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Invest NI

Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:15 pm on 20th October 2009.

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Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 5:15 pm, 20th October 2009

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 wish to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin 5:30 pm, 20th October 2009

I beg to move

That this Assembly notes the criticism of the performance of Invest NI reported in the Independent Review of Economic Policy; and calls on the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to ensure that any future spending by Invest NI is distributed in an equitable and accountable manner.

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the recent announcement on the creation of jobs in Derry and Belfast, and I congratulate all those who were involved in bringing about that much-needed breakthrough in job creation.

The Independent Review of Economic Policy provides clear evidence of the need for a new approach in developing the economy. It also outlines the failings of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and, particularly, those of Invest NI.

Both inside and outside the Chamber, my party has expressed its concern consistently about Invest NI’s performance. We have highlighted regional investment inequalities and uncovered the spending of tens of millions of pounds by Invest NI on the rental of empty properties and on its new Belfast headquarters. That amounts to at least £115 million of public money being spent over 25 years through a public-private partnership arrangement.

The report also illustrates a clear need to push on the SME sector and to grow the export potential of existing businesses. However, although there is a need to drive forward innovation, particularly R&D, I am concerned that the report recommends phasing out support for business expansion. That is a concern, because there is space to move smaller businesses into our export market.

Growing the economy and tackling poverty and disadvantage are two of the key pillars in the Programme for Government and investment strategy. All opportunities must be used to drive both those pillars together. In a recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, it was stated that £7 an hour was the minimum wage necessary for a socially acceptable standard of living. However, in the North of Ireland, half the population falls below that standard.

We need to be clear about how we use public money to grow the economy, but that cannot be dealt with in isolation from the need to keep people in employment and to create jobs. For decades, the focus of Invest NI and its predecessors has been on drawing investment into the greater Belfast area. That approach has failed people in the north-west, west of the Bann and even certain areas of Belfast.

When the west Belfast economic task force published its report, Invest NI was known as the IDB. The IDB’s appalling record on job creation was cited in that document. A number of recommendations related to the investment body, including its being assigned to take a lead role or to act as a funding channel for certain IDF projects. The task force recommended the creation of an enterprise ark, or an enterprise action zone, throughout the task force area. The idea was to have a range of special incentives from government, especially Invest NI, for investing in that area.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I want to get through my speech; I am sure that the Member will have plenty of time to make his comments.

Invest NI has spent £10·3 million on landscaping the former Mackie site, yet it still has no strategy for generating employment and inward investment there. The former Mackie site is 12·5 acres, and there are another 36 acres in the hands of Invest NI throughout west Belfast, yet almost half of that land lies vacant.

Over a three-year period, west Belfast received the lowest number of offers of assistance in the Six Counties and nearly 5% of Invest NI’s investment. That was despite several of the wards in the area being in the top 10 indices for social and economic deprivation and despite one third of Belfast’s population living in the area. That is just another example of how Invest NI has failed people in disadvantaged areas.

The Barnett review identifies relatively high levels of selective financial assistance. Despite that, there are huge failures. I am sure that many people will question the value of 30% of Invest NI’s grants going to just 10 companies and of almost 50% of assistance going to just 30 companies, many of which have received support year on year. Invest NI needs to move beyond the world of favoured clients to provide more professional support to all businesses.

For too long, Invest NI has failed to provide value for money. Too often, the promise of jobs has been grossly inflated, and companies have pocketed grants and given little in return. Many companies, such as Visteon, Seagate and Valence received grants from Invest NI only to up and leave when they found cheaper labour elsewhere.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is important; no one here is suggesting otherwise. However, small and medium-sized local businesses are equally important, including those that operate in the social economy sector. The economic downturn has affected the anticipated level of FDI. Therefore, given the present adverse conditions, it is even more important that small and medium-sized businesses and social economy enterprises be given the resources that they need to sustain themselves in the short term and to develop and grow in the longer term. We need a new and innovative way of thinking if we are to sustain existing businesses and jobs and offset further job losses. Although a mix of different jobs is necessary, too many jobs have been low-waged and insecure. That has done nothing to raise living standards or tackle poverty and inequality at the heart of our economy.

I welcome the report’s recognition of the importance of the social economy and its potential to reduce deprivation and increase labour force participation in disadvantaged areas. We should encourage local investment opportunities, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises and the social economy sector. Such investment will not only sustain and grow the economy, but it will develop communities. However, the budget and resources that have been allocated to the social economy sector by Invest NI do not reflect that.

The social entrepreneurship programme, which will be delivered in the three years up to March 2012, has been allocated just under £3 million for 2008-2012. The social economy fund, which is a special initiative aimed at the long-term unemployed in west Belfast and greater Shankill, runs alongside that programme. Through that, just under £4 million will be allocated to the social economy sector here. The fact that €40·8 million was allocated to such initiatives in the South of Ireland in 2007 alone and that Scotland has allocated £30 million between 2008 and 2011 shows how little is given to the social economy sector.

Regional disparities on inward investment and social and economic inequality in certain areas of the North, particularly west of the Bann and in west and north Belfast, are clear indicators that the current economic policy is not delivering for large sections of the population that are in most need. Those areas are consistently worst served by Invest NI. Those inequalities must be challenged and prioritised and must become the focus of corrective action. Setting targets and measuring outcomes is an important element of performance assessment; it is also a recognised and accepted practice in reducing inequality and alleviating deprivation.

A raft of other measures in the gift of the Executive, such as their economic and social policies, will lift people out of poverty and give them the standard of living to which they are entitled. They have an opportunity to maximise social and employment opportunities for everyone through, for instance, their public procurement processes, which will secure jobs and create new employment opportunities for those in most need. They can relocate public sector jobs in order to help workers who have to travel and to help to develop rural economies.

More accountability is required in public spending to ensure that the most deprived members of society receive the same economic and social equality of opportunity as everyone else. Given the huge amounts of public money that Invest NI spends, there must be an onus on the Department to ensure that it is spent in an equitable and accountable manner. I support the motion.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the opportunity to speak about Professor Barnett’s report as Chairperson of the Committee. The Committee has yet to reach a collective view on the report. However, it has indicated that it takes the report seriously and will, in due course, examine it carefully and come to a considered view.

It has to be accepted that the report contains criticisms of Invest Northern Ireland. Those are constructive criticisms, however, and they must be viewed in the round rather than in a selective way. Professor Barnett gave very useful evidence to the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in which he emphasised that the real problem was the failure to bridge the productivity gap between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The closing of that gap is central to the Programme for Government, in which it is regarded as a particular target that ought to be achieved. Professor Barnett made that point as part of his general critique of Invest Northern Ireland.

Professor Barnett put tremendous emphasis on the need for investment in research and development, which, he said, was vital to the future of Northern Ireland’s economic expansion. He said that working on a programme-based approach offers:

“a defence mechanism against audits”.

However, he also said that:

“change is required”,

not because Invest Northern Ireland is not equitable or accountable, but:

“because of the government structures that have been imposed on DETI and Invest NI.”

Professor Barnett told the Committee that under such circumstances, we:

“should not be surprised that people are very cautious when making decisions.”

That is one of the problems that he highlighted. The over-emphasis on auditing has led to the development of a risk-averse culture. Professor Barnett said that in order to develop and expand business, people must take risks. There is a tension between auditing and accountability and taking reasonable risks to develop our economy. We must get that into perspective.

Professor Barnett told the Committee that it has a role in ensuring accountability and that we, as politicians, ought to take that role seriously. I agree with that, but the Committee must also exercise its responsibility in a balanced and reasonable way so that it encourages people into economic activity and developing business schemes that will attract high-value jobs to Northern Ireland. It is the lack of high-value jobs that creates the productivity gap. That is not to say that Invest Northern Ireland has not attracted jobs or made investment. It has invested £1 billion and has produced 28,000 new jobs while safeguarding 15,000 existing jobs. It has also attracted over £2·4 billion in investment.

That is a reasonable sketch of what Professor Barnett’s review of Invest Northern Ireland put forward. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP

I begin by commending the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, for commissioning the review of Invest Northern Ireland. She has demonstrated great prudence and forethought on what is economically best for Northern Ireland. Furthermore, I have no hesitation in welcoming the publication of the independent review of economic policy. I believe that it is important, at this stage, to place on record our thanks to Professor Barnett and his colleagues on the review panel, who worked tirelessly on a wide range of highly important and complex issues. Compiling the review was a mammoth task, and one that has been carried out at a time when we face immediate economic challenges, as well as looking to the future.

The report is highly detailed and wide ranging. Its 58 recommendations are direct and forthright, and should doubtless be addressed. If we as a Government are to meet the challenging Programme for Government priorities and targets on the economy, it is vital that DETI and Invest NI are as efficient and effective as possible.

It is important that the report is given full and balanced consideration by the Minister and the Executive as a whole. By commissioning a short period of consultation on the content of the report, the Minister demonstrated her commitment to take on board and address the issues that it raised. That will allow stakeholders and other interested parties to take the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing debate on how the Government should respond to the report as we seek to grow a dynamic and innovative economy that will improve the living standards of everyone in the Province.

The media has doubtless played a major role in sensationalising the issue. Many media reports were at odds with the balanced tone of the review. Some in the media have hijacked and misrepresented the findings and conclusions of the report. Although I acknowledge the criticism of the performance of Invest Northern Ireland, I do not believe that it calls into question its accountability standards, nor the equitability of its distribution of funding at any point; both of which are implied in the text of the motion. The report does not raise any question of accountability; in fact, Professor Barnett suggests awarding Invest Northern Ireland further autonomy to allow more flexibility and responsiveness to the business community, which will be welcomed by businesses.

The report gives much food for thought on improvements that can be made in Invest Northern Ireland. I do not need to remind the House that there has been considerable criticism of Invest Northern Ireland over the years, but not all of it has been justified; indeed, some of it has been far from justified. Some criticism has been driven by other political agendas. However, the report commends Invest Northern Ireland on its positive contribution to the Province. The report provides important and constructive insights, not only into Invest Northern Ireland and DETI but into the broader economic issues.

I welcome the fact that the Minister, the chairperson and the chief executive of Invest Northern Ireland welcomed the report, and are already progressing some of the suggested recommendations. The report comes at a time of considerable change for the local economy. If there are green shoots of recovery, they are very fragile and barely visible. We need to do all that we can to ensure that our economic strategies and policies are efficient and effective.

I do not support the motion. The report provides terms of reference and recommendations that we can glean and learn from. The review covered the period between 1 April 2002 and 31 March 2008, much of which was during the time of direct rule. The report shows that direct rule had a detrimental effect. I am glad that we now have a local Minister in situ who is committed and willing to take on board and address the issues that were raised in the report.

I call on the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to report to the Assembly, after careful and balanced consideration of the review, on how she intends to implement its findings following the public consultation, and on her discussions with Executive colleagues.

Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP 5:45 pm, 20th October 2009

I thank the Members for tabling the motion, although I am afraid that Sinn Féin has presented a rather confused argument that does little justice to the independent review of economic policy report, the economic reality on the ground or the needs of the business community throughout Northern Ireland.

In addition to proposing a motion on a detailed report that is out for consideration, Sinn Féin has shoehorned its longstanding issue with Invest Northern Ireland into a discussion on that report. The report provides clear evidence that Invest Northern Ireland needs to reform; it puts forward concise arguments that many of its practices are outdated and not reflective of best practice. However, Sinn Féin’s jump from those findings to a policy whereby Invest Northern Ireland should distribute money based on geographical equity is at best naïve and at worst a hindrance to the development of Northern Ireland’s economy as a whole.

Much of Sinn Féin’s argument would have been better placed at the door of the Minister for Regional Development. He is in charge of the regional development strategy, which provides greater potential for our infrastructure to be developed in a way that makes it more attractive for businesses to set up and flourish in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a small place, with one medium-sized city that will continue to be the centre of economic growth. All Invest Northern Ireland’s investment must be based on objective criteria that are linked to businesses’ potential to flourish and increase productivity, employment and exports.

I welcome the report’s focus on the productivity gap, and I was pleased by the Chairperson’s reference to that. We have been successful in creating employment in the past decade. However, that employment has often been at relatively low wages and created as the result of unsustainable investment that can leave Northern Ireland as quickly as it arrived; call-centre jobs are one example. The report is right that we must make greater investment in research, development and innovation if we are to bridge the productivity gap. The report also confirms what many of us have known for a long time: Invest Northern Ireland has continued a dated industrial development policy, and the selective financial assistance benefits too few client companies and does not help to develop a dynamic and competitive economy.

The report is rightly critical of Invest Northern Ireland’s bureaucratic structures. I welcome its statement:

“High-performing investment agencies have cultures that are responsive, fast moving and work to overcome bureaucracy. They are outcome, and not process, focused.”

It is time that Invest Northern Ireland became more entrepreneurial and more responsive to business needs. Northern Ireland has come a long way in the past 10 years, and we have made excellent economic progress. However, we must come to terms with the fact that we will not always be able to plead special status, and nor should we want to do that. We must realise that public spending will be extremely tight in the current economic climate. Our private sector must take up some of the slack, and that means bold reform and taking our opportunities.

We have excellent universities, and we produce innovative and brilliant businesspeople. We must give them the opportunities and support that they need to flourish in Northern Ireland. As Wombat Financial Software Ltd has proven, successful, innovative SMEs will deliver the type of inward investment that we need. The Minister must be bold when she makes decisions on the report. It is not an exaggeration to say that Northern Ireland is at a crossroads. We can move forward and participate more fully in the UK and world economy and adapt to take advantage of the economic opportunities that the recession presents. Alternatively, we can continue on the same course.

The report provides the Minister with an excellent opportunity to lay the foundations of a change in the economic vision for Northern Ireland, and I hope that she will not waste it. I am glad that Sinn Féin is not in charge of DETI, because its opinions are 10 times more outdated and counterproductive than Invest Northern Ireland’s have ever been. Although the report still requires much detailed analysis, I welcome it and oppose the motion.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I thank Sinn Féin for proposing the motion. As a small society, Northern Ireland will always be more dependent on inward investment than many other places. However, the report poses important questions about Invest NI’s performance that need to be answered, and I welcome the fact that the Assembly has a chance to do that.

Like others, the Alliance Party sought to amend the motion, but the Speaker must have decided that there were too many amendments and that he would not take any of them, so we must judge the motion on its merits. Unfortunately, the Alliance Party has difficulty in supporting the motion, and that difficulty comes down to the words “equitable and accountable” and the context in which they are used; Mr Moutray made a similar point. Including those words seems to indicate that Invest NI has not operated in an equitable and accountable manner in the past. However, I believe that it did act in such a manner, so I do not think that we can level that accusation at it.

Attracting inward investment and locating it in one place rather than in another is only a small part of tackling poverty here. Jobs are already located in areas of high deprivation: the Gasworks site is a classic example. However, those jobs are frequently inaccessible to the most deprived people who are living in the communities nearby.

Of the 20 most deprived wards in Northern Ireland, 15 are located within two-and-a-half miles of Belfast city centre and a further three are within a mile and a half of the centre of Londonderry. The Shankill Road, Falls Road and New Lodge areas are among the most deprived 1% of communities here, yet all have thousands of jobs at all skill levels on their doorsteps. At the same time, hundreds of people from those communities travel daily to work in the greater Belfast area and beyond.

Our most deprived communities deserve access to good jobs, but that means more than just creating jobs. We have all heard the stories about companies in north and west Belfast that attract the bulk of their workforce from areas further afield. To give our poorest communities the future that they deserve, we must remove the barriers preventing people from taking up work. As well as more jobs, people need better skills, easier routes back into education, better childcare and better transport. For many mothers seeking to return to work, affordable childcare is a massive barrier, and it is often in the most deprived areas that it is most difficult to find.

Another serious problem is the weakness in Northern Ireland’s public transport system. It is often good enough along radial routes in the main towns and cities but very poor at their outskirts. With so much work now being based in edge-of-town industrial estates, people are in a catch-22 situation: they need a car to access work, but they need work to be able to afford to purchase and run a car. Although Invest NI plays a crucial part in tackling those problems, it is only part of the solution. The Alliance Party’s concern is that the motion reads as if locating jobs in areas of deprivation is the magic bullet that will eradicate poverty overnight. To tackle poverty, we need joined-up action across government; job creation is only the first step.

Some of Invest NI’s failures must be acknowledged, and Members mentioned many today. I am thinking of Visteon and Valence Technology; indeed, I could go back as far as DeLorean. I know that those failures were the fault of Invest NI’s predecessor companies, but they were certainly fairly disastrous projects. Decisions were taken in times of pressure and very high unemployment, and there was a fear that jobs and investment would be lost. At times, I think that decisions were taken too hastily.

The report’s criticism of Invest NI seems to be balanced and fairly constructive. The job of Invest NI or any inward investment agency will always involve risk. Risk sometimes means failure, but it can also mean more reward. We cannot have one without the other. The number of jobs that Invest NI created, which Ms McCann called appalling but which I do not think was that bad, would be even fewer if Invest NI took a really cautious approach in everything it did. Indeed, it might have some money left at the end of the year: that would be the reward for caution. We need to approach the report even-handedly, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. However, the Alliance Party will have to oppose the motion.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

If we are to grow the vibrant and dynamic economy that we all want and, indeed, have set as our primary goal in the Programme for Government, then our economic development agency and our economic development policy must be fit for purpose.

That is why I welcomed the review that the Minister initiated some time ago on Invest Northern Ireland and the wider economic development policy. Although that recently published report is critical about some aspects of Invest Northern Ireland, it is also far-reaching, challenging and comprehensive, in that it deals with a wide range of issues. It proves that, in the pursuit of the goal of developing a more high-tech and productive economy, there are no sacred cows or untouchables. To achieve that aim, to which everyone should aspire, nothing will escape scrutiny. If only every Minister in the Executive would do the same by tackling sacred cows and untouchables in their respective Departments, the Assembly would be firing on all cylinders.

It is easy to attack Invest Northern Ireland in the middle of a downturn when times are tough. Despite that, massive investment has been made in recent days to create high-tech and productive well-paid jobs. Invest Northern Ireland must get credit for that good work. I do not subscribe to the mass hysteria in the media and from some in the House that the £1 billion invested by Invest Northern Ireland over the past 10 years was wasted. Some 28,000 jobs were created and 15,000 were secured, many of which were high-tech. Even those jobs deemed to be less high-tech suited people with certain skill sets and may have been an improvement on their previous employment.

I am pleased with many aspects of the report, such as the freedom to operate. If we want a dynamic economy, we must allow our economic development agency to be dynamic. It should not be constrained or overburdened by bureaucracy. If we want that agency to take risks with investment, we must remove its shackles and allow it to take the same risks that we expect from businesses.

It is good that the report focuses on innovation and R&D. It also mentions the important planning process on which much work is ongoing. It mentions the realignment of the education system, which is a critical element of the economic development policy. The report suggests the creation of a small-business unit, which would be useful, because Invest Northern Ireland has lost its focus on small businesses. I do not know what name could be conjured up for that new unit — LEDU, perhaps?

Members would expect me to be enthusiastic about the proposal to create a Department of the economy by merging DETI and elements of DEL. One Department, rather than two, would focus on the development of the economy. Elements of other Departments could be merged into that Department of the economy to create a centralised focus on economic development, rather than the current hotchpotch.

I also oppose the motion, principally because I agree with Mr Lunn about its use of the phrase “equitable and accountable manner”. When Sinn Féin uses such a phrase, it is a code for investment in certain areas of Northern Ireland. It is a call not for widespread investment, but for investment in specific areas in which, strangely, Sinn Féin is well represented, such as West Belfast and Foyle. Sinn Féin misses the fundamental point that no company can be forced to invest in a particular place. You cannot have a factory —

Photo of Paul Maskey Paul Maskey Sinn Féin 6:00 pm, 20th October 2009

I have been going through information provided by the Research and Library Service on the subject. In connection with what Mr Hamilton said about investment in particular areas, the research includes figures for the expenditure on job creation in the Belfast constituencies: £7·6 million in North Belfast, £9·36 million in West Belfast, £60-odd million in East Belfast and £43 million in South Belfast. The total planned investment for East Belfast is £711 million, whereas the figure for West Belfast is only £41 million. That is why Sinn Féin is complaining.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I thought that the Member was a Belfast man and would, therefore, appreciate that East Belfast includes the harbour estate and that South Belfast takes in the city centre, in which a sizeable amount of investment will be made. Sinn Féin is whingeing and whining about which areas receive investment.

I could make an even more conclusive and convincing case than the Member because, in my Strangford constituency, the investment assistance per capita is habitually 10 times lower than that in West Belfast or Foyle. I could make a convincing case that investment in my area is lower but I will not, because I am mature enough to realise that a job in Belfast, whether it is in South or East Belfast, is good for my constituents. Members from North Belfast and West Belfast should be grateful that they have on their doorsteps one of the biggest development opportunities in the whole of Northern Ireland; namely, the Titanic Quarter. I wish that that were in my constituency.

One cannot seek to sectarianise investment in Northern Ireland. Investors will go where they want to. If there are problems attracting jobs to certain areas, that is an issue in respect of skills, education and abilities.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Member should draw his remarks to a close.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

It is those issues that should be tackled, not what Invest Northern Ireland is doing, because, in many respects, it is doing a very good job in very difficult circumstances.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. It is appropriate to welcome the report because it has developed some very interesting and challenging ideas. It is a recognition that we can change. I particularly welcome the fact that senior executives of Invest NI have acknowledged the report and have said that they will not be complacent and they are not averse to recommendations and changes that would help them to improve their performance.

My party is not here to bash Invest NI. It is a soft target, but the reality is that we welcome yesterday’s jobs announcement. In the present economic circumstances, we could not do otherwise. However, it is fair and appropriate to reflect on the quality of jobs that went to Belfast, which were high-end jobs, whereas the jobs that went to Derry — although they are welcome in the circumstances of economic underdevelopment — are low end, call centre-type jobs that are mobile and unreliable. I hope that the Minister understands the issue, particularly as she represents a constituency that is at the extreme end of this region, in relation to the Belfast economic centre.

I understand all the arguments about the metropolitan pull. Many economies suffer from the centrist approach that is sometimes reflected in relation to capital cities and seats of Government, etc. We are clearly not of that scale, but it is important to note that, in many instances, Administrations have been forced to reverse that trend because the so-called metropolitan pull had the effect of overheating the economy, with very significant stresses and strains put on infrastructure, transportation and the environment, etc.

Two weeks ago, when the Minister announced the six-week consultation period, I expressed some disappointment because I thought that an opportunity had been missed. I am not overly critical because the consultation process will provide some interesting feedback. Invest NI excites a lot of diverse opinion and, similarly, the report will attract different arguments and perspectives. It will be important to hear those. However, value would have been added to that process had the Minister, guided and supported by the views of her senior officials, provided some of the preliminary responses. That would have helped the consultation process because it is an opportunity for a strategic review.

The issue that we have to address is the question of regional disparity. It is not a question of saying that there must be investment in a particular area to the detriment of another. It is, in fact, a matter of looking at the remit of Invest NI because the existing remit does not contain any requirement — policy or otherwise — for Invest NI to address that question. Instead, it attempts to approach the issue on the basis of the entire North being regarded as a travel-to-work area for the centre of Belfast. That is unfair and creates many injustices.

In relation to the discussion that we have previously had, and to which we will return, about the relocation of Departments, there are many people, including —

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I note what the Member has said. Does he agree with the report that, when attracting jobs to disadvantaged areas:

“It is therefore important to allow companies the scope to locate where they can operate most profitably.”?

That is in chapter 3. Chapter 5 goes on to state that, under such circumstances:

“public policy can, and should, help to mitigate these shortcomings.”

Does the Member agree with me, and will he ask the Minister to look again at her departmental colleague’s dismissal of the Bain report on the location of public sector jobs?

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

I thank the Member and I accept the point that he made. It was pretty much what I was leading to. We have to consider the value that is added by stimulating economic development in areas that have not always enjoyed such a stimulus. The economy receives an added value from the development of a wider reach in the economic opportunities that present themselves.

I appeal for the Minister to use the report to give Invest NI the remit and direction that allows it to address, and be measured on the effectiveness of how it addresses, the question of regional disparity. In the modern economic era, the distances involved and recent telecommunication advances have spelt the death of distance in the North, when it comes to location. A proactive policy would bear a lot of good for us all.

Photo of Allan Bresland Allan Bresland DUP

The motion raises important economic issues. However, the way in which it is worded raises serious doubts about the motives of the Members who tabled it. Invest Northern Ireland is far from a perfect organisation, but the Barnett report does not condemn it. It is a pity that so much press reporting of the Barnett report was negative and over the top. The motion adopts the same sort of negative approach. Reading between the lines, I am not sure whether the motion’s proposers or their party are fully committed to developing the Northern Ireland economy. They would much prefer to see an all-Ireland approach. That is one reason why they are not happy with Invest Northern Ireland.

No organisation on this earth is perfect. I commend my colleague the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for establishing the independent review of her own Department’s performance and that of Invest Northern Ireland. By doing so, she has shown commitment to ensuring that the key players in the economy are as effective and efficient as possible.

The Barnett report is helpful, balanced and timely. I note that it has been welcomed by the chairman of Invest Northern Ireland, Stephen Kingon, and its chief executive, Alistair Hamilton. I also note that Mr Hamilton has said that some recommendations in the Barnett report are already being implemented, which is good.

I fully accept that Invest Northern Ireland has not always delivered and that some of the criticism has been justified. There has been too much dependence on call-centre jobs that are here today and gone tomorrow. My own constituency of West Tyrone, and the north-west in general, have traditionally suffered from high rates of unemployment, and we need more jobs.

However, in line with the targets in the Programme for Government, those jobs must last and add value to the economy. Invest Northern Ireland needs to focus much more on innovation and on research and development. That will help to increase productivity and to ensure that we are ready to take full advantage of the economic recovery, when it comes.

Many criticisms of Invest Northern Ireland relate to the period before restoration of the Assembly and devolution in May 2007. I am confident that change for the better is already occurring. I oppose the motion.

Photo of Alan McFarland Alan McFarland UUP 6:15 pm, 20th October 2009

I share my colleague Mr Cree’s concern that the motion is more a reflection on Sinn Féin’s dodgy political ideology than a considered reflection on a worthwhile report. Indeed, it is questionable why we are having the debate, because the report is out for consultation. Perhaps it deserves a thorough and detailed analysis before receiving a public judgement.

Sinn Féin and, in particular, the Member for Foyle Ms Martina Anderson’s accusation is that Invest Northern Ireland routinely fails the north-west region. The premise of that argument is that Invest NI should not allocate investments on objective criteria that are based on potential economic success. Rather, there should be some sort of state command and control policy. Ms Anderson recently outlined that position when she said:

“This report provides further evidence of the need for a complete restructuring of Invest NI and strict direction on its functions if we are to change the laissez faire approach it presently has to developing the economy.”

That quotation reveals many things. First, it shows us that Sinn Féin has not even read the report. If it had, it would have noted one of the report’s major recommendations:

“Invest NI should be allowed more freedom to operate, with DETI having less involvement in operational matters, to enable the organisation to be more entrepreneurial and responsive to business needs.”

The report also recommends that:

“Invest NI should disengage its direct involvement with venture capital (VC) funds. Rather than direct participation in the market, Invest NI should act as a facilitator between companies and VCs.”

One the one hand, the report says that Invest NI must be much less controlled by government and set free to foster organic activity. On the other hand, Sinn Féin says that Invest NI must be strictly directed to invest in certain places and, logically, no doubt, in certain businesses. To follow Sinn Féin’s line would sound the death knell for Northern Ireland’s economy and its economic prospects.

The report makes some incisive and clear observations and some timely and necessary recommendations, and I congratulate the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for commissioning it. Nevertheless, after consultation, I hope that she acts decisively and courageously to implement its recommendations. Although the report’s remit was limited, it creates a potential blueprint for a new vision and an innovative direction for Northern Ireland.

The report envisages a reformed Invest NI, which should:

“concentrate support mainly to small firms and to projects with a high Innovative content”.

I welcome that shift of emphasis, and I hope that such firms develop further throughout Northern Ireland.

I share my colleague’s view that linking innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) into export markets will attract foreign direct investment (FDI) more readily than any number of expensive trade forums. Innovation and R&D are the most important long-term productivity drivers in Northern Ireland. If we are to compete in world markets, we surely have to become world market leaders. Institutional change is needed in Invest NI and in DETI. However, I am glad that that change is not being driven by Sinn Féin. I welcome the report, which provides us with a genuine opportunity, but I reject the motion.

Photo of Alasdair McDonnell Alasdair McDonnell Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Business, Innoviation and Skills), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Minister (Europe), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. At the outset, I thank the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for requesting this important review, which was long overdue. I also thank Professor Richard Barnett for his analysis and for compiling the subsequent recommendations. Furthermore, I congratulate the Minister for her pragmatic and businesslike approach since taking up the Enterprise, Trade and Investment portfolio. She brings a sense of robustness to the position that is long overdue, and I hope that she will long continue to do so.

As Members will have discovered from my colleague’s speech, the SDLP warmly welcomes the publication of the ‘Independent Review of Economic Policy’, which rightly points out that productivity levels in Northern Ireland lag seriously behind those in Britain, while the gap in living standards continues to widen and deepen.

The SDLP believes that it is the responsibility of the Executive and various delivery agencies, including Invest Northern Ireland, to reduce the gaps in productivity and living standards. To a large extent, they have failed to do so. They fail to do so, in spite of Northern Ireland being a relatively attractive place for investors. We have competitive wages, a skilled labour force and generous incentives on offer. Yet, over the years, we have failed to significantly increase productivity levels.

To a large extent the impact of Invest Northern Ireland has been badly hampered by red tape, over-bureaucratic bureaucrats and a risk-averse approach. Equally, to be honest, Northern Ireland has had some resounding successes. One has to go back only a few days to the announcement that the New York Stock Exchange is to bring some 400 high-end jobs to our city. Invest Northern Ireland was critical in securing that investment, which is good for the whole city, not just economically, but in the confidence that it creates and the image that it portrays about the investment potential here. Invest Northern Ireland can repeat that success on a firmer and more frequent footing. However, that will require that the recommendations be implemented. Invest Northern Ireland needs urgent restructuring, reform and much greater autonomy. That is just a summary of the recommendations.

The SDLP has long called for greater clarity and co-ordination in the responsibility for, and delivery of, economic policy, which is why we strongly support the creation of a cross-departmental standing committee on economic development, as was recommended in the report. Public finances are tight and will get tighter. EU state aid rules mean that we will steadily lose the ability to provide the financial assistance that brings work and business to Northern Ireland. Therefore, Invest Northern Ireland will have to be more focused on how, and on what, it spends. As the independent review points out, the key focus should be on attracting, developing and retaining high value-added investment, both indigenous and foreign direct investment.

If we are to attract higher value-added jobs and address the productivity gap, which is a key objective of the Programme for Government, our priority should be to support innovation and R&D. It is only via that route that we can begin to raise private sector productivity levels, ensuring better wages and a better standard of living for our people.

I am confident that, in the very capable and dynamic hands of the new chief executive, Alastair Hamilton, Invest Northern Ireland (INI) will rise to the challenges that we face. However, to do that he needs the full support of the House; half-hearted support is not enough. We must work with him, not against him or casually in the background.

It is important that the focus on economic and business development should not be to the exclusion of our local small and medium-sized enterprises. Small indigenous enterprises must also be supported. They need assistance and targeted training programmes.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

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

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Éirím le tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún agus lena rá go bhfuil mé an-sásta go bhfuil muid ag plé an ábhair thábhachtaigh seo inniu.

I support the motion, and I appeal to Members not to react in knee-jerk fashion to it simply because it is a Sinn Féin motion. If they listen to what is being said, Members will find that this is not an INI-bashing session. We strive to critically appraise and analyse INI.

The backdrop to the motion is the recent report on the work of INI by Professor Richard Barnett. The report has a particular focus, which other Members have touched on in their contributions. In my opinion, the report provides an opportunity to critically appraise the work of INI in tackling regional disparity and economic disadvantage. It also provides an opportunity for the Minister to bring forward a focused and strategic approach in delivering the pledge in the Programme for Government that undertakes:

“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 Minister for Regional Development has a role in that, and one of the first things that he did was to call for a review of the regional development strategy. However, it is not the sole remit of one Minister. Indeed, as far as I am aware, all four parties in the Executive signed up to it. The Programme for Government states that all Government agencies should play a constructive role in honouring that pledge. I believe that INI has a leading role in assisting to make that pledge a reality.

However, where we have to be critical is that, as the report highlights, any objective analysis of INI shows that it fails to make a meaningful contribution to the delivery of that pledge. In its defence, INI will state — as it has stated at every presentation that I have heard it make — that its remit is to sell or market the North as a single entity and marketplace; therein lies the problem for my party and me. As long as that remains the strategic framework within which INI operates, it will have a curtailed and limited impact in tackling regional disparity and, indeed, may compound it.

With this report and with her consultation on the way forward, the Minister should ensure that the way forward gives clear indicators on how INI will play a role in tackling regional disparity and economic disadvantage in a measurable way. I welcome the Minister’s view and her acceptance in her public response to the report that there are short- and long-term challenges to building a dynamic and innovative local economy. I hope that she includes putting structures and programmes in place to bring an end to regional disparities and to social and economic disadvantage among those challenges. After all, that is what the Programme for Government says. The Minister must also ensure that where the report recommends the need for structural change she applies that right across INI policy.

There is a tendency that when this analysis is put forward it is viewed as Derry versus the rest. In fact, Alan McFarland mentioned that today. My role is to stand up for Derry. However, I remind Members of two telling statistics that highlight that this issue and the work of INI affect many constituencies. To my knowledge, in 10 years, there has not been a single first-time inward investment project in the constituencies of East Derry and North Antrim. In the same period, the number of jobs promoted in South Belfast exceeded the combined total in the West Tyrone, Newry and Armagh, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and Foyle constituencies.

Irrespective of the review of INI and of Sinn Féin’s view, that cannot continue if we are to deliver the Programme for Government; nor can the debate be reduced to the well-worn mantra of “Will we refuse jobs?”. Of course not; job announcements such as the one made yesterday are to be welcomed. The debate cannot be reduced to the “travel-to-work thesis” either. That thesis on its own undermines tackling regional disparity.

I remind the parties in the Executive that all those issues have to be viewed in the context of the Programme for Government pledge. The Assembly must be seen to be tackling regional disparity, and all its agencies must play a role in that, not by indirect consequence but by policy direction. That opportunity is now before the Minister. The challenge is obvious: this is the time for delivery.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Events have overtaken this debate — indeed, this motion — to a large degree. It comes less than 24 hours after Invest Northern Ireland landed one of the biggest and most prestigious inward investment fishes that could have come to our economy. Had the mover of the motion reflected on what the New York stock exchange announced in Belfast yesterday, they would, with some modesty, have withdrawn it and waited, as Alan McFarland said, until the consultation process was over.

Let us stop for one moment and think about it: almost 400 jobs from the New York stock exchange come to where? London? Zürich? Hong Kong? Shanghai? No; they came to Belfast. Why have they come to Northern Ireland? Think about it for a moment. All those places were competing equally for those jobs, yet they came here.

We need to stop gurning and yapping about the economy. Members must stop saying that they want jobs on their doorsteps, in west Belfast or elsewhere. We have to stop knocking the economy and recognise that we are privileged that a tiny country called Northern Ireland was able to attract 400 jobs from the New York Stock Exchange 12 hours ago. We should recognise the tremendous opportunity that we have and the role that was played by Invest Northern Ireland in delivering those jobs. That demonstrates that the Government of Northern Ireland were right to put the economy at the centre of the Programme for Government.

It would be wrong for us to justify prescribing where businesses should go, as the proposer of the motion has tried to do. One cannot attract the type of high-end jobs and develop the sort of economy that Raymond McCartney spoke about and, at the same time, curtail the investor by giving rules and regulations about whether the jobs should be Catholic jobs, or in Protestant catchment areas, or in areas that suit a Member’s political motivations.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

The Member might not have said it, but the code is clear.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

No. I could get unity tonight with the Member for North Antrim Declan O’Loan if I said that I wanted to see every inward investment job for Northern Ireland coming to Ballymena, Ballycastle and Ballymoney. That would sort out my problems, thank you very much. It is not realistic to expect that; it is not right. Members should wise up and recognise that if they want the sort of investments that were announced yesterday, they cannot gurn and whinge and say that the jobs must be in Turf Lodge. Neither can Members use the Barnett report as a foundation for the criticism that has been launched today. I think that it was Alan McFarland who quoted from the report the conclusion that companies should be allowed to locate where they wish.

The review is not a foundation stone from which to throw bricks at the Minister or at Invest Northern Ireland; it is a foundation stone from which to congratulate them for what should be done and what is being proposed to be done.

Belfast is not a vast metropolis that is so far stretched in either direction that people in Turf Lodge, Ballygomartin, Tigers Bay and Ballybeen cannot come into the city centre and work. It is a wee place, and we should be delighted that we are receiving the sort of investment that is being made. Members should stop whinging about the fact that it has not come to their backyards.

My colleague Simon Hamilton informed the House that the £1 billion investment that has been made has created approximately 21,000 new jobs; that is a remarkable investment. We should also recognise that the investment has gone to areas in which there has been need.

Raymond McCartney was wrong to say that there has not been investment in North Antrim. If Invest Northern Ireland did not exist, another 200 people in North Antrim would be unemployed, because Wrightbus would not have been supported by inward investment activities in respect of research and development. That investment kept people in employment in the past year. Furthermore, Michelin would not have been able to carry out the training schemes that it ran for the past year to keep people in employment.

I welcome the work and the flexibility that we are seeing at the heart of Invest Northern Ireland, because it is sustaining employment in areas where it has to be sustained. I look forward to the day when we will see more people queuing up to bring to Northern Ireland — and, hopefully, to Ballymena — the sort of investments that have been announced in the past 24 hours.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Members might think that I am not thankful that they tabled the motion, but I do thank them, because it has given Members an opportunity to comment on the issue. Most of what Members have said has made an important contribution to the wider debate on the conclusions of the Barnett review, and I hope that it will form part of the ongoing consultation on the report.

In my statement to the Assembly on 5 October, when I informed Members of my intention to launch the consultation on the independent review of economic policy, I emphasised that there was a need to give the report careful and balanced consideration. At the outset, let me be clear that at no point does the report call into question Invest Northern Ireland’s standards of accountability or challenge the equity of its distribution of funding — both of which, regrettably, have been implied in the wording of the motion.

I do not accept that there is any need for Invest Northern Ireland to be made more accountable. Indeed, robust governance systems are in place between the Department and Invest Northern Ireland, and I am fully satisfied that those arrangements are fit for purpose. There is nothing in the findings of the report to suggest that there were any issues of accountability, and that has been recognised by the Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment and many other Members during the debate. In fact, the report clearly states that Invest Northern Ireland should be given more autonomy to allow it to become more flexible and responsive to the needs of the business community here, and to the needs of those who seek to invest in Northern Ireland. However, those needs must be balanced against the facts that Invest Northern Ireland deals with public money, and that it must be accountable for that expenditure. Indeed, the issue of Invest Northern Ireland’s accountability versus the need for it to be innovative and flexible in what it does is something that must be kept under constant review.

In the context of the debate, I want to highlight that I specifically asked the review panel to consider the subregional distribution of inward investment, other support mechanisms for indigenous businesses and the effectiveness of policy in encouraging the location of investment. I specifically asked the review team to examine those areas, and for them to insert those areas in the report’s terms of reference. Indeed, point 1.7 of the report’s terms of reference states that the review team were asked to analyse and make recommendations about:

“The sub-regional distribution of an inward investment and other support measures to indigenous businesses, and the effectiveness of policy in encouraging the location of investment”.

As I had asked the Barnett review to specifically examine those areas, I find the wording of the motion somewhat contradictory. On one hand, the proposers of the motion state that they note the report and what is contained in it, and then go on to say something that frankly is not in the report. That is disappointing.

Page 115 of the report states:

“Evidence reviewed by the Panel suggests that competiveness varies between places in a region, with cities offering significant agglomeration and spillover benefits. The implication is that firms should be allowed to locate where they generate the highest returns, although this should not be at the expense of where people in NI wish to live.”

That relates to the issue of the regional development strategy that Mr Cree mentioned earlier.

The report goes on to state:

“This approach will seek to efficiently connect people and jobs given their location preference, but it demands the full co-ordination of policy toward business, housing, the labour market/skill formation, transport, regulation and planning.”

Therefore, it is not jobs alone that bring equality to communities; rather, such communities require much more than just jobs.

An adjournment debate on economic development in West Belfast will follow this debate, and 61% of the people who are employed in that area do not live there. We must ask why that is the case. Wider social, housing and skills issues are at play, and the motion that has been tabled does not address those issues.

Photo of Paul Maskey Paul Maskey Sinn Féin

The Minister stated that 61% of the people who work in West Belfast do not live there. However, when I have asked Invest NI or the Minister’s Department for information on how many people from West Belfast work on the Boucher Road, or in other areas, that information can never be obtained. I have requested that information on several occasions and it has never been forthcoming.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am surprised that my Department has not been able to provide that information for the Member, but I will endeavour to provide it for him. I give him that commitment today. When I was considering information about the adjournment topic, I wanted to know how many people travelled into West Belfast to work, as opposed to how many people travelled out of it.

Returning to the motion under debate, I said on many occasions that Invest Northern Ireland works with a base across Northern Ireland, and in the case of new foreign direct investment, it is the companies that make the decision on where to locate. I am aware that some Members may not accept that, but that is the case. For larger-scale investments, that will usually mean that a location is chosen that is close to the main centres of population, and where a full range of infrastructural support already exists. That point is also noted in the findings of the report. Indeed, when we examined some of the findings that relate to productivity, infrastructure was a key issue. I will return to that issue later.

The report also acknowledges the importance of ensuring that rural areas are better linked to urban areas to allow workers to live where they want to live and work where the jobs are located; I will give that issue careful consideration. When I take the matter to the Executive, I hope that my Executive colleagues will also recognise the role that they have to play on the important issue of economic growth. The panel believes that other Departments have a key role to play in addressing regional disparities, particularly in the development of adequate transportation links.

Ms McCann referred to the important contribution of the social economy, and, obviously, that is recognised in the report. I am disappointed that, when she quotes figures from Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, she does not give the percentage of the Budget that the relevant Departments are allocated. Perhaps she can find that out for me, because I would be interested to see the figures. Stark figures do not mean anything if they are not examined in conjunction with the total amount available to spend.

The panel also recognises the importance of tourism to the economy, and I am disappointed that nobody mentioned that issue in the debate. The Barnett review specifically stated that tourism, given the beautiful areas of Northern Ireland, could be a key innovator for us. The panel said that increased prosperity for Northern Ireland, particularly in rural areas, could be significantly addressed by building a more vibrant tourism sector. I look forward to the forthcoming tourism strategy to find out whether that can be moved on. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board recently announced its new branding strategy, which was a huge success, and I look forward to that strategy being rolled out in the coming months.

The report makes a total of 58 recommendations, including the need to place greater emphasis on supporting innovation and research and development. Several Members spoke about the aforementioned need to provide greater autonomy and improve the way in which economic policy is developed and co-ordinated in the public sector.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Order. The Minister has the Floor, and there is a lot of conversation going on.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am disappointed that I am not holding their attention, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The report also outlines a number of recommendations in other areas of government that help to deliver on the Programme for Government productivity goal, including important areas such as skills, infrastructure and planning. Members who read the report in full will know that it offers a balanced assessment of the work of Invest Northern Ireland, but it is incorrect to conclude that the report represents an indictment of Invest Northern Ireland’s performance. I welcome the balanced nature of today’s debate.

The report highlights good areas of performance, but it is also critical. However, as I have said on previous occasions, I have sought and wanted constructive criticism, and we now need a debate on the way forward.

Mention was made of the 10 companies that received 30% of the grants.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Order. I ask Members to refrain from conversations. The Minister has the Floor, and Members should pay attention.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I note that most of the noise is coming from behind me, which is a bit disconcerting.

There are 14,500 jobs in those 10 companies, and we must reflect on that. We also need to reflect on the fact that a large company such as Bombardier has a huge supply chain in Northern Ireland; I refer to Bombardier because I was reading about it recently. I have a map with me, and I am happy to share it with colleagues. Bombardier reaches many places in Northern Ireland because of its supply chain. I am not only talking about the jobs in Bombardier but jobs in all the other little companies that are associated with Bombardier, which we must also consider.

Ms McCann referred to business expansion; she was concerned about the criticism of that in the report. I know that Invest Northern Ireland is also concerned about that; it believes that that business-expansion role gives it the ability to support local and international companies as they grow to scale. It is an important tool in developing the private sector, and ceasing to support such growth ambitions, as the review suggests, would, in the opinion of the board of Invest Northern Ireland, be a lost opportunity. I am increasingly coming to that view myself, and it is something that I am taking on board and considering at present.

It is also important to note that the report states:

“Since its inception, Invest NI has made a strong and positive contribution to economic development.”

However, we cannot be complacent. We need to move on and determine how that contribution could be greater still. That is one of the reasons why I asked for the report to be produced. I have been particularly encouraged that many of the recommendations in the report are consistent with changes that are already under way in Invest NI. Someone has already made that point. For example, the increasing focus on innovation, levels of R&D, widening the reach of support for business and encouraging the development of higher-added-value sectors are all central elements of the agency’s current corporate plan.

I think that it was the Chairperson of the Committee who said that the main criticism for him and for a lot of people was in relation to productivity issues. However, I think he will accept that that productivity goal was only set in 2008, and it is therefore something that we really need to concentrate on now. The productivity deficit arises for three reasons: the high levels of economic inactivity; the structural composition of our economy; and the predominantly small business base, which lacks the critical mass to be fully competitive. We really need to look at those three areas to see what we can do about them. It is fair to say that dealing with that productivity gap will be the focus for us in the coming months.

Many of the recommendations in the report, particularly those aimed at reducing bureaucracy and proposing greater operational freedom for Invest NI, would, if implemented in a timely and proper manner, have the potential to aid the work of Invest NI and improve the economic landscape of Northern Ireland enormously; I endorse that.

In conclusion, I reiterate that the review highlights both the areas where Invest NI has performed well — I have outlined them — and where it could do much better. I welcome that, because, if we are going to have the step change that our economy needs to move forward and deal with those productivity issues, we need to look critically at those areas.

I stress again that we are in a period of consultation. I urge everyone who has taken part in the debate and those who are here to listen to it to continue to contribute fully to that process. In relation to the motion, I say genuinely that the report did consider the issue and expressed the view that it was not the job of Invest NI to do those sorts of things. However, I say to Members in areas like my own where there is difficulty in getting foreign direct investment that we may need to do more in relation to that and to work with Invest NI. I hope that the Members opposite will accept that Invest NI has been more proactive in recent months and years and that there is a determination in that organisation to work with local communities. I hope that that will be recognised in the concluding remarks.

Photo of Paul Butler Paul Butler Sinn Féin 6:45 pm, 20th October 2009

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. We have had a long debate about Invest NI, and I welcome the Minister and her comments. There were two parts to the motion: first, it welcomed Professor Barnett’s report on Invest NI. We also welcome the fact that the Minister asked for that report to be produced. My colleague Jennifer McCann, who moved the motion, said that it was not about bashing Invest NI or the Minister. Mitchel McLaughlin also made that point. As Jennifer McCann, who is a Member for West Belfast, said, there has been criticism over many years that Invest NI failed to invest in some areas. People referred to some of those years being under direct rule.

It was unfortunate that one Member, Ian Paisley Jnr, tried to sectarianise the debate. Regardless of whether Members support or oppose the motion, it should be acknowledged that it has nothing to do with religion. Mr Paisley Jnr mentioned some areas in west Belfast, and I should remind him that the Shankill Road is part of the West Belfast constituency and is probably one of the most deprived parts of the constituency. Sinn Féin believes that investment should be made to areas that are deprived and in need, regardless of people’s background or religion.

Jennifer McCann referred to the importance that the report placed on the social economy. Professor Barnett told the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment about how the social economy can bring about change, particularly for people who are unemployed. Jennifer McCann said that £4 million or £5 million is invested in the social economy here, whereas around £30 million is invested in Scotland. She also spoke about how public procurement could help.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Alban Maginness, mentioned the productivity gap, which Professor Barnett referred to in his report. Mr Maginness mentioned the emphasis on research and development and innovation and the way that government structures that are imposed on Invest NI restrict its progress on economic development.

Stephen Moutray mentioned the objectives of the Programme for Government. He did not seem to accept the criticisms that were made of Invest NI. He said that some of the report covers the period of direct rule.

Leslie Cree said that many companies had not benefited from special financial assistance. Professor Barnett was critical of that in his report, and he said that Invest NI should be more responsive to the needs of businesses here, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises.

Trevor Lunn referred to areas of deprivation and disadvantage, an issue that was a theme of the debate. He said that more is needed than jobs to tackle disadvantage and educational underachievement. He said that better educational attainment, childcare facilities and transport links were needed.

Simon Hamilton did not accept the main thrust of the motion, but he referred to how the planning process can help to regenerate the economy by getting rid of much of the red tape so that businesses, particularly those in the construction sector, can get on. The report referred to that, and that is welcome.

The issue of merging DETI with DEL is a bit controversial. That has been suggested because DEL is responsible for skills. That is for a future debate.

My colleague Mitchel McLaughlin said that the motion was not about bashing Invest NI. Sinn Féin welcomes the comments by the Minister that she will look at the issue of regional disparities and whether investment should go to major cities rather than rural areas. I take it on board that she said that there should be better connection between urban and rural areas. Mitchel McLaughlin developed that theme of regional disparities, and he said that Invest NI must have a responsibility to address that.

Allan Bresland said that many of the criticisms that the report makes of Invest NI are for the period of direct rule. He made the point that, although some jobs were announced yesterday, there is a dependence on call centres. Several Members mentioned yesterday’s announcement of New York stock exchange jobs that will come here, as well as the announcement on the call centre in Derry.

Mr McFarland suggested that Invest NI should be freed up and have fewer controls and restrictions on it; he said that its risk-averse culture should be dealt with. Alasdair McDonnell said that the North lags behind other regions in productivity and living standards, which, I believe, is also mentioned in the report. He said that Invest NI needs to be restructured urgently. He also referred to the report’s recommendation to set up an Executive subcommittee to take forward economic policy.

My colleague Raymond McCartney mentioned economic disadvantage and regional disparities, particularly in Derry, and said that Invest NI had failed to address that issue. As we take the report forward, the Minister must take that on board.

Although Ian Paisley Jnr referred to parts of west Belfast in a way that, I believe, sectarianised the debate, he at least welcomed the jobs that were announced by the New York stock exchange and also jobs in Derry. He also said that Wrightbus and Michelin in his constituency would not be where they are today without Invest NI.

The Minister was fairly balanced in her remarks. However, some heated debate took place, and we are not agreed on how Invest NI should go forward. Sinn Féin has certain criticisms. The report refers to places such as west Belfast, Derry and some rural areas where, in the past, Invest NI has not invested. I take on board the Minister’s comments about the regional development strategy; it also needs to come into play. The matter is not just about Invest NI investment and jobs creation but about transport links and other issues.

Declan O’Loan discussed the Bain report and whether jobs will be relocated to rural areas. Professor Barnett told the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment that the Executive and the Assembly must look at such policies. That would be welcome.

No one except the Minister mentioned tourism and how it can create jobs and attract investors. All the political parties missed the opportunity to comment on that issue. Tourism can bring positive developments.

All in all, I welcome all Members’ comments in the debate. Although we may not find agreement on the issue, at least we debated it.

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 23; Noes 33.


Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Mr Brady, Mr Brolly,  Mr Butler, Mr W Clarke, Mr Doherty, Mrs Hanna,  Mr P Maskey, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann,  Mr McCartney, Dr McDonnell, Mrs McGill,  Mr McGlone, Mr McHugh, Mr McKay, Mr McLaughlin, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O’Dowd, Mr O’Loan, Mrs O’Neill, Ms S Ramsey.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr W Clarke and Ms S Ramsey.


Mr Bresland, Mr Buchanan, Mr T Clarke, Mr Cobain, Rev Dr Robert Coulter, Mr Craig, Mr Cree,  Mr Donaldson, Mr Easton, Mr Ford, Mrs Foster,  Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy,  Mr Lunn, Mr McCausland, Mr B McCrea,  Dr W McCrea, Mr McFarland, Miss McIlveen,  Mr McQuillan, Mr Moutray, Mr Newton,  Mr Paisley Jnr, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Shannon, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Bresland and Mr Shannon.

Question accordingly negatived.

Motion made:

That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [Mr Deputy Speaker.]