Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has denied Invest NI has wasted public money — saying she was “very pleased” with the Independent Review of Economic Policy despite its criticisms of the work of her department.
The minister took questions from journalists after the review was launched yesterday. Asked if the agency had wasted public money, she said: “I don’t accept it’s a waste of public money. This report makes constructive critiques of Invest NI and its policies.”
She reiterated that she had commissioned the report herself and wanted to learn from it. “There is no point in asking for a report and not learning from it,” she added.
She said the review, chaired by University of Ulster vice-chancellor Professor Richard Barnett, also praised the work of Invest NI.
“The report has said Invest NI contributed to the economic development of Northern Ireland. However, it’s important that we recognise the salient points which the report makes about innovation and research and development and implement those points,” she said.
The report was commissioned to suggest ways of furthering the Executive’s goal of halving the private sector productivity gap between here and other parts of the UK by 2015. Northern Ireland’s productivity is around 75% of the UK average.
The minister also said a key recommendation — that the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) and the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) should be merged into a Department for the Economy — was long part of her party’s policy.
“We have been saying for a considerable time that we need a smaller government, a smaller number of MLAs and ministers,” she added.