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Northern Ireland Economy and Innovation: Government Support

Part of Endometriosis Workplace Support – in Westminster Hall at 4:59 pm on 29th October 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:59 pm, 29th October 2019

Thank you, Dame Cheryl—hallelujah to get the chance to comment. Northern Ireland is on the cusp of greatness. In football and sport we are doing great things, but our economy is doing even better, with international investment in the IT sector and a booming financial industry. Newtownards, the main town in my constituency, is a commuter town; it is about half an hour from Belfast on the wonderful Glider service. Many people from the town, and indeed from across the Ards peninsula and the wider Strangford constituency, find job opportunities in the Belfast area.

The Minister for retail, Kelly Tolhurst, came to Newtownards to get an idea of how the towns and the retail end are working. Unemployment in Strangford is at its lowest level for many years. I understand that the Government have acknowledged that FinTech is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, and Northern Ireland is increasingly recognised as an important destination for new development and investment in FinTech, with more than 36,000 people employed in the financial services sector. We have just had the appointment of a new FinTech envoy for Northern Ireland, Mr Jenkins, which I and my party welcome.

I also welcome the confidence and supply motion. Just this week the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced further rural network broadband investment. Coverage will go from 78% of Northern Ireland to 91%, as the Secretary of State said in the Chamber yesterday. That is good, but it cannot be the extent of Government support for the economy and innovation in Northern Ireland. As I said in March, we have the potential to do so much more. We have state-of-the-art office spaces, UK-wide connectivity and low business rates.

We are a place to invest in, with a high-class graduate labour force and an abundance of administrative staff. As a shooting man, I would say that all the ducks are in a row. It is perfect for Northern Ireland at the moment. Queen’s University, with its innovation in health, its partnerships with companies across the world and its students, adds to that. Pharmaceuticals are doing exceptionally well in my constituency—although they could do better—as is the agri-food sector. TG Eakin in pharmaceuticals, Mash Direct, McCann’s and Willowbrook Foods, Rich Sauces and Lakeland Dairies are all in place.

We could do something on corporation tax to enable us to be more competitive with the Republic of Ireland. We have the rental property space, the skilled labour force, the connectivity and the ability to reach an airport within an hour for most of Northern Ireland—we have it all. We need a Government in our corner helping us to attract international investment and fighting for us as an integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, because we are better together—as opposed to something that seemingly works against us—in something that benefits the entire UK body.