Job Creation: Ambitious Targets

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:00 pm on 19 March 2024.

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Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP 5:00, 19 March 2024

I beg to move

That this Assembly supports an innovative and inclusive economy that provides opportunities for all; highlights the need to create more and better jobs across the skills spectrum; supports, in particular, growing key sectors such as digital, agri-tech, advanced manufacturing, life and health sciences and fintech; is clear that the benefits of new employment must encompass rural communities as well as our towns and cities; stresses the importance of understanding and addressing the needs of businesses and employers; and calls on the Minister for the Economy to set ambitious targets to grow the Northern Ireland economy in this Assembly term, including through creating 5,000 new tech jobs.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. As an amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List, the Business Committee has agreed that 15 minutes will be added to the total time for the debate. Please open the debate on the motion.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

As we embark on a new chapter in the Northern Ireland Assembly, we have an opportunity to make Northern Ireland an even better place in which to work, live and invest. The new Executive, working together, can make a positive difference to the economic and social well-being of so many across our society. It is imperative that we set about growing the economy through ambitious targets that will drive growth, prosperity and opportunity for all our people. The motion that we have tabled calls on the Minister to set ambitious targets and to create more and better jobs, which, in turn, will lead to better prosperity for those whom we serve.

Over the past 15 years or more, there has been significant progress. We must recognise how far the Northern Ireland economy has come. Since 2007, Invest NI has created over 50,000 jobs and punched well above our weight in the UK by securing record levels of investment. We have seen positive change in our infrastructure and public realm and our education sector and skills and training. We have seen investment in our universities and further education colleges. That, of course, should not be the limit of our ambition. More can and should be done to ensure that the benefits of new employment and opportunities are felt by the most disadvantaged in our society.

Our Executive and the Economy Minister must work together to address the inequalities that continue to exist. That means work that encompasses rural communities as well as our towns and cities and encouraging investment in all of Northern Ireland — north, south, east and west. It means focusing on need and targeting areas of higher deprivation. That does not mean penalising or taking away from our areas of higher economic activity. We need our capital city to thrive. The success of some of the investment and major employers secured there can have a ripple effect throughout the Province. As the phrase goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

We must recognise, however, that there have been areas that have been left behind. The Economy Minister and the new Executive now have a chance to build on the work that has already been started and to chart a new path to ensuring that no part of our communities is left behind. Growing the economy requires us to listen first and then to respond to the needs of our constituents, businesses, educators and investors. From a north-west perspective, we have seen at first hand how business and education leaders, politicians and agencies working together can deliver real change on the ground. It also means talking up our offering and our strengths rather than talking down the place that we want to see prosper. That collaboration is a model that can be built upon, and, if we lean into that, we can see new opportunities ahead. That, of course, means acknowledging that, where things can be improved and done better, they should be. We must ensure that those who advocate for Northern Ireland overseas have the tools that they require to promote all parts and regions of our economy.

The Lyons review of Invest NI was a timely opportunity to take stock and reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation, whilst acknowledging the clear value of the work that it does. I was encouraged to hear from the new Invest NI chief executive, Kieran Donoghue, at the Economy Committee. I have no doubt that his experience will be invaluable in bringing new ideas and new life to Invest NI. We cannot expect investors to choose Northern Ireland if they are faced with a raft of new restrictions. We should take best practice from other countries in how they have made strides towards regional balance, whilst welcoming all investment opportunities to our shores.

One of the most important ways to create jobs is to support our small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. We must make it easier for small businesses to start up, grow and succeed. We need a continuous focus on entrepreneurship and start-ups. I urge the Minister to work with our SMEs to create an environment where innovation can flourish and businesses of all sizes can thrive. That means working with the Department for Infrastructure and local councils to address frustrations around the planning system. Too much investment has been lost because of unnecessary delays and burdens on those who want to invest and create employment.

At the Economy Committee last week, we heard from Renewables NI about the lack of investment here due to delays, costs and bureaucracy. If we are to meet our net zero targets, we need urgent change. It also means working with the Education Minister to ensure that we have a pipeline of skilled workers who are educated and trained to meet the demands of the future. It means working with the Health Minister to invest in the health and well-being of our citizens to ensure that they live long, healthy and productive lives. It means making work pay and improving workers' rights across the board.

Of course, we live in a rapidly changing global economy, where technology is transforming industries and creating new opportunities at an unprecedented pace. Our Province has become a global leader in cyber, fintech and advanced manufacturing. At the centre of the 10X economic strategy was a clear commitment that we must focus our attention on the emerging sectors that are best placed to add value to the regional economy and consolidate Northern Ireland as a global destination for investment and as a small, advanced economy.

The 10X strategy noted the potential for there to be a demand for thousands of new employees in the 10X sectors every year for the next 10 years, including 2,500 in digital, ICT and the creative industries, 1,500 in advanced manufacturing and engineering and 1,000 in agri-tech. In fact, the 5,000 new tech jobs target cited in the motion and our manifesto is likely to be an underestimate of the potential growth in those priority sectors. We will be more than happy to work with the Minister and other parties to advocate being even more ambitious.

Of course, if jobs are to be created, the talent and skills on which they depend also need to exist. The 10X skills strategy noted:

"Northern Ireland’s tech sector is growing and provides one of the focal points for Northern Ireland’s 10x Economy, yet, the sector is struggling to recruit the talent needed to fulfil Northern Ireland’s potential."

Our people are our most valuable asset. We must invest in their education and training so that they have the skills and knowledge that they need to succeed in the 21st century economy. It is crucial that careers services are fit for purpose and support young people and those who seek to upskill or reskill to choose appropriate and high-value pathways in job quality and growth potential.

In the remaining time of this Assembly mandate, we have an opportunity to create an environment where businesses can thrive and people can find good and well-paid jobs. That is why we are calling on the Economy Minister to set ambitious targets for job creation in Northern Ireland. We have the talent and the determination, but we need the Executive and His Majesty's Government to deliver the resources. I am confident that, by working together, we can meet the targets.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party 5:15, 19 March 2024

I beg to move the following amendment:

Leave out all after "Minister for the Economy to" and insert: "produce ambitious, time-bound and measurable targets to grow and regionally rebalance the Northern Ireland economy, including through creating 5,000 new tech jobs, with an associated financial stimulus package."

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

You have 10 minutes to propose the amendment and five minutes to wind. All other Members who speak in the debate will have five minutes.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the motion and our amendment on the need for ambitious targets for job creation. It is often said that what you do not measure, you cannot achieve, and that is no truer than when considering the change that is needed in our economy. Whether that change is to our stubbornly high rate of economic inactivity, which remains at 6·8% higher than the UK average, to our low productivity, which remains at 17% below the UK average, or to the unacceptable disability employment gap of 44%, there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that our economy truly works for all. The reality is that none of those gaps will be closed if we do not measure the progress that we are making. If we do not set targets, how do we know whether public policy is having an impact? Without a target, how would any business know whether it was on track to make a profit? More to the point, how would any family know that it was able to stay within its own budget? Those are targets that can apply to every sector.

Although our amendment did not propose to remove from the motion the figure of 5,000 technology jobs, as we have no particular objection to it, the truth is that it is a largely arbitrary figure and that the process of determining targets should be more thought through. Targets should be set for all sectors, recognising the unique selling points of different regions. Although there is often a focus on the technology sector, each region and each industry has a particular contribution to make to Northern Ireland. Those contributions should be recognised in the targets that we set, and we also need to go beyond targets for job creation in order to deal with the challenges that I have mentioned.

The aim of the targets cannot just be to grow the economy. Otherwise, we are in danger of continuing the perverse imbalances and inequalities that exist today that allow those areas that are doing well to do even better still while places such as Derry and elsewhere in the west are allowed to fall further and further behind. The aim instead must be to grow and rebalance the economy, to end the postcode lottery of jobs, opportunity and investment and to reverse the regional inequalities that have been allowed to fester and that have created a two-tier economy, in which wealth is concentrated in some places and not in others, in which the difference between the council areas with the highest and lowest levels of economic inactivity is over 10% and in which the difference in the levels of gross disposable income is over £4,000. If you are from the most deprived area of Northern Ireland, you are three and a half times more likely to have no education qualifications at all and twice as less likely to be degree-educated. Most of all, people living in the areas with the highest levels of deprivation are likely to die up to seven years earlier than those in the most affluent areas.

Targets must also apply to our economic development agency, Invest NI. It really is unacceptable that recent figures demonstrate that only 7·9% of visits by foreign direct investors hosted by Invest NI over the past 10 years took place west of the Bann. Those figures include only 14 visits to Fermanagh and South Tyrone and only 13 visits to West Tyrone.

The targets must therefore be subregional, time-bound and measurable. It is only through measuring targets and identifying need that we will be able to put in place the kind of deliberate and intentional interventions that are needed in the places where the market and policy have failed. I call those kinds of interventions positive discrimination, because that is what is needed when decades of neglect and failed economic policy have left communities struggling in generational cycles of poverty. I listened very carefully to Pat Sheehan in the previous debate, and I could not agree with him more. Poverty destroys lives and destroys communities. Job creation is about wealth creation, particularly for our most deprived communities, so that people can escape those cycles of poverty. For me, targets are about tackling inequities and interjecting when market failure is happening. It is at the heart of economic and social justice.

It is welcome that the Minister has committed to subregional targets, at least for Invest NI, particularly given his predecessor's reluctance to do so. In the previous mandate, I was told time and time again that investment is demand-led, that businesses follow that demand and that government's job is not to direct investment. That analysis ignored any need for government to create the conditions necessary for that investment. It appears that the tune has finally changed.

I cannot help but feel, however, that we are behind the curve, given that we are still debating whether to introduce economic targets. Let us look elsewhere. The South is light years ahead. Its economic development agency, IDA Ireland, already targets half of all FDI investments to regional locations. The South's national planning framework targets five cities for 50% of the overall national growth, specifically targeting regions that have been left behind.

Even closer to home, we have seen how targets can orientate the Government's thinking. Scarcely a week goes by in this place when we do not talk about the climate targets, about how much the Government have yet to do to meet them and about the consequences of failure if we do not. The climate targets have become a northern star for Departments and strategies. If it is good enough for the climate crisis, why is it not good enough for the economy?

Of course, targets are meaningless without action, and we have all become far too familiar with the news about missed targets for hospital waiting lists and public-service reform. We cannot allow targets to become yet another casualty of the dysfunction here. There must be consequences for missing those targets. In our view, the consequences should take the form of financial stimulus packages. Therefore, when a target is missed, a financial stimulus package should be put in place in that sector or place to reverse the failure.

All of that should be underpinned by ambitious and binding legislation, and although the motion calls on the Minister for the Economy to act, we need to recognise that he cannot do it alone. Every Department needs to adopt a subregional approach to its policy, strategies and plans. That will require strong leadership from the Department for the Economy, and it needs everyone to buy in. We need to measure life expectancy in different places; set targets for more investment in the health and social care trusts; measure infrastructure deficits; intervene in the west, where the need is greatest; and measure school attainment to set targets where our children are being failed and are falling behind. We need everyone to join in this endeavour through statutory obligations, annual reporting and a legal framework on how regional balance is addressed by the Government.

By introducing that kind of legislation, we would be following the example of Governments from around the world that have acted before us. I have already outlined the approach of the South, but there are countless other examples. For example, Finland's Regional Development Act (No. 602 of 2002), which required the Government to set national development targets, or the Regional Development Victoria Act, 2002 or the commitment to regional balance in Germany's constitution. Those countries recognise that a person's life chances should not be determined by their postcode, so why cannot we?

I invite the Minister, once again, to accept the need for the legislation in his response to the debate. In summary, I commend those who tabled the motion, and I ask the Assembly to support the call in our amendment for regional balance. Only through finally measuring how far we have yet to go can we move forward towards a vision that we all share, which is an economy that works for everyone.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

The Economy Minister set out his economic vision a month ago today. That vision was based on creating good jobs, increasing productivity, tackling regional imbalances and transitioning to net zero. Therefore, Sinn Féin will support the motion and the amendment today. We can absolutely endorse the calls for an inclusive and innovative economy that prioritises jobs and investment.

It is only fair to point out that the previous seven Ministers responsible for the economy have been members of the DUP. I also note that the 10X strategy, which was overseen by the previous three DUP Ministers and constantly referenced, did not set targets for job creation in new tech, or any other sector for that matter. It is great, therefore, to see that, after just six weeks in post, the DUP finally has such confidence in an Economy Minister that it can come to him with a motion that references 5,000 new tech jobs. That is very good.

The Economy Minister has set out a positive vision and step change for the economy, and that should be our focus.

In the past, we have seen investment and economic policy being shaped on the premise that every job was a good job. That resulted in businesses being given financial support to create jobs that were low-paid and insecure and offered little opportunity for career progression. The current Economy Minister's focus on good jobs should be commended by all parties as a means to ensure that funding for jobs assistance by Invest NI and others is linked to the quality of those jobs. That will mean that jobs created with the help of public funding pay the real living wage and give workers secure terms and conditions. I note the overlap between that objective and the Minister's intention to introduce an employment Bill to improve the rights of workers by banning things like zero-hour contracts and fire/rehire practices and by improving workers' rights through a better work-life balance and the ability to organise via trade unions. Improving those rights through legislation is the basis for delivering good jobs across the skills spectrum, as mentioned in the motion, and improving the rights of workers should be the basis of any economic policy.

Another key aspect of the Minister's vision is the focus on net zero and delivering green jobs and a just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. A shortcoming of the previous 10X strategy was its lack of focus on green skills and renewable energy. Despite the vague mention of new tech, the 10X strategy critically overlooked the importance of the green economy and the job opportunities in it. Studies by the Nevin Economic Research Institute show the vast potential of the green economy. There are around 5,000 people employed in full-time green jobs in the North. However, that number is expected to grow as more jobs become available in areas like renewable energy, manufacturing, retrofitting and conservation. The number of jobs created in a circular green economy could and should be substantial. Rather than trying to set arbitrary targets on job creation, as the motion seeks to do, let us look at the evidence and the need to move to net zero and work together towards that. That said, Sinn Féin will support today's motion and amendment, and we look forward to the Economy Minister implementing the vision that he announced some weeks ago.

Photo of Sorcha Eastwood Sorcha Eastwood Alliance

Alliance will support the motion and the amendment. You would be hard-pressed to find anybody who would stand up and say that they do not support more job creation. I echo some of what Sinéad McLaughlin, the Member for Foyle, said about the earlier debate on education and poverty when she was moving her amendment. Do you know what? That is the most important thing we can take away from this. We can talk about job creation all we want, and we can talk about skills, but unless we get it right downstream and make sure that the workers are there, we will never get to the place where we can support ourselves and have a thriving economy in the North.

I could pluck another figure from the air, as we all seem to be doing today, and say that we have a really high number of people who are economically inactive. For a lot of the people in that cohort, that is genuine, and they absolutely need to be supported. However, we will not be able to take the other people within that who want to work and say, "Right, you have now moved from that register, and you are in a tech job". We will not be able to do that because we have not spent the time getting them to a place where they can be conversant with the technology and be confident in themselves. I went to school on the Falls Road, and I am telling you that there were people I met from schools in that area a few years ago who said that they could not get their kids to get the bus into a different part of the town, because they were anxious and did not feel confident enough to do so. That is really what we are talking about at the bare bones of the issue. We need to speak to that social inequality.

There is another thing about the postcode lottery. David and I are very privileged to be in Lagan Valley, which is one of the wealthiest areas in the North. It is probably one of the greatest super-output areas that has the fewest areas of deprivation, but there are pockets of deprivation there, just like everywhere in Northern Ireland. Someone said to me, "I could take a child, and, given their postcode, I could plot out their educational pathway." That pertains to this day. Unless we get a grip on the importance of Education and Economy working together, we will never crack this nut.

We have had a wee bit of politics across the Floor, with "You held Economy for this" and "You held it for that". Grand; love it; here for it. But the main thing is that, if we constantly collapse the place, we will never accomplish anything. That is the bottom line, and that is why we need to move to reform as a matter of priority.

When we talk about opportunities for all, it is important that we are inclusive, but we also need to look at where we are. The stark reality in Northern Ireland is that we have the biggest number of disabled people who want to work but are not able to. In fact, I think that we have the highest number of disabled people with a third-level qualification who cannot find work because they are not adequately supported by the system. That needs to change.

There is talk about good jobs, and that makes my teeth itch a wee bit. You are getting it all today. The main reason for that is this: what is the indicator or metric behind a good job? One time at the Committee, there was a bit of a conversation about wages and the median wage. A lot of people will never be able to earn that, and that is not what I want for them either. If we start bandying about the claim that a job with such a wage is a good job, we should look at health and social care. Look at the number of debates that we have already had in this short time and will continue to have about health and social care and other critical social and economic infrastructure. Those workers will never make that wage in a month of Sundays, and that is not right. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that, when we talk about tech, we also need to talk about people and our society, because every one of our family members and our constituents will need to rely on health and social care workers in the days and months ahead.

I welcome the remarks from Sinn Féin on green skills. We had an amendment on that, but it was not selected. Green skills are incredibly important, because we need to move ahead at speed. We had the Utility Regulator and people from Renewables NI at the Committee last week. We know that we are in a race against time when it comes to meeting climate targets. Unless we start educating and transforming our education system and economy, we will never get there.

We need to look at careers advice in schools. I go on about that all the time and will continue to do so. It has been on the table since 2013, and now we are hearing about a portal. The portal was talked about at least 10 years ago. I urge —.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I thank the Member for giving way. Does the Member agree that careers advice in schools is critical and that it is appalling that some schools in Northern Ireland will not point their students in the direction of appropriate careers advice?

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Sorcha Eastwood Sorcha Eastwood Alliance

I agree entirely with the Member and thank him for his intervention. We have the 14-19 strategy, the 16-19 framework, the 2022 independent review of careers advice and now the independent review of education. We know what they are saying, but we need to get on and do it now. I, for one, and Alliance will stand with the Minister and, indeed, all other relevant Ministers to try to make that happen, but we must move to that place of action now and not just have words.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

It has been an interesting debate. There has even been a little politics in it, which we got out of somewhere. It is great for a community when it has a number of jobs and the choice of employment, whether that is in the public sector or the private sector. You know that communities are thriving when you see people who are positive about that. It is great for the Members for Lagan Valley that they live in one of the wealthiest areas of Northern Ireland, but think of the rest of us out in the west — Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Foyle or wherever — which does not have the wealthiest areas. I do not agree that, just because you live in those areas, you can plot your way forward from a young age. People develop at different stages of life, and they take up different skills at various stages. Some great entrepreneurs have come from places that are not as wealthy as Lagan Valley. There are people from the west of the Province and other areas who have done exceptionally well.

Photo of Sorcha Eastwood Sorcha Eastwood Alliance

I thank the Member for giving way. The point that I was simply trying to make was that it is not right that we have educational inequality to the extent that it impinges on life chances and that is what we need to get right. Yes, there is a regional imbalance, but I am sure that the Member will agree that we need to make sure that, wherever you are, your postcode does not dictate your quality of life or your educational or job prospects.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I thank the Member for her intervention. Yes, of course, your life should not be determined by your postcode or where you were born or live, but a lot of people ensure that that is not how their life evolves. They make their own choices in life.

There are skills that are not in Northern Ireland — at least, they are not here in great quantities — that we need to develop. I hear the figure of 5,000. I am not sure where that figure has come from, to be fair. However, if a business came from America in the morning offering 5,000 jobs of a specific type, could we fulfil that? I do not believe that we could at the moment, and that is one of the dangers.

We have to look at employers as well. Where are the skills required? I hear employers say, "I can't get the lorry drivers", "I can't get the people to do the office administration" or "I can't get the healthcare workers whom we have heard about." There is a huge dearth of some skills that has not been identified. I have to be fair to the regional colleges. In a lot of instances, they have moved on from the old technical colleges that I remember. They provide a much wider range of skills now, but that requires further development, particularly in areas that need specific skills.

I point to Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The south Tyrone area has huge numbers involved in food production, but it also has small engineering firms that require the skills that need to be provided by the regional colleges. That is important as well. I always like to support indigenous businesses. We have witnessed so many foreign direct investors coming into Northern Ireland, but they last for a short time and then they are gone, whereas those indigenous businesses, grown in the communities, survive for much longer.

I cannot not mention BT/EE, which is reviewing its situation in Fermanagh and Enniskillen but without giving out enough information. I heard the Minister say earlier that even he cannot get some of the information that the employees would like. I accept that it is a private company, but I just wish that, at this stage, it would be more open and transparent with its loyal employees. They have been good to BT and EE over the years, and they now deserve the respect of at least being given the information.

There needs to be a balance here. We need to upskill young people and make sure that they are ready for the job opportunities that will be there. However, it is also about supporting employers, because, often, employers feel that they are in a position where employees are dictating to them. I have to tell Members the story of an employer who was chatting to me. Just by chance, he said to me that his eight or nine employees had told him that they were going down to a four-day week. They just told the employer. It did not matter what the employer thought or whether he thought that they should still work their five hours on a Friday. He was just told that, and he felt demoralised by it. He said that it seemed like the tail wagging the dog. He did not have a huge amount of pressure to exert on them, so he felt unable to say, "Well, look, you just can't do that", and he felt lonely and isolated.

Photo of Pádraig Delargy Pádraig Delargy Sinn Féin

I want to focus on two areas: productivity and regional balance. I will begin by echoing a lot of what Mr Elliott said, as I have heard in my constituency about skills gaps and the fact that colleges have stepped in ably to plug those gaps and be responsive to the economic needs in the area.

One issue has been our relatively low productivity levels. Employers continue to want to hire more staff to grow and to invest but struggle to get people with the right skills. We have seen that the North has lower productivity levels than, for example, Britain and that successive DUP Economy Ministers have failed to get to grips with that, despite holding that portfolio for a number of years.

Improving access to skills will be key to narrowing the productivity gap further in the coming years. The Minister has already indicated his intention to improve the opportunities for people to upskill and reskill through a range of programmes, including all-age apprenticeships, which will be a game changer for skills and will mean that workers, in later life in particular, can earn as they learn and can reskill and upskill without having to pay for their apprenticeship learning.

Notably, the productivity gap has closed slightly in recent months. However, productivity remains, on average, 11% below the rate in Britain and, according to a recent study, almost 40% below the rate in the South. I trust that the Economy Minister's vision and the policies that will stem from it will close the gap further. That means utilising dual-market access to grow domestic exports and attract highly productive FDI. It means developing all-Ireland clusters in high-productivity sectors that are key to driving economic progress and productivity.

As my colleague Mr McGuigan said, Sinn Féin will vote for the motion and the amendment, outlining the need to promote regional balance and to tackle the regional and rural inequalities that have, for so long, kept our economy from being inclusive. If I were an investor and I was sitting here, I would want to hear the positives and the benefits coming from Derry, the north-west region and regions across the North. I am proud to be from Derry. I am proud to call that place home. It is a fantastic place in which to live, work and build a life.

I concur with the comments made by my colleague Mr Middleton. We need to start talking up areas such as Derry. We need to start making sure that areas across the North are spoken about positively in this place and that we talk up the place, its positivity and its people.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP 5:45, 19 March 2024

I thank the Member for giving way. He makes an important point. Quite often, in the Chamber, we are subjected to negative comments about the Foyle constituency and that region, when, in reality — I think of Mr Elliott's comments about Fermanagh, as well — there are some hugely successful businesses and entrepreneurs from those regions who have had a pivotal role in the Northern Ireland economy and, if given the opportunity, could do much more.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Member has an additional minute.

Photo of Pádraig Delargy Pádraig Delargy Sinn Féin

I totally agree. I have spoken to people in dozens of companies — FDI companies in particular, but also regional companies — who have spoken about that. Dozens of them can bear testimony to the fact that they have set up a business in Derry, grown that business and created a huge number of regional jobs. The thing that they say all the time is that they are here because of people; they are here because of what we have to offer and what is unique about us. I totally agree with that point. In my constituency, I hear, all the time, that people want to talk about the future and to hear about the positive opportunities that we have. That lines up exactly with what Conor, as Economy Minister, set out with regards to looking at how Invest NI does business and at regional balance, investing in City of Derry Airport and growing places at Magee. We have a lot to talk about and to talk up in our region.

The Minister's vision also talks about transforming and reorganising Invest NI into new regional structures. That is dedicated to home-grown small to medium-sized businesses and start-up companies. Once implemented, those forums will enable Invest NI to operate regional offices across the North that will work on an inclusive basis, in partnership with councils, the business community, trade unions and local enterprise agencies. That model will be a game changer. It will decentralise Invest NI and provide greater focus on investor visits, job assistance and job creation being delivered more equally across the North.

I will not dispute the relevance of any of the industries in the 10X vision — that has been covered in detail — but I will say that, when I speak to people and business owners in my community, they are quick to point out that the 10X strategy never focused on construction, tourism or social enterprise. All those sectors have huge job opportunities, labour shortages and skills progression. I think that we will see a lot more of that in the future, which would be a positive development. The Minister's vision goes beyond that to create an economy that will benefit workers, families and businesses of all sizes and in all sectors.

Photo of David Honeyford David Honeyford Alliance

I feel unwell, but I am trying to be positive about this. To be honest, when I read the motion, out of frustration I did not know where to start. We will support it — anybody would support it. I do not think that any of us would disagree with anything in a motion that calls for more jobs. However, the focus should be on how we deliver, rather than on a randomly plucked figure. The motion leaves us none the wiser. It has to be about delivery, not words.

I will start by getting the elephant out of the room. The line:

"addressing the needs of businesses and employers", is interesting coming from the party that campaigned and voted for Brexit, and therefore for trade friction, and that took the huff for two years, pulling the Assembly down and leaving our business community to get on with it and sort out issues for themselves. Now, when we have an election coming up, there is a road to Damascus conversion.

I said that I was not sure where to start, but I will start by saying that business need us to start by reforming the Assembly, so that no single party can collapse this place and we guarantee stability for our business community. It is the business community that creates the jobs; it ain't us. That is the point that is missing in this. Any business will tell you that the starting point is to give inward investment the security of stability to invest. Stability is the starting point. We all want 5,000 new jobs. Pluck a figure — why not make it 10,000? We absolutely all want our economy to grow, but surely we should agree the changes that are needed to grow our economy and then measure the outcomes of those.

This is like giving a football team that is down the divisions a target of winning the Premier League without giving them any help, any resources or anything else to change. You just give them a target of winning the Premier League. It is completely unrealistic unless you make the changes that are needed. I hope we can all stand and support the policy changes that will be needed for our business communities to flourish. I hope that the Minister will bring those policy changes forward quickly, because we have a limited window of opportunity. It needs to happen now. Our job here is to set the conditions to allow it to happen.

The past 15 years have been talked about as some sort of romantic notion. Recent reports have said that we have actually been below the UK average over the past 15 years. The UK is hardly the benchmark that we should base our growth ambitions on. The potential that we have here needs a holistic approach that addresses every element of our economy. Part of that may be, as my colleague Sorcha said, about higher education. All of this is interconnected.

What is really important is that those changes are not held back and restricted by constitutional ideologies. We need to get serious, leave our political ideology at the door and start to create the conditions that our business community need. If we do not, we create barriers before we even start. If we continue doing what we have been doing, this will be nothing more than a pipe dream. It is a road, and our business community needs the Chamber to build it. We need to be in one lane, providing public services, and stay out of the way of the rest to allow our business community to flourish.

We need major change. Alliance wants to see that change and to look at where we can work in partnership across this island and within these islands. I ask the Minister what actions have been taken to deliver essential collaboration between IDA Ireland and Invest NI, because those actions are needed right now.

We need financial investment into skills and apprenticeships and to create more opportunities, including in technical universities in our FE sector. I have raised that before. What is the Minister doing to develop that sector? Those are questions that we need answered and the things that we need to discuss. A great start would be to value our FE staff and enhance their pay and conditions.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for taking an intervention. Does the Member think it is negative to state facts or that it is OK to come in here and brush over actual economic facts? It should be about delivery. We are not saying it in a negative sense. We are saying that this needs to be fixed. We, collectively, need to fix it now. We cannot come in here and blow smoke up everybody's whatever. We need to deal with what is straight in front of us, be realistic and start working together.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Member has an extra minute. Carry on.

Photo of David Honeyford David Honeyford Alliance

I absolutely agree. You can only start from where you are. The fact of where we are is that we are one of the poorest regions of Europe. We need to work and grow from that point. That is where we are, and that is what we need to do. I totally agree. You have to be realistic about your starting point and your end goal.

How does business create 5,000 new jobs without the financial support to grow and without access to bank funding and debt markets so that businesses can actually invest in themselves? How does business create 5,000 new jobs if our current planning system, which, at best, can be described as seriously lacking in delivery, is still in place? How does business create new tourism jobs when the electronic travel authorisation has been enforced by GB? Although we have, for example, a Wild Atlantic Way product across the rest of the island, it —

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of David Honeyford David Honeyford Alliance

— stops at the border. Alliance will always be up for creating the conditions for our economy to grow, and our vision is based on evidence for growth. We support the motion, but we need to get real.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I will continue in the vein of my colleagues who have spoken in the debate. In reality, an ambition for our economy that is without direction is pointless. The journey ahead of us demands a clear focus on not just the quantity but the quality of the jobs across the skills spectrum. Despite our stop-start politics, we have made strides in some areas. For example, we have made a start on bridging the rural-urban digital divide. Much more needs to be done to accelerate that, however, in order to ensure equal opportunity in an increasingly digital economy, especially as more people than ever want to, and do, work from home.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. Does he accept and acknowledge the fact that broadband connectivity in Northern Ireland is now a huge selling point, particularly for jobs in more rural, isolated areas, as we tilt towards a more technology-driven economy?

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

Absolutely. The Member has just repeated the words that I said.

Other work is needed, however, to grapple with the systemic issues that continue to cast a shadow over our potential. The economic inactivity to which Members have referred, particularly among the long-term sick and those with disabilities, remains stubbornly high, providing a key opportunity for organisations such as the many social enterprises that operate and deliver across Northern Ireland. I hope that this mandate will give the Minister the opportunity to make more legislative provision to support our social enterprises.

Productivity continues to lag, and the ongoing brain drain has been detrimental to our skills economy, as young people continue to leave to seek better opportunities elsewhere, attending universities in the rest of the United Kingdom or Ireland or, indeed, emigrating with their qualifications. It is important that we endeavour to create a more balanced, productive economy that is in step with the demands of decarbonisation and our increasing difficulties with the environment, that is ready to face the challenges and opportunities that climate change offers and that will deliver for each person, for us all and for the world of work.

Achieving that will require us to go back to basics. Look at the cost of division in our education system: if we could invest that money in our education system to deliver for our young people and spend it on a more focused education system that delivers for all, not only would we give people the best chance in education but we would have a much better qualified workforce that would be attractive to business in Northern Ireland. Delivering reform of the Assembly will provide that assurance to business.

To deliver more and better jobs across the spectrum, we need to ensure that there is no hierarchy of qualification but rather that qualifications meet the needs of business and people and that we do not put all our eggs in one basket. We must consider the vast range of qualifications equally. Be it an NVQ, a primary degree, a diploma-to-apprenticeship pathway or a PhD, we need to deliver for everyone.

More than that, let us not forget our unique position post Brexit. With our dual market access in the UK and the EU, we are perfectly poised to drive growth, attract investment and create jobs. We need stability in this institution to achieve that and to give us a more appropriately qualified workforce that is ready to meet the demands of both markets. As we look to the future of our economy and job creation, we need to set targets that are not just ambitious but SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound — and that reflect our unique position in the UK and the EU. Those targets must be underpinned by planning and adequate resources. There is no point in bringing in that which is good today but will not be here tomorrow. Rather, it is about providing opportunities that will be valuable and adaptable to our citizens not just today but down the line.

With that in mind, I call on the Minister for the Economy to go beyond the usual metrics and instead let us devise a strategy that is resilient, that builds on our strengths and that creates lasting benefits in order to build jobs for all in Northern Ireland.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

All Members who expressed a wish to speak have done so. I therefore call the Minister for the Economy to respond. Minister, you have up to 15 minutes.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin 6:00, 19 March 2024

I thank the Members for the debate. It was very informative, and a lot of very good points were made. I apologise that I missed the debate last week, when I was away on travels, but the nature of the debates, particularly on the economy, has been very constructive. I hope that we continue in that vein and collectively realise that, if we pull together, we can make a distinct improvement on some of the problems.

I do not underestimate the challenges and problems in particular areas of our economy, and that has focused my efforts on trying to provide strategic focus to the Department. I outlined that vision with a focus on good jobs, regional balance, productivity and decarbonisation, and I was glad to see that, in this and previous debates — I am aware of the debate last week — there has been a high level of consensus on that.

The ambition is to create 5,000 jobs, and some Members wondered where that figure came from. It may follow on from an ambition set out in the New Decade, New Approach agreement. I like Stewart Dickson's approach of SMART targets rather than just arbitrary targets; nonetheless, it is useful to have targets. New Decade, New Approach set out to achieve 5,000 cybersecurity professionals by 2030, and, currently, there are approximately 10,000 people employed in the software sector and 15,000 employed in fintech or financial services. The rise of digitisation and AI means that there will be tech jobs in nearly every sector of our economy, from retail to agriculture to advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity. The challenge is to manage that revolution in technology in a way that supports good jobs, innovation and productivity, regional balance and a transition to net zero.

A key indicator of a good job is the level of pay. Currently, 15% of jobs here pay less than the real living wage, and that figure must come down. I want everyone to earn at least the real living wage. The sectors highlighted in the motion are higher-paying, so growing those sectors should increase the number of higher-paying jobs in the economy.

While developing the sectors, we must be aware of the need to ensure that women and people with disabilities can access opportunities. There is a gender employment gap of around 7% and a gender pay gap of approximately 8%. Evidence suggests that that gap is connected to the higher prevalence of women in part-time employment: 23% of part-time jobs are low-paid compared to 6·4% of full-time jobs. Part of the solution is more affordable childcare support, and I am keen to work with the Department of Education to take that forward. People with caring responsibilities would benefit from more-flexible working patterns. Members are aware that I will bring forward a wide-ranging good jobs Bill during this mandate.

The Assembly debated a motion last week on the importance of protecting workers' rights, and while I could not be in the Chamber for that debate, I was pleased to hear the level of support across the Chamber for ambitious, new employment rights legislation. Flexible working arrangements will be included in the consultation, which will inform the content of the Bill, because remote or hybrid working, along with flexible working patterns, provide opportunities for more people to take up employment.

The sectors outlined in today's motion are high-productivity industries that will improve our overall economic performance. Our dual market access, as a result of the Windsor framework, provides us with a significant opportunity to grow exports on both a North/South and east-west basis. To maximise the benefit of that unique market access, we will need to have the right level and mix of skills demanded by those sectors. That means supporting higher-level skills development and ensuring that our skills system is responsive to evolving need. Our city and growth deals provide a platform from which to grow jobs in those sectors. Again, provision of relevant skills for those investments will be key. My Department will enable clusters of companies, universities and colleges to flourish regionally and on an all-island basis. That will build on the previous work on priority sectors and will be a key driver of exports, job creation and regional productivity growth.

The motion highlights the need to ensure that good jobs are available in rural as well as urban locations, and the amendment highlights the need for targets to address regional imbalance. Regional balance is one of my core priorities. My Department, along with Invest NI, will work in partnership with local councils, local enterprise agencies, the business community and the community and voluntary sector to identify regional challenges and strengths. That collective effort will enable targeted action to develop local businesses and incentivise investment in areas with real regional strengths. While high-quality FDI has an important role to play, the majority of job creation over the next few years will be from our own indigenous entrepreneurs.

We already have significant assets at local level. Our regional further education college network, in particular, is an asset that we can further leverage for economic development. I think that that was a point that Mr Honeyford made. I have discussed the need for targets on regional balance with the new chief executive of Invest NI. Those will be aligned to a wider regional plan, which will be co-designed with regional partners and stakeholders.

Although it is not mentioned in the motion, some Members raised the issue of decarbonisation, which offers opportunities to realise policy goals, as well as being necessary in its own right. We have a legal and moral obligation to drive down emissions and meet our net zero commitments. We can and must do that in a way that creates more and better jobs. The green economy is an area of enormous potential. We already possess specialities in areas such as green hydrogen. The green energy sector will be a source of productivity and job growth across the region. We have the capacity to become a global leader in the green economy by developing locally the solutions, products and services that will be used around the world. We have the resources, including wind, biomethane and geothermal, to become not only self-sufficient but an exporter of affordable renewable energy. We have the strategic opportunities to collaborate across the island through the single electricity market to support those aims.

A huge number of issues were raised by Members during the debate, most of which I agree with. Gary Middleton raised points about areas of deprivation and regional balance. I am glad that he welcomed the appointment of the new CEO of Invest, who brings experience to the role, including experience of the South, where regional balance has been achieved more successfully than it has been here. I agree with Gary Middleton and the many others who mentioned the need for the skills pipeline. I think that Sorcha Eastwood said that the skills pipeline will be served if we get back to the starting point, which is by ensuring that children get the best possible start, young people get the best possible careers advice and all the pathways that are available to people throughout their lives are offered to them. We must ensure that children and young people and their parents are fully aware of those pathways. That is something that I have already spoken to the Education Minister about. I am very happy to take up an area of work with him in that regard to ensure that our colleges, our university system and our schools are fully utilised to make sure that the best opportunities for our young people emerge.

Sinéad McLaughlin mentioned the subregional issue and Invest NI's track record on visits. I accept that that does not make for good reading. That has to change. Invest NI already has the power. Many agencies that promote jobs and the economy use their own financial incentives to ensure that government policy is met. That is what I expect Invest NI to do in future. We have had a commitment regarding regional balance in the Programme for Government for, I am sure, almost a decade now. Departments should be adhering to that. We need to make sure that all Departments step up to the plate in that regard.

I think that Sorcha Eastwood and Stewart Dickson mentioned the ability to return to work and the value that social enterprises play in that regard. The difficulty is that we have lost EU funding, which supported that endeavour. That has been replaced in a very sporadic and uncertain way by the Shared Prosperity Fund. Part of the discussion that we will have with Treasury in the time ahead will be about getting more certainty in relation to that funding. That is, clearly, a significant gap that has been left in the Department for the Economy's budget. We managed to plug that during COVID, but it has now been left unfilled. That is something that we want to concentrate on in the time ahead.

Sorcha Eastwood also mentioned the definition of "good jobs". As she said, it is about much more than simply pay. There are other factors that act as indicators, such as demands not being excessive; employment security; opportunities for career development; discretion over how work is organised; social support from management and co-workers; union representation; participation in organisational decision-making; work being safe to undertake; and work-life balance being provided for. I have asked Dr Lisa Wilson to work with the Department to review those indicators and help us to establish the best means of monitoring the creation of good jobs. Dr Wilson will also help us to produce data to allow for more analysis of that issue. As I said, there is much more to good jobs than simply a wage packet.

I take Pádraig Delargy's point about positivity about the region. Of course, we have to talk up our areas. We have to ensure that, when people go to them, we have a good story to tell, so that they want to support them. However, we do not ignore the challenges that there are across the region. Those challenges are found in some urban areas of this city, where there is also deprivation. We need to be mindful of promoting the positives while not forgetting the challenges. I accept that, at the end of the three years, we will be judged on what we have delivered against the targets that we set out. I accept that and am quite happy to be judged on what we have produced at the end of the three-year period.

David Honeyford's point about stability — I think that Stewart Dickson made the same point about political stability — was one of the main aspects of the discussion that we had in the States this week; we talked about dual market access and political stability. Those are critical in trying to develop that programme of work, just as they have been to many others that sought to reform the health service or education service. All those programmes require political stability. They also require funding. That is another matter that the Executive have to work on with Treasury. They require more than an annual budget, which does not allow for longer-term planning. We have said that we are happy to discuss how we achieve political stability for the institutions. We are here for the long haul to do that job.

Some of the other points related to the FE sector. Quite clearly, we need to continue to work with our FE sector. It has accepted, and I have accepted, that it is underutilised. It has a significantly good estate, which previous Economy Ministers invested in. I acknowledge that. We need to ensure that that is linked in right through our education system. It is a critical, key component in what should be a seamless education system from nursery school right through to the end of people's academic pursuits.

I am glad to see that there is not only general agreement about the type of economy that we must aim for but wide recognition that we must consider inclusion, whether that is of women, people with disabilities or those from rural or more deprived areas. I welcome the substance of the motion and hope that the Assembly recognises that it aligns well with the economic vision that I have set out. I am focused on taking a comprehensive approach that will result in a highly productive, zero-carbon, regionally balanced economy that provides good jobs.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I call Mark Durkan to make the winding-up speech on the amendment. The Member has up to five minutes.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome and support the motion. I am glad of and grateful for the support that has been expressed for my party's amendment. It is imperative that the Executive do all that they can to create jobs and opportunities. That means not just employment to help people to keep themselves and their families but employment and opportunities to help to keep people here.

The motion lists a number of sectors that are ideal for growth. While that list is not exhaustive, it is correct to identify jobs of the future in dynamic and tech industries. Pathfinders here have already made huge progress, and there is every reason to support the innovators of today to create the industries of tomorrow.

Our universities need to be supported not only to grow but to evolve, providing cutting-edge courses and producing more creators of ideas, employment and wealth that can be retained locally. When I say "locally", I mean "locally". The concentration of around 90% of university places in Belfast is not just detrimental to regional balance and the economic and social well-being of my constituency and constituents in Derry and many other areas across the North but holds Northern Ireland back.

Nobody here will be surprised therefore that the amendment calls for the economy to be not just grown but regionally rebalanced. Everywhere and everyone should enjoy any new opportunities, especially in areas that have been deprived of so much for so long. In the debate, Mr Middleton spoke of the need to address inequalities and to have ambitious targets. That made me wonder and regret why previous DUP Economy Ministers were so reluctant to address targets on a subregional level. My party colleague, when proposing the amendment, pointed to effective economic policies that have been adopted in other jurisdictions and that have fairness at their core.

Philip McGuigan emphasised the importance of the green economy not just to saving the environment but for the economic opportunity that it can and undoubtedly will create.

Ms Eastwood felt lucky to hail from a more affluent area but demonstrated great empathy for and understanding of those languishing in economic activity, unable to access work even when willing. She touched on the point about political stability and rightly so. You would not build a house on shaky foundations, so companies will be an awful lot less willing to invest where there is political instability and uncertainty. We have seen and heard a lot of positivity on that front recently, but we have seen it before. Potential investors have seen and heard it before as well.

Messrs Elliott and Delargy heralded the role of our regional colleges and the further education sector in upskilling our workforce to match the needs and demands of the market. I agree with my constituency colleague Mr Delargy on the need for positivity, but there is and always will be a need for honesty. Derry has been failed, and we want to fix that. I welcome any prospective investors who are watching the debate to come and play their part in an exciting new chapter for our constituency and the North.

Mr Honeyford was also guilty of a wee bit of realism. He touched on the value of the FE sector and the need for fair pay for those working in it. The Minister, like others, wondered exactly where the figure of 5,000 jobs came from. I think that it came from a DUP manifesto pledge. We have seen that pattern over the past couple of months from the big two parties: picking motions based on manifesto pledges in areas for which their Ministers are not responsible. I do not know whether the figure is a case of saying, "We will build 5,000 jobs" and "We would make 5,000 more". Given that it was a manifesto pledge, I do not know whether it was based on a five-year term. Therefore, is it even more ambitious now that we only have three years left? Maybe Mr Buckley, who is no stranger to ambition, could touch on that when he is winding up the debate. He is no stranger to winding up either.


Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance 6:15, 19 March 2024

I am about to ask him to do that. I call on Jonathan Buckley to conclude the debate on the motion. The Member has 10 minutes.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I thank the Member for Foyle for that grand introduction. At this stage, we are in an almost unique situation, given that I am the third Member to wind up the debate: the Minister stole those clothes, then there was the Member for Foyle and now me. It has got to the stage where everything has been said but not everybody has said it.

I enjoyed the debate in which the members of the Economy Committee have engaged. To a large degree, there is a real sense of energy and need. I will not go into the specifics of what every Member said, because other contributors have done so. The debate clearly set out to me — I very much agree with the Member for Lagan Valley Ms Eastwood on this — the connection between careers, education and the jobs of the future. It is so important that we get that right in order to go forward. Everybody can have ambitious targets for job creation, and, if we break it down, we are looking at a changing economy. Jobs of the future are not the same as jobs of the past.

Mr Delargy mentioned the skills gap and productivity. It was important to raise those two key issues. He said that addressing those issues is about preparing our people for future employment. In order to do so, however, we have to have a careers service that is fit for purpose and enables our employers to look to the workforce to fill the jobs of the future. That is very much what the intention of the motion was. It was about looking at creating the conditions for employers to be able to fill new and emerging jobs in new and emerging sectors. Going forward, it will be so important that those jobs enter the mix. They already have to some degree, but there is much more work to be done.

When proposing the amendment, Sinéad McLaughlin said:

"what you do not measure, you cannot achieve".

That is a fair comment. While we may look at the 5,000 jobs as a manifesto commitment, the aspirations for this place are endless, if the Assembly gets it right, but we have to put in place a structure that allows employers to benefit from areas of economic inactivity. The Minister and Ms Eastwood touched on the point about the number of people who are disabled and could contribute to the workforce and close that productivity gap. We could put people to work in creative industries and in the jobs of the future. That is admirable.

I go back to the start of the debate in relation to careers services. It will be so important to have that vital link-up. We said in the Committee that we were not reaching our young people early enough to enable them to steer a path towards a good job. I know that we are open to a debate on what a good job is and how that is defined, but, in a sense, everybody should have the ability to access a good job.

Photo of Sorcha Eastwood Sorcha Eastwood Alliance

Will the Member give way, before my voice gives way?

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

Yes, absolutely.

Photo of Sorcha Eastwood Sorcha Eastwood Alliance

I agree with Jonny. One of the great things that we have done early doors in the Committee — Mr Brett is not here at the moment, but he has been supportive of this — is the fact that we are going to have a joint session with the Education Minister and the Economy Minister. I know that all members were in agreement with that. I would love for us to maybe have another debate in the House off the back of that meeting at the end of the year. I get the feeling that there is consensus from Education and Economy to drive that forward, and it is up to us, as the scrutineers, to push that.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

I thank the Member for her intervention, because that is crucial, if we are to target those industries. We should not shun industries such as digital, agri-tech, advanced manufacturing, life and health sciences and fintech. Those are the careers of the future, but, if we are not getting that message downstream quickly enough, as the Member mentioned, we run the risk of exacerbating the productivity gap. That comes down to the targeted message.

Ms McLaughlin touched on the point well in relation to the postcode lottery. It should not be about a postcode lottery, but, in the same sense, I agree with Mr Elliott's comments — he has just entered the Chamber — that there are people who have existed in those pockets of deprivation and isolation in rural constituencies and, as entrepreneurs, have been far ahead of those in urban areas and town centres in being able to grasp the jobs of the future.

I remember having a conversation with a significant business owner in Fermanagh, in hospitality. I presumed, because I felt that it was very much the case in town centres and cities, that people working from home had devastated town centres. In many cases, it has, because the workforce no longer supports other indigenous businesses. The view was different in Fermanagh, however. He was able to point to the fact that people who had worked in London or Cardiff had come home and were supporting his indigenous business. One size does not fit all. When we go forward, we need to look at the different aspects and the way in which our citizens can put themselves to good use and have a career of the future in a good, well-paid job that enables them to develop into something else.

The motion mentions ambition. The Sinn Féin Members mentioned the growth of jobs in the renewable green sector. They will be vital in the mix, if we can get issues such as planning in order to enable those jobs to become a reality. That is a real opportunity for Members from all parties to grasp.

The Democratic Unionist Party welcomes Members' genuine engagement on the issue. We remain unashamedly committed to growing the Northern Ireland economy, and we want to see an ambitious approach taken to creating better, well-paid jobs, which, in turn, will lead to greater prosperity for all. I take the point — it is something that we need to focus on — that it is very easy in geographical locations for individual Members to talk places down. That is normally because we are dealing with negative circumstances, where we feel emotive and need to speak out. When it comes to international investors, however, whether or not it concerns a local constituency, the point is that they need to hear that there is a workforce — our people are our skill set — and it is our job to make sure that people are well equipped and prepared for the jobs of the future. That will ensure that we can not only have ambitious targets for job creation but realise that potential of job creation.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly supports an innovative and inclusive economy that provides opportunities for all; highlights the need to create more and better jobs across the skills spectrum; supports, in particular, growing key sectors such as digital, agri-tech, advanced manufacturing, life and health sciences and fintech; is clear that the benefits of new employment must encompass rural communities as well as our towns and cities; stresses the importance of understanding and addressing the needs of businesses and employers; and calls on the Minister for the Economy to produce ambitious, time-bound and measurable targets to grow and regionally rebalance the Northern Ireland economy, including through creating 5,000 new tech jobs, with an associated financial stimulus package.

Motion made: That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Blair).]