Belfast Telegraph

Invest NI: Best year for job creation with 9,410 posts

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland could become an important centre for the development of cyber-security, the chief executive of Invest NI has said.

Alastair Hamilton said the agency had worked to develop cyber-security as an area of expertise in Northern Ireland, as it delivered its best ever results with 9,410 jobs created over 2014/15.

Software had been one area on which Invest NI had also focused, he said, but a lack of skills coming through had meant that it had looked to other areas.

Mr Hamilton said Invest NI had within the last year attracted cyber-security firms such as Rapid 7, Proofpoint and Titanic IC.

The Centre for Secure Information Technology (CSIT) at Queen's was now the leading cyber-security centre in the UK and the building-block for a cyber-security cluster in Northern Ireland, Mr Hamilton said.

Philip Mills, business development manager at CSIT, said it aimed to work as an "honest broker" in stimulating a cyber-security cluster. Its work was addressing some of the world's most serious cyber security challenges, he said, while its Master's in cyber security was also producing "future industry leaders".

"Our global reach has already seen successful engagements with organisations in the US, Europe and Korea, and drawn the support of Northern Ireland, UK and US government departments, and our global reputation continues to grow."

He added: "Growing companies include CSIT spin-out company Titan IC Systems, indigenous companies like Repknight, and foreign direct investments from companies like Rapid 7 and White Hat Security. "

Mr Hamilton spoke about future 'clusters' which could take shape in Northern Ireland as he gave the agency's 2014/15 results to the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee. Invest NI's job creation numbers were up 40% on the year before, and the highest ever. There was also £1.4bn of investment into the economy, with 25 new investors coming into Northern Ireland.

Economist John Simpson said the creation of over 9,400 jobs was "a remarkably good achievement".

But he added: "Against a background where Northern Ireland has been slower to recover from the recent recession, these contrasting results merit more careful explanation.

"Notably, a high proportion of the new arrivals were in financial and legal service firms, not in manufacturing units.

"Also, contributing to the accelerated progress, there was a critical change tightening the terms of allowed selective financial assistance.

"The current year will not be so successful as last year. However, the thrust of effort by Invest NI must now focus on the sectors and businesses where Northern Ireland has a good comparative advantage." Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell praised the spread of the job creation across sectors and regions, with nearly 60% created outside Belfast. "This will have a real and positive impact on the people of Northern Ireland." CBI Northern Ireland director Nigel Smyth said the results were "extremely impressive".

But he said changes to selective financial assistance meant the performance would not be repeated without a reduction in corporation tax.

"To give Invest NI the opportunity to replicate these results in future years, it is vital that a 'date and a rate' is set by the Executive as soon as possible and that there is a commitment to put our public finances on a sustainable footing to 'unlock' this new power."

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