by which local people could work to secure support from different parts of Government and to attract identifiable funding for cross-cutting initiatives. Unfortunately, the Budget did away with such means, which could, for example, have provided the exact wherewithal for Limavady to respond to the challenges that it faced after Seagate closed.

In addition, questions arose in the Committee about Invest NI’s, and, indeed, DETI’s, corporate plan. In the past, Invest NI encouraged investment in targeted areas of social need, but in its 2008-11 operating plan that goal was removed and replaced with a commitment to secure 75% of land acquisition in areas of economic disadvantage. We have questioned that a number of times. In particular, I have stressed concerns about the need to understand the implications, and the real meaning, of that shift and what it represents, and we have still to receive clear answers. The Member who proposed this motion probably shares that concern.

Given that Invest NI always claims that that target was a success, what is the rationale for doing away with it and replacing it with a target that is about land acquisition rather than job creation and location?

On several occasions, the Committee raised the case for Invest NI having a stronger subregional emphasis in its work. Last week, the Minister met the Committee and told members about the review that she is commissioning into Invest NI and wider matters of economic development. We welcome that initiative from the Minister and her Executive colleagues’ agreement of to it. She has offered the Committee the opportunity to contribute to the terms of reference for the review — we will want to clarify some and amplify others; not least, the final term of reference, which mentions:

“the sub-regional distribution of inward investment and the effectiveness of policy in encouraging the location of investment.”

The Committee also wants to see a subregional element in relation to indigenous business. The subregional issue should not only relate to inward investment, it should relate to support for indigenous business also. Such support is echoed throughout the Chamber.

The Committee is also concerned about how the Start a Business programme is being developed. We hope that the Minister, when conducting her review, will reconsider some of the changes that are being made to the programme, so that the new contracting system will not suffer from the same problems that have affected some of the other DEL programmes.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP 3:15 am, 7th October 2008

I support the amendment. It is the responsibility of all elected representatives in this Chamber to do everything possible to ensure that there is prosperity and that career opportunities are available in equal measure to all our constituents. The question is how we can bring that about.

Had Members felt inclined to support the motion, the Member proposing it may have put them off doing so. What came through during her speech was a communist, or Stalinist, approach to the economy — the kind of thinking that brought about collective farming in other areas of the world, and we all know what that led to.

Obviously, a greater level of mobile, inward investment must be attracted to Northern Ireland. That will not be easy in the days ahead, given the current economic climate. Although many people are talking about it, we are not in a recession currently, difficult as times may be. Given the current world economic downturn, there is limited potential in the banking and finance sectors. However, in spite of the current difficulties, we must be certain that Northern Ireland is ready for an upturn when it comes.

We must make Northern Ireland economically attractive to investors — not only those from overseas but indigenous businesses with the opportunity and potential to expand. In the area of excellence in education, we must produce high-quality, motivated and qualified students, especially students with qualifications in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. We must develop motivated and entrepreneurial businesspeople, as well as a creative business culture that embraces risk-taking and within which business failure does not carry a stigma.

Additionally, we must ensure that the skills base of our labour force can be benchmarked favourably against the best in the world. That can only be ensured if we start to embed business sense into the education system during children’s very early years, by incorporating it into the primary curriculum. Primary-level education must encourage business thinking and entrepreneurship, as is commonly found in other countries. We compete with such countries currently and will do so in the future.

Secondary-level education must provide the opportunity to gain meaningful vocational qualifications and the increased opportunity to gain access to higher educational courses and attainment of vocational foundation degrees or, where relevant, other types of degrees.

We must have apprenticeship training schemes that can be measured against the best in the world, and not be found to be inferior, to give our young people the best possible training options.

Road, rail and air links will be important features in the future, and we must ensure that those links are available if businesses are to locate in Northern Ireland. Of course, technology links are no impediment to our business success. We are fortunate in Northern Ireland in having such technology links in place at present and a measure of that success is readily apparent in the successful roll-out of broadband in Northern Ireland

Furthermore, as the proposer of the amendment suggested, we must also encourage mobility in our working-age population: jobs cannot always be guaranteed to be on the doorstep.

If we can put in place our business culture, job skills and support infrastructures, mobile investment will be attracted to — at the very least — consider Northern Ireland as a potential place in which to invest.

I reject the narrow thinking that is implicit in the motion. We all want to see prosperity and jobs located in our own constituencies. However, it is the businessmen and women with funds to invest who will make the decision whether — and where — to locate in Northern Ireland. If we can create the right conditions, the whole of Northern Ireland will benefit through business success.

Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP

The motion under debate calls for the Executive Committee urgently to develop new measures to address so-called regional investment inequalities. I will come to the economic policy issues in a moment, but first I must examine the irony, although perhaps much stronger terminology could be used. The irony is that Sinn Féin Members have tabled a motion calling on the Executive Committee to act urgently when that party has blocked all meetings of the Northern Ireland Executive since the 19 June — 110 days ago.

In the midst of a global economic crisis that is seriously affecting the economies of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Sinn Féin has brought the work of the Executive to a halt. Across the world, Governments are striving to keep pace with the economic threats and challenges that appear daily. What does Sinn Féin do? It vetoes any meetings of the Northern Ireland Executive during the most serious economic crisis that the international economy has witnessed since perhaps 1929 — I do not personally remember those events, by the way. Sinn Féin now has the affront to table a motion calling on the Executive urgently to address an economic policy issue. The motion simply cannot and should not be taken seriously. After three months of vetoing Executive meetings, amidst a global economic crisis, Sinn Féin has neither the necessary political or moral authority to call on the Executive urgently to address economic matters.

If this motion were to gain the support of the House, how exactly does its Sinn Féin proposer expect it to be implemented? How can the Executive Committee urgently develop policies on regional investment when the Executive Committee has not met for three months as a result of a Sinn Féin veto?

I, and my party, agree that there needs to be a debate on regional investment policies. For example, there must be a debate on the role of foreign direct investment in the present economic climate. Furthermore, there must be a serious debate on whether we should reconsider our reliance on foreign direct investment as the core of our economic policy or whether, perhaps, we should move to a renewed emphasis on indigenous business start-ups.

However, today is not the day for such a debate. Why? Because of Sinn Féin’s intransigence in blocking any meetings of the Executive during an economic crisis. The Northern Ireland public will, quite rightly, not take the Assembly seriously if we are seen to support a Sinn Féin motion requesting the Executive urgently to address economic policy while that party continues its three-month veto on Executive meetings.

That being the case, I, unfortunately but respectfully, see no merit in engaging meaningfully in debating a motion that, in present circumstances, has no meaning. Therefore I oppose the motion.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I support the amendment because it is rooted in the real world. My colleague Robin Newton detected some Marxism — some old-style communism — in the comments of the mover of the motion, Martina Anderson. Although I accept that she and her party have a different ideology to mine on economic matters, her contribution was another example of a speech that was more Groucho Marx than Karl Marx.

Thankfully, I have no insight into republican thinking, but I could have made a fairly good stab at guessing what the Member would say and what her party colleagues will say later.

However, I acknowledge and welcome Sinn Féin’s conversion: its members are now calling for investment in Northern Ireland. I wonder, as I am sure do other Members, where the fundamentals of our economy would be today had it not been for Sinn Féin’s support for the IRA and the succour that that party gave to it down through the years when that organisation did all in its power to destroy businesses in Northern Ireland, to deter investment here and to single out and murder members of the business community. Would the areas that the Member and her party are trying to identify in the motion be as blighted had they not been in the grip of terrorism for so long? Members should ponder those questions.

I want to see the whole of the Northern Ireland economy grow and develop, and I want to see every area and everyone in every area do well out of a booming Northern Ireland economy. That situation may not be easy to visualise at this time, when we are facing the sort of financial crisis that Mr Cree talked about. Indeed, his comments were valid. I want the worst areas and the people who are the worst off in those areas to do well out of any investment, but one must live in the real world. Businesses will base investment decisions on what is best for that business, and they will seek to locate their business in an area in which they will have an advantage.

The Assembly cannot do anything to make those decisions for the businesses; that is not what we do. As a Government or, indeed, as an Assembly, we are not in the business of making such decisions. The area that is best suited for the location of a business may well be in the Member’s constituency or in the constituencies of the other Members who tabled the motion, or it could be in my constituency of Strangford.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I hear one voice in support of that idea. If we wanted to go down the whinging-and-whining route that we have come to expect from Sinn Féin Members during debates on this type of motion, I could match them by whinging and whining about Strangford.

An Invest Northern Ireland publication, ‘Invest NI at a Glance’, provides some details on the amount of inward investment and financial assistance that has been made on each person in the population, and, it shows that constituencies such as mine are among the worst off. I could stand here and whinge and whine about how badly off my area is. The figures in that publication show that the constituencies from which the Members who tabled the motion come are doing well out of investment and financial assistance per capita and also out of company visits that are organised by Invest Northern Ireland. They are doing better than other constituencies, such as mine and those of my colleagues. However, we do not whinge and whine about it, because we see the whole Northern Ireland economic picture. We acknowledge that Northern Ireland will boom if Belfast is booming. Likewise, other places will boom if their surrounding areas are doing well.

I do not accept the argument that people in north or west Belfast will not benefit from investment unless it is made in their areas. I wish that the Titanic Quarter development was within one mile of the boundary of my constituency. That area provides one of the biggest employment opportunities in Northern Ireland’s history, and it is within a mile of west Belfast and is probably less distance from the boundaries of north Belfast. Huge employment opportunities have been created, and that is where the issue of mobility, as mentioned in the amendment, is pertinent.

I welcome the review into Invest Northern Ireland, as did both Sean Neeson and the Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. I do not hold any torch for Invest Northern Ireland; it is important that the work of that body is reviewed. Invest Northern Ireland should be focused on doing what it can to develop the whole Northern Ireland economy so that everyone benefits, rather than merely spreading the wealth and investment around the country.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin 3:30 am, 7th October 2008

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. This is not only a major issue for members of Sinn Féin: it is a big issue for many of the small and indigenous businesses across the North. During the past year, I met several business owners in the north-east branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Their attitude to Invest NI is one of severe criticism, and they recognise that regional inequalities must be addressed. That criticism deals not only with regional inequalities, but covers dealing with Invest NI in general.

In its response to the Varney Review last year, FSB stated that:

“Invest NI has not been a fully engaged partner with the small business sector… Whilst its corporate plan pays lip service to the desire to help develop small business in reality a large proportion of members are unhappy with the outcomes from their dealings with the body.”

There is not only a problem with regional inequalities; there is a whole array of problems with Invest NI. I welcome the fact that the Minister will carry out a review. It is hoped that that review will be far-reaching and bring to Invest NI a degree of transparency that has not been seen to date.

My constituency has some very stark figures with regard to the work that Invest NI has not done over the past 10 years. I listened to the Alliance Party talk about outdated ideologies, etc. It is wrong for the Alliance Party to turn a blind eye to the inequalities that exist in society and the causes of those inequalities. At this time, people will understand the need:

“to target resources and efforts to those in the greatest objective need.” as the motion outlines.

However, the figures in my constituency speak for themselves. My colleague Martina Anderson referred to the fact that there had been 133 first-time Invest NI inward-investment projects over the past 10 years, along with 17,180 jobs promoted by those projects — none of which has been in North Antrim. Over the same period, almost 15,000 new jobs had been promoted by reinvestment projects from externally-owned clients, and only 35 of those were in North Antrim. Over the past five years, there were close to 700 visits by potential inward investors, and only three came as far as North Antrim. The issue affects not only republican and nationalist areas; it affects unionist areas as well.

When Sinn Féin says that it wants to deal with the inequalities and target those based on objective need, it will do so regardless of religion or political opinion. Sinn Féin wants to target and help those in greatest need — and more people will come under that category over the next few months as the recession kicks in.

I welcome the Minister’s decision to review the workings of Invest NI and the need for that to be transparent. We must ensure that regional inequalities are addressed, and Invest NI has yet to demonstrate that it is willing to address those inequalities. It must start to listen to some of the criticisms levelled against it — not only by ourselves, but by small and indigenous businesses. The response that they get is one of ignorance and disdain. That approach is all wrong and it must be reviewed.

The opportunity exists to change the remit, policies and direction of Invest NI so that investment is directed to areas of greatest need, and investors are actively encouraged to locate in those areas. There is a clear need for Invest NI to listen to what businesses say that it does, and to change the way it does business. Only then will Invest NI be able to address the extreme lack of confidence that many in the business and wider community have in it. Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Tommy Gallagher Tommy Gallagher Social Democratic and Labour Party

I support the motion. It is regrettable that the debate takes place against a backdrop of an Executive that are unable to function.

The public, particularly the business community, expects the social and economic interests of the people whom we represent to take precedence over any narrow political interests, especially those obstructing Assembly business.

I agree with Sean Neeson about the difficulties that we all face in attracting investment to Northern Ireland — that is a fact. However, my party colleagues and I oppose the Alliance Party’s amendment because it distracts from the main issue of addressing regional inequalities. The amendment refers to labour mobility; however, to talk of labour mobility is, in many cases, to let the powers that be off the hook. Some of my constituents — who support the various parties in the Chamber — are losing their jobs in the public sector, for example, in the Water Service, and their options are not good: they are being asked to move to Belfast — that is the kind of labour mobility that is being presented to them. Therefore, the SDLP cannot support the amendment.

There are difficulties across the board, but they are particularly acute in Fermanagh and Tyrone because of the legacy of neglect of the west. There are some clear priorities for addressing that legacy, not least a step up in Invest Northern Ireland’s general approach and in the Department for Regional Development’s approach to roads infrastructure. I commend the Minister for announcing a review of the activities of Invest Northern Ireland, because that agency has so far failed to address the problems here, particularly in the west.

Simon Hamilton mentioned visits that were organised by Invest NI. In 2006 and 2007, Invest Northern Ireland brought 230 possible investors to Northern Ireland, but none could be brought to Strabane, the biggest employment black spot in the west; and only one of them could be brought to Fermanagh, which is the second-biggest employment black spot.

Devolution was supposed to make a difference to the lives of people here. Since devolution, Invest Northern Ireland has published a new strategy, the aim of which is to concentrate on directing all investment towards Belfast and Derry. Labour mobility is hinted at, which does not bode well for Fermanagh. I hope that the review of Invest Northern Ireland will include an in-depth exploration of tourism. Much has been made of signature tourism projects, but where are they based? They are in Antrim or Down — none of them is based in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, areas that attract large numbers of visitors.

Last week, the Bain Report on public-sector jobs highlighted the poor roads infrastructure in the west. Enniskillen and Cookstown, which are in the west, and Downpatrick, which is in Mr Wells’s constituency, were not chosen as locations for public-sector jobs because of their very poor infrastructure and transport facilities. It is time that we took the subject of the motion seriously. In parts of the North, and especially in the west, the Department’s record on inward and infrastructure investment — and these are areas in which there is no alternative to roads — has, so far, been very poor.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I ask the Member to bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I thank the Members who tabled the motion. I also thank the proposer of the motion who, at the outset, was upfront about the motivation behind it. She said that Sinn Féin’s decision to table the motion was part of a political campaign against the corporate mindset of Invest NI.

That is very upfront, and it lets us know where the motion is coming from. Mr McKay tried to resile slightly from those comments in his speech, but it is clear that one party wants to make a political campaign against Invest NI. However, it is very upfront about that, and I thank it for that.

I welcome the motion. First, it allows me to reaffirm the commitment of the entire Executive team to fulfil their responsibility to support the regions of Northern Ireland that have deep-rooted and complex social and economic problems. I should say at the outset that, as a representative for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, I have a clear understanding of the issues. Tommy Gallagher outlined our thoughts on the Bain Report and what it had to say about roads infrastructure, not taking into account that, in this modern era of technology, accessibility does not necessarily mean that people have to travel by road. Secondly, the motion enables me to clarify the capacity of my Department, via its policies, programmes and resources, to impact on regional investment patterns. Thirdly, it affords me the opportunity to clarify for the Assembly the regional investment patterns that have arisen as a result of Invest NI’s activity.

As the motion acknowledges, the Programme for Government recognises that achieving sustainable economic growth and improving prosperity for all will require strong and determined action to address poverty and disadvantage. However, the complexities and underlying causes of the problem place an overarching responsibility on the Executive to address existing patterns of economic and social disadvantage proactively. Therefore, a co-ordinated cross-departmental approach is vital if we are to be successful in helping the most vulnerable in our society and create strong, vibrant and sustainable communities that we all desire.

There are targets in the Programme for Government that focus on delivering economic improvement, and they are supported by a number of public service agreement targets that have an economic development focus. However, Sean Neeson made the point — and it was reiterated by Robin Newton — that those targets are the responsibility of other Departments, including the Department for Employment and Learning, the Department of Education, the Department for Regional Development and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Economic development policies and initiatives, and the investments that flow from them, are not the exclusive responsibility of one Department, nor can they be substantially impacted on by the actions of one Department acting in isolation. Through its focus on productivity growth and increasing employment, my Department can, and does, make a significant contribution to the overall objective.

The role of Invest Northern Ireland is to contribute to the growth of Northern Ireland’s economy by helping new and existing businesses to compete internationally and by attracting new investment into Northern Ireland. I want to pick up on a point that was made by Mr McKay, who said that the FSB had expressed discontent with Invest Northern Ireland. Invest Northern Ireland does not deal with very small companies, and I have been examining that issue to see whether there is a gap.

Invest Northern Ireland deals with companies that have potential for export or that already export. Mr McKay also commented that indigenous companies were not being supported, but, over the past five years, some 54% of all assistance by Invest Northern Ireland has gone to locally-owned NI companies.

Inclusivity is the cornerstone of the approach for Invest Northern Ireland. As its corporate plan makes abundantly clear, its overriding objective is to increase business productivity in order to create wealth for the benefit of the whole community.

DETI and Invest NI are primarily focused on business development and growth — that is what we have been tasked to do by the Executive. Indeed, we do not have powers to intervene on a social basis. At a time of credit crunch and global economic difficulties, focus on business development and growth is essential.

However, our work is underpinned by the principles of equality of opportunity, anti-poverty and social inclusion. DETI and Invest NI are fully committed to contributing to the Government’s objective of developing a balanced regional company.

We have consistently demonstrated our commitment to ensuring that services can be accessed by businesses and individuals throughout Northern Ireland. Invest Northern Ireland uses its influence, where possible, to alleviate the problems of economic disadvantage and to help narrow the gap in key indicators such as economic inactivity.

Invest Northern Ireland seeks to ensure that its programmes and services can be accessed by businesses and individuals throughout Northern Ireland. It is scrupulous in ensuring that it meets its equality of opportunity obligations and in its reporting of its activities and their spatial impact in a transparent and detailed manner. Those activities are published in Invest Northern Ireland’s ‘Performance Information Report 2002/03-2006/07’, which I commend to Members, and which is available on the organisation’s website.

However, there is a limit to what Invest Northern Ireland can achieve and influence, given its limited access to policy levers and resources. In a resource allocation context, the annual Invest Northern Ireland programme activity budget amounts to approximately £150 million. To put it another way, that amount represents less than 2% of the Executive’s annual Budget.

Invest Northern Ireland has given a firm commitment that, over a three-year planning cycle of its corporate plan, it will ensure that 75% of new land acquired for the use of its clients will be located in disadvantaged areas. Furthermore, it is important to note that we also ensure that 70% of new foreign direct investment is located within 10 miles of an area of economic disadvantage.

Those are well-judged, practical and sensible targets, and they are a direct response to the travel-to-work patterns that characterise modern economies, including that of Northern Ireland. It must be recognised, however, that there are no longer any self-contained labour markets for foreign direct investment projects. People are now much more willing to travel to other areas in order to reach their place of work.

Invest Northern Ireland has the facility to offer enhanced rates of assistance to projects that are located in disadvantaged areas and has used that facility to good effect. Invest Northern Ireland has sought, with some success, to encourage potential inward investors to consider locating in disadvantaged areas. Between 2002 and 2008, for example, 71% of first-time inward-investment projects assisted by Invest Northern Ireland were located in such areas. In addition, 51% of all financial assistance offered by the agency during the same period was to clients located in such areas, the populations of which account for only 30% of the Northern Ireland total. By any measure, that is a significant skewing of Government assistance to those in areas of greater need, mainly in rural areas in the west of the Province.

It is important to examine investment patterns, which are the result of a wide variety and complex set of location decision-making factors, of which the availability of serviced industrial sites and access to financial support are secondary. Invest Northern Ireland’s interventions are by their nature largely demand-led and driven by private-sector clients — both companies and individuals — bringing forward their proposals for growing their businesses. That is important, because people are making commercial decisions about what they are going to do.

As I said earlier, a project that is assisted in a particular location has significant potential to create benefits across a much wider area. Many investors draw their workforces from areas beyond council or constituency boundaries. Even the workforce of a hospital, large school or Government office will show that pattern. Much has been made of the fact that a large proportion of inward investment in Belfast is located in the south of the city. In reality, however, 96% of inward investment in Belfast was located within a three-mile radius of the city centre, thereby creating employment opportunities accessible to all in the greater Belfast area. Indeed, it should be noted that almost three quarters of those who work in South Belfast live outside that constituency area.

Making judgements that are based on superficial comparisons of performance across the different geographical areas of Northern Ireland is highly and, undoubtedly, wilfully misleading. People should consider what they are saying when they make those points.

It is also important to consider the new companies that have come to Northern Ireland to do business in the manufacturing and tradable service industries. Invest Northern Ireland has assisted projects in a range of locations, such as Armagh, Bangor, Larne, Newry, Antrim, Enniskillen, Strabane, Kilkeel and Carrickfergus. Recently, in the north-west, significant project announcements have been made by key investors such as Du Pont, Perfecseal Ltd, Firstsource Solutions and Fujitsu. It is important to note that those companies have made investments in Northern Ireland, and instead of using the anti-capitalist rhetoric that we have heard here today, we should be welcoming those companies to Northern Ireland and encouraging them to invest more.

The amendment rightly recognises that businesses make investment decisions primarily for economic and financial reasons. Unfortunately, the days of philanthropic investments have long since disappeared. Internationally-focused businesses, particularly those supported by Invest NI, will first choose to invest in Northern Ireland, and secondly to invest in specific subregional locations, only for sound economic and financial reasons. They will only invest if they perceive the commercial risk to be acceptable, and, after that, they will then consider whether they can generate a sufficient return on their investment. The level of commercial risk is determined after consideration of all location decision-making factors, such as political and economic stability; labour and skills availability; roads infrastructure; transportation linkages and affordability; accommodation; and grant assistance.

The amendment also calls for action to address the current barriers to labour mobility. The Department, through Invest NI, seeks to ensure that it has sufficient land zoned for industrial use for the use of its clients across Northern Ireland. At the moment, Invest NI is targeting specific areas in which it needs to increase its holding. Its land bank has been fast diminishing in recent years as a result of strong client demand, and it only has approximately 750 acres currently available for letting to clients. That is something that needs to be addressed.

Arguments have been put forward concerning a perceived neglect of the north-west, or an east-west bias regarding chosen investment locations. The reality, when one considers the facts, is very different. Investment secured per head of population shows that Invest NI-supported projects in the north-west have resulted in the highest level of planned investment per head of any part of Northern Ireland. That is not a vacuous statistical contortion; those are the facts. They may not sit very well with Ms Anderson’s warped anti-capitalist view of Northern Ireland, but those are the realities. If Ms Anderson wishes to make any specific allegations in relation to the expenses of members of Invest NI’s board, I firmly suggest that she write to me, so that I may investigate everything that she produces.

To repeat: although the Department and Invest NI seek to fulfil their role in tackling regional disparity, they do not have all of the policy levers and resources to materially influence spatial patterns of investment.

Finally, Members will be aware that I announced to the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment last week that there would be an independent review of economic development policies and programmes. That review will examine the structure and remit of Invest NI, as well as the subregional distribution of inward investment, and the effectiveness of policy in encouraging the location of investment. I will, of course, keep the Members of the House informed of the progress of that review.

In conclusion, if the deep-rooted and complex social and economic causes of disadvantage are to be successfully addressed, the co-ordinated effort of all parts of the Executive, as well as the support of the private, voluntary and community sectors, will be required to ensure that investments are utilised to the maximum benefit of those in our society in the greatest need. I can assure the House that the Executive is fully committed to focusing on those important issues, and will continue to do so. The success of the Programme for Government will depend on all Ministers and their Departments working closely together to ensure optimum economic outcomes on an equitable basis for all of Northern Ireland. I can also assure the House that the Executive, my Department and its agencies, including Invest NI, have been playing, and will continue to fully play, their role in this important matter.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance 3:45 am, 7th October 2008

I welcome the fact that we are having this debate today, although I must express regret at some of the thinking that has been expressed by the proposers of the motion. Everyone in the House will agree that there is an issue to be discussed regarding the distribution of economic opportunities across Northern Ireland, but there is a profound disagreement as to the means of best addressing that. The proposers of the motion have demonstrated outmoded economic thinking that is a relic of centuries long ago. They are essentially speaking about a command economy rather than a market economy. One would have thought that the lessons that were painfully learned during the twentieth century would have demonstrated the fallacy of a command economy, whether under national socialism or communism.

Market economies are the only way to ensure that there is maximum economic prosperity for societies around the world. That is accepted internationally by most people. Sinn Féin seems to be more concerned about how the cake in Northern Ireland is divided, rather than its size.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

The honourable Member will be interested to know that, in the past six years, there have been 165 inward-investment visits to the constituencies of the four Members who tabled the motion. Considering that North Antrim received three, South Down received five and Strangford received nine, those Members can hardly complain that DETI and Invest NI are not making an effort to bring inward investment to their constituencies.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

The Member makes a good point, which I will address shortly.

We must appreciate that there is a limit to how much we can direct the location of investment. As the Minister clarified, businesses will ultimately take decisions that are based on economic and financial reasons, which she broke down into the competitive issues that they will examine, such as transport and the local skills base. It is hard enough to attract investment to Northern Ireland, particularly of a high-quality and high value-added nature, without attaching further strings to the location of that investment.

We have to acknowledge that investment has been made in areas that are close to deprived communities across Northern Ireland. As Sean Neeson stated, there is a high GVA and high employment in Belfast. However, those figures are largely based on commuters coming into the city, which means that there are people who live in Belfast who miss out. For example, although the gasworks site is next to the Markets and Donegall Pass areas, very few people from those areas are employed there. Why is that?

The investment that has been made in Belfast is closer to people who live in West Belfast than it is to those who take most of the jobs and commute from the suburbs of the greater Belfast area and beyond. Why are people in West Belfast not taking those jobs? Therefore, insisting that jobs are created on the doorsteps of certain communities does not address the fundamental problem, which goes much deeper. Forcing the issue will buck the market for no reason, which is to the ultimate disadvantage of Northern Ireland.

We must address skills gaps and the levels of economic inactivity, including issues that are linked to disabilities and mental-health problems. We must invest in accessible and sustainable public transport and address segregation caused by peoples’ fears of moving to an area because a different side of the community is perceived as dominant there.

An efficient and effective economy requires full and proper labour market mobility, which we do not have in Northern Ireland. We have a two-speed society, in which an advanced section has labour-market mobility and is able to access jobs, and the remainder do not. The Executive must invest their efforts in addressing the barriers that exist for some people to access jobs, instead of micromanaging the economy, which has no discernible benefit — and is potentially detrimental — to the economy in Northern Ireland. The economic situation is fragile enough as it is.

I stress the Alliance Party’s support for a review of Invest Northern Ireland, which I think will have support from all sides of the House. There is a range of issues that must be addressed, but the motion is flawed. I urge Members to support the amendment.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I make no apologies for whingeing and whining, which Simon Hamilton accused me of, or for having outdated or outmoded ideologies. The motion is not about whether people can travel to and from employment; it is about helping people who live in disadvantaged areas where there is deprivation and need.

The motion calls for investment to come into those areas, provide employment for local people and help to grow the local economy. If that is whingeing and whining, that is fine. Long-term economic development that is stable, sustainable and socially beneficial to all is at the heart of the motion.

Invest NI has a long history of not delivering publicly-sponsored investment to areas such as West Belfast and North Belfast, which have some of the most deprived electoral wards and super output areas in the North. For example, of 16 inward-investment projects for Belfast that Invest NI offered £20·7 million of assistance to in 2006-07, none were located in the west Belfast and greater Shankill area. Some of my colleagues have already provided statistics and mentioned the difficulty in getting those statistics from Invest NI. During the past 10 years, the number of jobs that were promoted by Invest NI-sponsored first-time inward-investment projects totalled 4,748 in South Belfast compared with 1,302 in West Belfast, despite the fact that five of the most distressed wards in the North are located in West Belfast. The people of West Belfast and of areas west of the Bann are entitled to have investment opportunities come into their areas.

During the debate, Leslie Cree, among other Members, attacked Sinn Féin I do not know how many times. The previous leader of his party brought down not only the Executive, but the entire Assembly. Therefore, it is a bit ridiculous of him to lecture Sinn Féin on whether the Executive meets.

The subject of the debate is the long-term corporate approach of Invest NI and its predecessor, the Industrial Development Board, which has damaged areas and groups that already suffer significant disadvantage. Even in economic terms, that approach is outdated, incompetent, wasteful and short-sighted. I have noted the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s comments. She said that equality of opportunity and social inclusion underpin Invest NI’s corporate plan. However, she did not explain why half of the assistance that it has offered has gone to clients that are already located in affluent areas. It does nothing for people in disadvantaged areas. That must be remembered.

New and innovative measures to integrate sustainable economic growth and social improvements on the basis of objective need are the cornerstone of modern economic development. Mark Durkan and Tommy Gallagher referred to that. The core of the issue is the compelling need to challenge regional inequalities. Job creation must be targeted towards TSN areas. That is the only way. People do ask to live in poverty or to be poor. Social inequalities put people in that situation.

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin 4:00 am, 7th October 2008

I listened carefully to the Minister’s comments. My constituents will be disappointed that she defended Invest NI’s abysmal record in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Speaking in my capacity as MP and MLA for that constituency, I ask whether the Member is aware that, according to figures that have been published by DETI, my parliamentary constituency experiences an economic inactivity rate of 36%, compared with 17% for East Belfast and 19% for East Antrim. Is the Member also aware that the number of new jobs that were promoted by first-time inward-investment projects that were sponsored by Invest NI during the past decade was just 641 in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, compared with almost 5,000 in South Belfast?

Does the Member agree that the Minister’s strong support for Invest NI is yet another example of the worst excesses of big-house unionism, which rides roughshod over the objective needs of working-class and socially deprived unionists, nationalists and republicans throughout my constituency? The Assembly must stand up for people’s rights. My party will not be afraid to campaign against patterns of inequality, especially generational inequality, which Invest NI has perpetuated.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her comments. It is also clear, regardless of whether the Assembly agrees, that the areas that receive the lowest levels of financial support and investment are predominantly nationalist areas. No matter what statistics are quoted, that is the reality. [Interruption.]

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Order. The Member has the Floor.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

We must take every opportunity to ensure that those directly affected by social and economic disadvantage are also directly targeted by the public organisations responsible for creating and retaining employment. We may be facing an economic downturn — or whatever Members like to call it — but there are still opportunities for us to build for the future. Our priorities must be to protect jobs and to bring forward planned funding for the delivery of major infrastructure projects in roads, housing, education and health as outlined in the investment strategy.

We must use procurement programmes by ensuring that all public procurement expenditure — including that for services, works and goods — integrates long-term economic and social sustainability through the development of creative contract compliance measures in relation to corporate delivery. That important measure could have a significant impact by targeting the long-term unemployed and the economically inactive in the areas that I have talked about. Through the creation of apprenticeships, we can collectively develop a wider sustainable skills base.

We must ensure that local small-to-medium enterprises and social-economy enterprises enter competitions for public contracts at a tendering stage with the same level of expertise as other larger companies, since that will positively impact on the local economy. That is what we are talking about: building local economies.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

No.

We are not just talking about people travelling to and from the city centre into work, but rather building local economies to produce social outcomes and challenge poverty, disadvantage and need.

Invest NI has failed on several levels. In particular, it has not delivered for areas of severe disadvantage, such as North and West Belfast — sorry for whingeing, Simon. Invest NI must be held to account for that. The promotion of equality of opportunity in the discharge of public funds is essential if people are to have confidence in public bodies and organisations.

Members have talked about everything in this debate: skills, technology and mobility, and Sinn Féin has been attacked quite a number of times. The party opposite has talked about outmoded and outdated ideologies, Marxism and communism — but we have not about regional inequalities. That is what the debate is about.

Neither I, nor my party, apologise for tabling the motion. Go raibh maith agat.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 40; Noes 22.

AYES

Mr Beggs, Mr Bresland, Lord Browne, Mr Buchanan, Mr Campbell, Mr T Clarke, Rev Dr Robert Coulter,  Mr Cree, Mr Dodds, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Mrs Foster, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch,  Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Mr McCarthy, Mr McCausland, Mr McClarty, Mr I McCrea, Dr W McCrea,  Mr McNarry, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Neeson, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Savage, Mr Shannon, Mr Simpson,  Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Mr B Wilson.

Tellers for the Ayes: Dr Farry and Mr McCarthy.

NOES

Ms Anderson, Mr Boylan, Mr D Bradley, Mrs M Bradley, Mr P J Bradley, Mr Butler, Mr W Clarke, Mr Durkan, Mr Gallagher, Ms Gildernew, Mr A Maginness,  Mr A Maskey, Mr P Maskey, Ms J McCann, Mr McGlone, Mr McKay, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O’Dowd, Mr O’Loan, Mr P Ramsey, Ms S Ramsey.

Tellers for the Noes: Ms Anderson and Mr McKay.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That this Assembly calls on Invest NI, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Executive Committee to develop urgently, and implement, new and innovative measures for tackling the existing patterns of regional investment inequalities; recognises that businesses will seek to make investment decisions primarily for economic and financial reasons; and calls for action to address the current barriers to labour mobility.

Adjourned at 4.19 pm.