AFBI: Research Potential

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture and Rural Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 16th March 2015.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 3:15 pm, 16th March 2015

T3. Mr Poots asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to estimate AFBI’s ability to engage in research in the coming years. (AQT 2273/11-15)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

AFBI does a significant body of work for the Department and will continue to do so. I do not have the figure with me, but I think that somewhere in the region of £46 million is its current portfolio with the Department around research and development. That is across all the different sectors, and will continue to be the case in the time ahead. We are, obviously, faced with a very difficult budget situation, given the cuts to the block grant by the Tory Government. That is putting us all in a difficult position. I am working with AFBI around our current and future needs. We will continue to work our way through that process as part of the budget process.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Why has the Minister disproportionately slashed the AFBI budget by more than twice everybody else's cuts? It is close to 30%, which is going to lead to 400 job losses, including the closure of Crossnacreevy, the Omagh facility, and a significant reduction in the services conducted at Hillsborough.

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I have not disproportionately affected AFBI's budget. As I said, I am working my way through the AFBI budget with its board, and we will continue to do so.

We are in a difficult economic climate because of the cuts to the block grant by the Tories. I will work my way through AFBI, but let us not move away from the fact that AFBI receives significant funding from the Department to do key research and development work. It will continue to hold that portfolio of work over the next number of years.

There are financial challenges for AFBI because of a combination of reasons, not least the private-sector work and the EU money it is drawing down. I have set it challenges that I am quite sure it will be able to rise to, particularly around attracting additional EU investment. There are challenges for AFBI as there are challenges for every other Department here. I will continue to work my way through them. As I said, AFBI holds a significant body of work; it does key work in terms of research and development. I want to continue to work with it to be able to support the local industry.