Manufacturing: DETI Assistance

Oral Answers to Questions — Enterprise, Trade and Investment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 14th March 2016.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 2:00 pm, 14th March 2016

3. Mr Poots asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment how his Department is working to promote and assist local manufacturing. (AQO 9841/11-16)

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

The Department is carrying out a range of initiatives to work and promote and to assist local manufacturing. Companies that are involved in manufacturing now employ over 80,000 people, and the sector remains hugely important to the Northern Ireland economy.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Our First Minister, who had many years in the job that Mr Bell now holds, will be out leading in the United States this week, selling Northern Ireland and its job potential to businesses in the United States.

Over the next number of years, lower corporation tax will be significantly important, but what are we planning in association with it? What we are planning to do for training, employment and our universities, particularly as Departments come together? How can we ensure that we put out an absolutely enhanced package to business to show that Northern Ireland is the best place to invest?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP 2:15 pm, 14th March 2016

As for Northern Ireland being the best place to invest, the first thing that I do is bring companies to Northern Ireland. I speak to them at the end of their journey. Their journey starts, however, with some of the successful companies: Allstate; Citi; Baker and McKenzie; and Allen and Overy . The list could go on. We let them talk to those people first, and then we talk about the support that we in the Government can give.

The Member is absolutely correct: we then turn to education. According to another major survey, Northern Ireland has the best performing education system for primary maths in Europe and the sixth best in the world. The Member raised the question of skills. More than 8,500 people graduate annually with business-related degrees from Northern Ireland, where we have two world-class universities, which the Member mentioned. I think that we should note that Queen's University Belfast is over 100 years old, is a member of the Russell Group of 24 leading, research-intensive universities and is ranked in the top 1% of universities worldwide. Ulster University, with its four campuses, catering for some 27,000 students, includes one of the largest provisions in computing in the UK and Ireland, and it is ranked in the world's top 100 young universities. We bring together world-leading research and are recognised for our technology-related university research centres. I am thinking of the Intelligent Systems Research Centre at Ulster University or the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology at Queen's. We should note that over 70% of Northern Ireland's university research activity is world leading or internationally excellent, according to the Research Excellence Framework. Those are the structures that we combine with costs, talent and the most competitive rate of corporation tax to move Northern Ireland forward.

Photo of Alastair Patterson Alastair Patterson UUP

I note with interest the Minister's responses thus far. Manufacturing NI has consistently asked for a manufacturing strategy. However, like it, I am deeply disappointed that successive Enterprise, Trade and Investment Ministers have overlooked this key sector. With manufacturing being a key employer in my constituency, will the Minister give a commitment that he will ensure that the next Programme for Government contains a pledge for such a strategy?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

If the Member had been listening in the last couple of weeks, he would have heard me telling the Assembly that we were placing manufacturing at the heart of our refreshed economic approach. The Member may be disappointed, but while his party was in the Executive, it agreed with a Programme for Government that placed manufacturing with all the other parts in one economic strategy. We did not go down the road of having an economic strategy for financial services, an economic strategy food and drink or an economic strategy for technology. Instead, we put them all together into one economic strategy, which his party agreed with.

From 2011-12 to September 2015, Invest Northern Ireland has provided some £255 million of assistance to firms that are involved in manufacturing in Northern Ireland across a range of sectors — £16·7 million or 7% more than was provided to service-based firms. In terms of support, that helped to promote over 12,000 new manufacturing jobs, 3,600 of which have, in the last financial year, provided future opportunities for those affected by the very challenging situation that we found ourselves in as a result of job losses. Having topped 80,000 manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland and seeing in the past a growth rate greater than any other part of the United Kingdom, you can see why I believe in Northern Ireland manufacturing and why it should be part of the refreshed strategy.