T5. Mr Ross asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, who will be aware that the Employment Bill is working its way through the House today in order to reform employment law in Northern Ireland, and in light of his previous answer in which he listed business costs, the talent pool and corporation tax as three of the main drivers to get investors to come to Northern Ireland, to state how important the employment law environment is when he is talking to investors who are thinking about coming here. (AQT 3475/11-16)
Any investor will want to consider the employment legislation against the backdrop of putting a significant amount of investment into Northern Ireland. I have to say that in all my discussions, from Asia through to America and Europe, I have learned that when they look at Northern Ireland they are looking specifically to a talent pool with a very low rate of attrition; I think that, in some cases, it is less than 7%. Investors are looking to save business costs and are attracted by us having, in the future, the lowest rate of corporation tax in Western Europe. I think all of that has helped us to reduce our unemployment figures to approximately 6%. This stands against a European average of above 9%, and, the last time I looked, the Irish figure was 8.9%. So we are in a very competitive position. We cannot rest on our laurels. We have the unique opportunity of there being 30,000 jobs in front of us. The challenge is for us to ensure that we have young people with the skills to rise to that challenge and also to ensure that, as people progress, we see a decrease in economic inactivity.
The Minister has talked about the competitive nature of attracting investors to Northern Ireland. One of the elements of the Employment Bill going through today is an amendment that will allow Northern Ireland's qualifying period for unfair dismissal to be the same as that in GB. Would he share my concern that, if Northern Ireland has a different employment law environment than, perhaps, Glasgow or Liverpool, we would be at a disadvantage, in terms of investment, if we did not keep in step with change in the GB employment law?
Yes. Let me answer the question in the following way: one of the groups that I was with came here to create hundreds of jobs and is now in a position where they have created thousands of jobs. Their chief executive told me that one of the things specific to Northern Ireland is that, on an international market basis, people love the fact that, in terms of compliance, law and regulation, we are on the same page as the rest of the United Kingdom.
You could have all the advantages of United Kingdom business, with lower costs and, I would say, a very attractive employment pool to work from — one of the best educated — and, into the future, the lowest rate of corporation tax in western Europe. However, it has been mentioned to me that that compliance across the United Kingdom, and particularly the regulation across the United Kingdom, has led to further investment in Northern Ireland.