Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Big year for golf inspires Northern Ireland to increase tourism targets

The winning effect: Golf superstar Graeme McDowell

The Executive has dramatically increased its targets for tourism and inward investment following consultation on the draft Programme for Government.

The rejigged plans were agreed by all parties at a meeting of the Executive yesterday afternoon.

Full details will be given in a debate on Monday in the Assembly but last night sources said that five new commitments had been added to the Programme for Government (PfG). That brings the total specific targets to 82.

“As a result of the consultation process five key commitments have been identified as mattering most to the public.

“We had about 430 responses to the consultation and 20 meetings with over 400 people attending them,” a source said.

The existing key target of 25,000 new jobs promoted by 2014 remains, but capital investment targets have been increased.

The target for foreign direct investment was previously £300m. It has now been raised by 25% to £375m.

Peter Robinson will be leading a number of missions in North America and Asia in the coming months aimed at encouraging investment.

A target of £400m has been set for investment by indigenous businesses supported by Invest Northern Ireland, the Government job creation agency.

“We have a lot to do to encourage banks and venture capitalists to support local industry in expanding and we will be ploughing another £225m investment into the jobs fund,” an Executive source said.

“The key messages coming from the public are the economy and health,” he added.

There was also concern at Northern Ireland’s level of economic inactivity which is the highest in the UK, partly due to our ageing population and the high level of people on Disability Living Allowance.

As a result, the Executive has pledged to develop and implement a strategy to reduce economic inactivity by creating greater incentives for job creation, skills and training.

Tourism is also being identified as a major area for expansion. The draft PfG aimed at a total of 3.6m visitors by 2013 but that has been raised to 4.2m by 2014, representing a year on year increase. Tourist revenue is also targeted to go up to £676m by 2014; the previous figure was £625m.

Part of the planned rise is based on the McIlroy effect and the victories of Graeme MacDowell and Darren Clarke which, it is hoped, will attract another major international golf tournament within the lifetime of the Assembly.

There is a further commitment to the reform and modernisation of the delivery of health and social care with a hint, to be elaborated next week, of plans to replace the Housing Executive by 2015.

A new package to introduce measures aimed at improving safeguarding outcomes for children and vulnerable adults is also planned.

The real test is delivery, not words

It is easy to carp. Some will be disappointed that it took us 10 months after the elections to finalise a Programme for Government. Reaching agreement at yesterday’s Executive is a considerable achievement.

Ministers have listened to the 430 responses they received during the consultation period which ended a fortnight ago.

It is no surprise that health and the economy were the main priorities. That, and building a shared future, is what the Executive should concentrate on.

The five-and-a-half new commitments, added to the 76 in the draft programme, make an attractive package.

No commitments have been scaled back so the funding remains to be spelt out.

The big test will be delivery, not words. The previous Assembly achieved 67% of its ambitious objectives.

That was seen as a trial run, keeping the coalition together was the big achievement.

It seemed impossible a year ago but our ungainly all-party coalition is starting to produce joined-up Government.

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