Belfast Telegraph

Invest NI turns a corner after damning report

By Adrian Rutherford

More than 7,500 foreign investment jobs were pledged across Northern Ireland during a three-year period, it has been revealed.

The jobs were promised after overseas companies relocated or expanded their operations in the region following financial assistance from Invest NI.

Overall, performance by the £1.5bn Government agency has improved since 2008, a report from the Northern Ireland Audit Office concluded.

Previously, around one in every four jobs anticipated by the quango never materialised, its report noted.

The watchdog examined Invest NI’s role from its formation in April 2002 until March last year.

Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly concluded its performance in that nine-year period had shown steady progress when measured against the targets it had set.

“In a complex picture of performance, there have been some important successes but there remain some areas where success has yet to be achieved,” his report added.

It suggests considerable improvement since a scathing report in 2009, carried out by a panel chaired by Professor Richard Barnett, which found that Invest NI had failed to deliver on its objectives.

Tuesday’s Audit Office report concludes:

  • Invest NI spent £1.5bn in its first nine years, with the quango estimating that this promoted 42,600 new jobs, safeguarded an additional 19,400 positions and secured £5.5bn worth of investment in the local economy.
  • Performance between 2008 and 2011 was the strongest yet with major targets achieved in job promotion and investment, including promoting 7,500 new foreign investment jobs.
  • Research and development investment by firms working with Invest NI increased three-fold.
  • Between 2002 and 2008 performance was mixed. The report noted some targets had been “insufficiently challenging”; calling into question the strength of performance achieved.
  • It questioned how many of the jobs promoted by Invest NI in this period actually materialised. While analysis suggested that 21,000 of the 28,000 anticipated jobs were created, not all may have been due to Invest NI assistance.

Along with some other areas of the UK, Northern Ireland has been able to use Government money to encourage large foreign firms to locate here.

However, that is due to end next year to prevent the region enjoying an unfair advantage over other parts of the UK in seeking investment.

Background

In 2009 a damning report concluded Invest NI had failed to make significant progress in boosting the economy and creating jobs. A third of taxpayers’ money was handed over to profitable international firms, the Independent Review of Economic Policy said. It also claimed the quango helped to drive down wages by luring call centres here for cheap labour.

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