Local Economy: International Promotion

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 29th February 2016.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 2:15 pm, 29th February 2016

4. Mr Poots asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister, given the planned reduction in corporation tax, to outline how they will promote the local economy internationally. (AQO 9724/11-16)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

The sustainability of the local economy is the core of our Programme for Government. It is important to recognise that, since 2011, in the face of a global economic collapse, the Executive have succeeded in growing our economy. Over 40,000 new jobs have been created over the past five years, with almost 10,000 in the last year alone. Retaining those jobs and continuing to attract new opportunities continues to be a priority, especially in light of the recent devastating news at Bombardier. Next month, the First Minister and I will visit the United States and will use that opportunity to promote local businesses and the advent of a reduced corporation tax at a series of meetings with prospective investors on the east and west coasts. Our itinerary will include one-to-one meetings with senior executives from companies across a full range of sectors, including two major speaking opportunities with CEO-level contacts in New York and Silicon Valley, California.

We have taken a long-term view on promoting our position with targeted regions around the world, and the establishment of bureaux in Washington DC, Brussels and Beijing is a clear signal of the Executive's commitment to this strategy. Through their work in collaboration with Invest NI, I am confident that we will continue to attract further foreign direct investment and new jobs.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Does the deputy First Minister recognise that quality people are a key aspect of selling ourselves internationally and that, therefore, training and universities are of huge importance? What commitment can he give that the universities and training sector, which has come under huge pressures in the last two years in particular, will be given the support that it needs to give international investors a quality workforce so that ordinary local working-class people who do not have jobs will be trained and well placed to receive those jobs?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

I absolutely agree with the Member. In a very successful five- to six-year period, when the previous First Minister and I, along with the then Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister — now the First Minister — travelled extensively to the United States, we successfully brought more foreign direct investment to the North than at any other time in the history of the state. That was a remarkable achievement, given that we did it in a world economic downturn. The Member is correct: if we are to continue to be successful, particularly in the context of a lower rate of corporation tax, it is vital that we support our educational establishments so that we produce sufficient numbers of people with the skills to take advantage of the opportunities that will clearly be presented.

The First Minister and I are very focused on the issue. Obviously, in the aftermath of the Assembly election, with the reduction in the number of Departments from 12 to nine, we are amalgamating the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment with the Department for Employment and Learning. That sends a clear signal of the need to ensure a joined-up approach to attracting foreign direct investment and providing potential investors with the skills that they require.

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Mo bhuíochas fosta leis an LeasChéad-Aire.

My thanks to the deputy First Minister for his answers. You mentioned the importance of the US, and you head to the US shortly. I was in New York at the weekend, and you will be happy to know that our friends in business and Irish-American politics are looking forward to your upcoming visit. I am too diplomatic to say that they are more interested in the fact that the First Minister will make her first visit as First Minister.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member come to his question please?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

Perhaps you could tell us about the importance of that visit and your trip to the west coast.

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

As I said in the previous answer, the First Minister and I absolutely appreciate the contribution that North America has made and the support that we have received. I am particularly delighted that Drew O'Brien of the State Department will arrive later this week with a high-powered delegation of people who are looking at potential opportunities. When you consider that the vast bulk of our foreign direct investment has come from the US, meeting potential investors in the United States is very important.

The conversation on corporation tax is a vital one, given that there will be intense interest. The previous First Minister and I, on the occasions that we were in the United States over many years, had conversations with some of the highest-profile business people in the world, and the question of our continuing involvement in Europe always came up. No doubt that will be a feature of the conversation when we go there. I still think that the First Minister and I have a compelling case to make about the potential opportunities that are there not just for potential investors but for us in getting our young people into employment, which is a vital consideration for all of us as we move forward.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

The deputy First Minister will, I am sure, agree with me that, when international investors look to locate here, they want to look at quality-of-life issues as well and the availability of public services. Does he join me in calling for greater investment in our public services, across health and education, as those are key factors that investors consider when looking to establish a business in the North?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

I agree with the Member: it is vital. Quality of life has an impact on those who come to explore potential investment in this part of the world. Education is critical to that. That is why we hope that the returns from our visit to the United States will be considerable, given that we have predicted that, if, on the basis of affordability, we can reduce the rate of corporation tax to 12·5%, we can create something between 30,000 and 37,000 new jobs, That is absolutely vital for employment for our young people and those currently out of work.

As we go forward, we will have to deal with the challenges that an increased interest in potential investment in the North poses for us. The Member is right to identify the issue of skills: skills are of critical importance. That means that we have to ensure that the education establishments are well equipped and well enough funded to ensure that we have the output to meet companies' needs. The point that I made earlier is also hugely significant: a very clear declaration of our intent to do something about that is the amalgamation of DEL and DETI into the Department for the Economy.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

Given the uncertainty of the outcome of the general election in the Republic of Ireland and the fact that we are now in the dying days of the Obama Administration in Washington, what is the likelihood of meaningful engagement with the American Administration around St Patrick's Day?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

The Member mentions the election south of the border. I am, of course, delighted that our party performed very well, with an increase in our vote of something like 50% and a new batch of young TDs. I am particularly delighted that there are quite a number of women among them.

It is my sense that forming a Government in the South will probably be a lengthy process, with no Government being formed until some time after Easter. My sense is that it will be some sort of arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil — either a grand coalition or a willingness by Fianna Fáil to support a minority Fine Gael Government. It is still very unknown to all of us how it will work out in the period ahead. It is a scenario that impacts on all of us, but, no doubt, the Taoiseach will travel to the United States. The First Minister and I are meeting President Obama, and we will obviously have a conversation with the Taoiseach while we are there.

The US is of huge importance to all of us, and I do not think that, given the support that we have received from it over many years, there is a party in the House that does not accept that. The US has been absolutely invaluable to the peace process and to how we develop our economy in a way that delivers benefits to our people. It is therefore hugely significant, but I do not think that President Obama leaving the White House, as he will do at the end of the year, will change the American attitude to the North. They will retain that interest, whether it be former Secretary of State Clinton in the White House as president or, God forbid, Donald Trump.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Question 5 has been withdrawn.