Job Creation

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 17th February 2014.

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Photo of Michael Copeland Michael Copeland UUP 2:45 pm, 17th February 2014

1. asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to outline the success of Invest NI initiatives in promoting and creating jobs for people who are long-term unemployed. (AQO 5556/11-15)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

My Department and Invest Northern Ireland have a key role to play in addressing unemployment by ensuring that we deliver on our Programme for Government commitment to promote 25,000 new jobs.  A significant element of Invest NI’s job promotion activity is directed at helping to rebuild the local economy in the wake of the economic downturn.  In doing so, the jobs fund has offered an important source of employment creation, particularly in providing opportunities for those who would be considered as long-term unemployed.

Since its launch in 2011, the jobs fund has created over 4,300 new jobs.  Some 300 of those jobs have been created for younger people not in education, employment or training who have received support to start up their own business.  A further 650 residents of neighbourhood renewal areas have also received support to set up their own business, and 160 jobs have been created in social enterprises across Northern Ireland.

Photo of Michael Copeland Michael Copeland UUP

I thank the Minister for her answer.  However, recent labour figures show that over-45s in Northern Ireland are more likely to be economically inactive than their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom.  What specific steps does she have in mind to address that trend?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

It has long been recognised that we in Northern Ireland have an issue about those who are economically inactive.  It is one of the reasons why the Minister for Employment and Learning and I are engaged in a consultation on that very issue.  In that consultation, we will, of course, engage with stakeholders, but we hope that people will take the opportunity to look at the consultation, because it gives the chance for people to come forward with innovative, new ideas for pilot projects.  I know that some Members are engaged in looking at what that could mean for their own particular area, and I encourage him to do likewise.

Photo of Sammy Douglas Sammy Douglas DUP

Will the Minister inform the House what impact the jobs fund has had in my East Belfast constituency?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

The jobs fund has been a tremendous success.  Of course, it was one of the actions that we took to try to deal with the downturn that came upon us.  In East Belfast, it has promoted a total of 1,259 jobs.  I think that is a tremendous impact for the constituency.  That includes 30 jobs fund business investment projects at various stages of development, which should lead to the creation of 1,179 new jobs as well.  Of course, that includes a very large project known as Stream, which had 993 jobs.  We should note that the jobs fund is also having an impact on neighbourhood renewal areas and on those not in education, employment or training.  It is not just creating new jobs but is helping people in those disadvantaged areas.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

Clearly, there is a need for a specific approach to the long-term unemployed.  The Minister has put a lot of emphasis on the jobs fund.  Will she estimate how many of the jobs that have been created have in fact gone to long-term unemployed people?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I do not have those statistics, because it is not a measure that we have.  I know that the House would like me to have statistics broken down into many different categories, but I do not have that particular category.  I think the jobs fund is my strongest tool to help in particular areas, but it should be seen alongside everything else that has been happening, including the work that goes on in Stephen Farry's Department, the Department for Employment and Learning, particularly through his employer subsidy, which is the Steps to Work strand.  That subsidy provides an incentive to employers to recruit unemployed or economically inactive clients whom they would not otherwise look to.  That is part of the suite:  we have to look across government as to how we can help people who are struggling with unemployment, particularly those who have been struggling for a long time.  The economically inactive strategy, which is, as I said, out for consultation, provides the opportunity to do something innovative in that area.  We look forward to the consultation responses, which should be with us over the next month.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

Earlier, the Minister mentioned discussions with the Minister for Employment and Learning.  Is she concerned about the large number of people who are getting ring binders full of certificates but are no nearer to getting a job because they lack the skills demanded by industry?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am not here to answer questions on behalf of the Employment and Learning Minister; he is well capable of doing that for himself.  However, one area where I am involved with him in relation to what the Member calls "ring binders full of certificates" is the Software Testers Academy.  I know that those people get real and meaningful jobs.  That is why the academy was set up:  to deal with the deficit of skills for the IT industry.  A targeted approach is certainly needed.  There is no point in giving young people skills if there are no jobs at the end of that skills development.  Certainly, that is where my focus has been.  I think it is where the focus of the Employment and Learning Minister has been as well.  That is why he is putting a lot of emphasis at the moment on apprenticeships.  I encourage him in that; I think that that is the way we should be moving forward.