It could be years before meaningful data on whether jobs are created or retained by Invest NI is available, it has been revealed.
The Government's main economic development organisation spent almost £520 million on selective financial assistance over the past decade yet systems to track actual posts have only recently been put in place, said the Assembly's spending watchdog.
Five of the largest companies which received Invest NI grants worth almost £145 million before 2009 could not supply details of jobs lost during that period, said a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). It acknowledged the organisation had largely met its targets.
Chairwoman Michaela Boyle said: "We are disappointed that the systems which will track whether jobs are created or retained have only been implemented recently and it will be some years before any meaningful data becomes available. This is of particular concern given that Invest NI spent almost £520 million on selective financial assistance grants to companies over the past decade."
She said Invest NI has always considered its job creation achievement by measuring the number of posts promoted rather than actual jobs created and how long they last. She added: "We believe the fundamental test of Invest NI's performance is the delivery of lasting jobs on the ground."
A new system to track the jobs was put in place last year and may not be able to return meaningful data until 2017 or beyond, because large projects can take many years to deliver the promised jobs.
The committee said some of Invest NI's job creation targets required little effort to achieve or exceed, for example encouraging foreign direct investment projects to locate within ten miles of a disadvantaged area.
Invest NI was established in April 2002. Between then and March 2011 it has spent almost £1.5 billion, resulting in the promotion of 42,600 new jobs, safeguarding 19,400 posts and planned investment of £5.5 billion in the local economy.
The committee raised concerns about a lack of independent validation of its performance data.
Ms Boyle added: "We recognise that Invest NI operates in a challenging and competitive environment and that measuring its performance is complex. We also acknowledge that Invest NI has largely met its current targets."