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Agency's flexible and strategic approach is welcomed

Opinion

By John Simpson

The jobs and investment promotion agency, Invest NI, has issued a buoyant assessment of its activities in the financial year to March 2017.

Invest NI has been looking ahead as well as reflecting on the past year's results. Just before the Executive ministers left their jobs as a result of the crisis in appointing the First Minister, the outgoing Economy Minister gave permission for the publication of the new draft Invest NI Business Strategy 2017-2021.

The strategy shows that there has been a fundamental and ambitious review of the way in which Invest NI expects to organise and report on its efforts to deliver important developments: more ambitious but conceptually more complicated.

The revised strategy draws heavily on the ideas developed in the recently published consultation on the introduction of a reshaped Industrial Strategy for Northern Ireland designed around five pillars giving a focus to improved policy formation.

The new strategy is a comprehensive multi-dimensional policy framework. In one particular dimension, Invest NI has shifted its impact assessment and its terminology to move on from a frequently misunderstood reporting concept 'jobs promoted' to a measure which will be a more meaningful yardstick of achievement termed 'assisted jobs'.

Not only has the terminology of reporting extra jobs changed but Invest NI has changed the quantitative setting in which measurement will take place. Whereas in the year 2016/17 Invest NI has reported 5,600 new jobs promoted, or promised, in the four years from 2017 to 2021, the strategy aims to link with 16,000 to 24,000 assisted jobs.

Invest NI is now talking in terms of a target where the outcome falls within a range of possibilities. This more flexible assessment of the outcome that is to be anticipated, allows for the year to year fluctuations which can be expected depending on all the factors influencing the success, or otherwise, of Invest NI in the delivery of its strategy.

Of the assisted jobs, there is quantification of the division of the assisted jobs between those which may emerge from locally owned companies: from 8,800 to 13,400, or just over half of the total, or 55%. The other 7,200 to 10,600 jobs will be in the targets for externally owned businesses, or what might normally be described as FDI. The new Invest NI strategy is a refreshing re-invigoration of the inherited systems and their assessment. The change away from the imprecise 'jobs promoted' to a better defined term 'assisted jobs' portends to be a welcome start to a more ambitious agenda.

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