Foyle Investment: Invest NI

Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 23rd June 2020.

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Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 23rd June 2020

7. Ms Anderson asked the Minister for the Economy, in relation to planning for an economic recovery after COVID-19, to outline the actions she will take to address regional imbalances and the lack of Invest NI-led investment in Foyle. (AQO 486/17-22)

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

I will take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on her position. It is the first chance I have had to do so.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

I thank the Member. It seems a long time since the European Parliament and the end of January. It is only a few months ago and a lot has happened, but thank you.

I recently published my framework for rebuilding the economy into a more competitive, inclusive and greener economy that will benefit all parts of Northern Ireland. The framework focuses on delivering higher-paying jobs, a highly skilled workforce and a more regionally balanced economy. Addressing regional imbalance is integrated into all the work of my Department. For example, Project Stratum will address regional imbalance and broadband access, and it will bring broadband to those premises currently unable to access such services.

Delivering benefits for all of Northern Ireland is also integrated into the work of Invest NI. Invest NI is actively working with Derry City and Strabane District Council and regional partners to develop a coordinated approach to the development and growth of the regional economy in the Foyle constituency. Skills will also play a key role in our economic recovery, and the initiatives in this area will also help rebuild the economy of the Foyle constituency. I have been developing new initiatives to help sustain apprenticeships and support the pipeline of skills.

North West Regional College has been doing impressive work in continuing to deliver courses. The college has worked quickly to move delivery to an online platform and has developed new courses in response to the pandemic. The college is also delivering a range of fully funded online courses. That will assist those who have become redundant or who wish to upskill or reskill to secure employment.

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

Minister, I know that you were not in office but you have inherited Invest NI's woeful record for visits to Derry from 2016-19. Can you outline how Invest NI's overseas team engages with prospective foreign direct investors who might come to a city like Derry? How does it market the talent and skills that Derry has to offer? In the time ahead, will you market Derry, in the context of tackling regional disparities?

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP 3:15 pm, 23rd June 2020

I again thank the Member for her question. Over the last five years for which figures are available, Invest NI has offered £81 million of assistance to local businesses located in the north-west. That is with the north-west being defined as having Invest NI's regional area office, which covers the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council area and the Derry City and Strabane District Council area. That assistance will have delivered £439 million in support of the creation of 4,280 jobs across the region. I understand that Invest NI plan to publish its latest figures for 2019-2020 in the reasonably near future.

As I said, my economic strategy will be central not just to the recovery from COVID, but to Northern Ireland's future going into its second century. Central to that will be producing an economy that has greater skills, is more regionally balanced and greener and that looks to grab the opportunities of the future. We will invest in the core of our economy, which is our manufacturing, our agri-food, our tourism sector, but we will also look to where the new job opportunities are and to where we can create them. Central to that, of course, will be the work of the city deals. I have been to Magee university, and I was extremely impressed by the forward-looking approach to those areas of the economy that will bring more and better-skilled jobs and investment for the future.