Economic Rebalancing

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 17th February 2014.

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Photo of Samuel Gardiner Samuel Gardiner UUP 3:00 pm, 17th February 2014

5. asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment what steps her Department has taken towards rebalancing the economy. (AQO 5560/11-15)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Actions that are set out in the Northern Ireland economic strategy seek to rebalance the local economy by stimulating higher rates of innovation, increasing skills levels and encouraging export growth.  Considerable progress has been made across all Departments in implementing those actions.  My Department has promoted 19,329 jobs and secured investment of £1·04 billion in the Northern Ireland economy.  In addition, Invest NI has supported investment of £238 million by businesses in R&D since April 2011.  We have also taken action that is aimed at rebuilding the local labour market by continuing to offer support for businesses through a range of measures, including the jobs fund and the growth loan fund.  We are continuing to advance the case for the devolution of corporation tax, which has the potential to help to rebalance and rebuild the Northern Ireland economy faster than would otherwise be possible.

Photo of Samuel Gardiner Samuel Gardiner UUP

I thank the Minister for her response thus far.  How many services that the Civil Service formerly delivered are now delivered by the private sector, and how many jobs have been relocated from the public to the private sector as a result?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I do not have those figures in front of me today, but I am happy to make contact with the Department of Finance and Personnel to try to assess them.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP

Will the Minister give us an update on the measures that are outlined in the Northern Ireland economic pact and on how progress is going there?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

As the Member knows, in June 2013 just before the G8, the economic pact was a document that was set about from Westminster and ourselves.  Obviously, corporation tax is a very important part of that, and we await the Scottish referendum being dealt with before we have a particular answer on that issue.  However, that does not mean that we have not progressed in other areas.  We have agreed to pilot an enterprise zone that will build on Coleraine's role as a digital hub, which I am sure that the Member is delighted about.  My colleague the Finance Minister sent details of the possible proposals to Her Majesty's Treasury on 6 December as a basis for discussion, and we are awaiting feedback on that issue. 

Where access to finance is concerned, we have, of course, met as a joint ministerial task force to examine whether tailored support is required for our banks and how support for Northern Ireland businesses can be maximised to improve access to finance.  We are meeting again in joint ministerial task force remit on 26 March.  We have also set up the access to finance implementation panel, which has commenced its meetings with the four local banks.  I am very pleased with the calibre of people whom we were able to attract to that panel.  The business regulation review has been launched.  The expert advisory panel, which includes Lord Curry, who is the Chair of the Westminster Better Regulation Executive, has also started its piece of work.  So, the projects are progressing, and we will keep in touch with our colleagues in Westminster to continue to pursue corporation tax.

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I thank the Minister for her answers.  Does she accept that the term "rebalancing the economy" must include addressing the historical neglect west of the Bann, and will she explain how her Department strives to rectify that situation?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Obviously, we are dealing with that issue, in particular the way in which west of the Bann had to deal with IRA violence in the past and the fact that a lot of infrastructure was damaged in that way.  I am delighted that the licence competition for gas to the west has been announced.  We look forward to natural gas being available to citizens and businesses in the west of the Province for the first time.  That will have a big impact in the west of the Province, particularly for businesses that have had to endure not having the choice of energy provision.  I very much welcome that they will now have the choice of natural gas and I look forward to that being rolled out in the west of the Province.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, you will be aware of the important role that small businesses play in the Northern Ireland economy.  I will speak to you later about this, but will you visit part of my constituency and speak to local businesses about some of the difficulties they face in matching education to the skills that their industry needs?  In particular, Minister, how often do you and Minister Farry have that analysis?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

And, indeed, the Minister of Education as well.  At the next meeting of the Executive subgroup on the economy, we intend to discuss that very issue, around careers advice and making sure that it fits in with the economy of today and tomorrow.  As I indicated to Mr McCrea, there is little point in having a surfeit of skills that do not match the workforce that we need.  We very much need to join up the Departments of Education, Employment and Learning and Enterprise, Trade and Investment in relation to careers and skills advice.  I am more than happy to have a conversation with the Member around that issue.