Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Bad debt a ‘consequence of risk’, says Hamilton

It is inevitable that Invest Northern Ireland will have to write off some of the public money it invests in companies, the head of the agency has told a key Stormont committee.

Appearing before the Assembly's Enterprise Committee yesterday, chief executive Alastair Hamilton fielded questions about the £15m in aid which — it last week emerged — Invest NI has written off since 2005.

Mr Hamilton said while he did not want to describe the £15m as “an acceptable loss”, he added that the risk taken was “a consequence of what we do. We do invest in companies.”

He also told committee members: “I don't want to give anyone the impression I am here to justify why £15m of investment that went into companies didn't deliver the results.

“The majority of the companies closed and the £15m was written down.”

Mr Hamilton once again repeated his response to accusations of negligence that came from Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann last week, saying that the lost money represented only 2.2% of the £676m it offered over the period.

A large portion of the money it was not able to claw back, some £8.5m, was invested in defunct telecoms firm Nortel.

Mr Hamilton said that the issue was about managing the situation when companies that had received public money did not deliver.

He said a zero loss is “just not possible” for the investment agency, unless the Assembly wants it to take a completely different approach.