Theresa Villiers: Year one of economic pact with Stormont was success
Writing exclusively for the Business Telegraph, Theresa Villiers outlines how work to rebalance the province's economy is working
Last week saw a significant milestone for Northern Ireland. At a meeting in Westminster, the Prime Minister David Cameron and I, along with the First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, signed off the first annual update to the economic pact we agreed on the eve of the G8 last summer.
It marked a further stage in our combined efforts to push forward measures to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy by boosting private sector job creation, giving many more the financial security that comes with a regular job and a wage packet to support their families.
Northern Ireland has benefited from a range of government schemes over the past 12 months. We have seen £36m of investment from the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, £2.4m from the recent introduction of the Business Finance Partnership and £400,000 in start-up loans for young entrepreneurs. The Green Investment Bank will make two separate investments of £1.5m and £1.7m to help strengthen the Northern Ireland agri-food sector. We have delivered the first enterprise zone at Coleraine.
Figures released by the British Bankers' Association (BBA) showed new lending to SMEs at £362m in the last quarter of 2013, an increase of 46% on the same quarter in 2012. The BBA estimate that nine out of every 10 SME loans are approved.
Further banking transparency was a key priority for the Northern Ireland business community and publication of these figures has come out of the work done in the joint ministerial taskforce on banking and access to finance that we established with Executive ministers and which I chair. There has also been some progress in supporting initiatives designed to build a shared society.
The Government made available an additional £100m of borrowing and has agreed to the Executive's proposals to use this for improved facilities at integrated primary schools, a new further education college, more shared housing and shared education campuses.
We have also identified 106 Ministry of Defence homes that could be gifted to the Executive for use as additional shared housing if the Executive brings forward appropriate proposals.
In addition, the Government and Executive continue to work together to promote Northern Ireland as a place to invest and do business. The International Investment Conference that the Prime Minister attended last year was a huge success, helping Invest NI deliver a record year in 2013-14.
The Government's investment in improvements to broadband and mobile coverage is helping the Executive further improve Northern Ireland's excellent telecoms infrastructure.
Last week was an update – a chance to review progress. Both the Government and Executive recognise there is more to do, for example in tackling red tape, and reforming the public sector. For our part the Government will take a final decision on the possible devolution of corporation tax powers in the autumn.
Yet all the signs are that the Northern Ireland economy is recovering and the Government's long-term economic plan is working.
Forecasters are now predicting the Northern Ireland economy will grow by 2.8% over the next year – more than most major economies.
The number of employee jobs is up by 16,000, with the vast majority in the private sector.
I am the first to acknowledge there is a long way to go to fix the broken economy we inherited, but we are definitely heading in the right direction.
The joint UK Government- Executive economic pact is playing a major role in delivering that and it still has more to offer.
- Theresa Villiers is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland