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New Economy Minister must 'sell' Northern Ireland globally

By John Mulgrew

Published 10/05/2016

Apprenticeships must be encouraged by the new Economy Minister, says economist John Simpson
Apprenticeships must be encouraged by the new Economy Minister, says economist John Simpson

Northern Ireland's new Economy Minister must act as a "salesperson" for the province on the global stage, it's been claimed.

The new Department for the Economy (DfE) will combine the economic and business role of the Department of Enterprise and Investment (DETI), as well as taking in the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).

Economist John Simpson said the department must "refresh and deliver more ambitious skills training and apprenticeship places".

He said the new department brought together critical policy levers and represented a major opportunity to improve Northern Ireland's economy.

And he said it also needs to tackle energy costs for businesses across Northern Ireland.

Former Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell launched a task force to examine the difficulties facing manufacturing here, and high energy costs came out on top as the main concern.

"The new department brings together many of the critical policy levers. The ambition of both the DUP and Sinn Fein is that, during the next five years, 50,000 extra jobs should be created in Northern Ireland. This ambition needs clarity on the means by which it might be achieved," Mr Simpson said.

He said the "reshaping of policy for the economy" should not only rely on a drop in the rate of corporation tax alone.

And the new minister needs to be a "salesperson who will take our message to the global market", according to Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"NI Chamber has long campaigned for and supported the devolution and ultimate reduction of corporation tax but we always acknowledged that, taken in isolation, this was not a sufficient policy change.

"We must ensure that our indigenous businesses as well as those international investors have access to a skilled and motivated workforce."

And she said it was crucial the new Department for the Economy "plays a leadership role" in helping businesses to access information.

It's been rumoured that Sinn Fein could go for the department, with former Department for Regional Development (DRD) Minister Conor Murphy potentially taking up the role.

Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said the new post must be a "one-stop shop" for economic development, and reiterated his own calls for a junior ministerial role to tackle 'entrepreneurship and skills'.

"Given the huge role retail plays in supporting local employment, the Department for the Economy should conduct a 'retail policy review' to examine ways to support further growth in the sector," he said.

"Further education colleges can support the retail sector by working in partnership with retailers to develop entrepreneurial skills to support the sector's growth.

"A new professional and vocational route, running parallel to academic, from school right through to university, must be created."

Mr Simpson said the new minister "can expect greater political pressure to take account of the spread of additional jobs across Northern Ireland". Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI said the new minister "also needs to quickly tackle issues that remain a blockage to growing the economy including our energy cost problem, creating a skilled workforce and increasingly difficult labour issues including employment law, apprenticeship levy and the challenges of affording the national living wage".

Belfast Telegraph

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