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Sammy Wilson defends Invest NI's failure to spend £21m funding

Invest NI should not be criticised for its failure to spend millions of pounds it was handed to create jobs, the Finance Minister has said.

Sammy Wilson was challenged at Stormont after the economic development agency returned £21m to the Executive which it said it was unable to invest.

Assembly Members demanded answers over the apparent failure to make use of the financial muscle to create jobs, but Mr Wilson defended Invest NI and Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, who oversees its work.

The chairman of the Assembly's enterprise committee, Alban Maginness, said the return of the funding had sent out a bad signal and reflected poorly on the Government's commitment to creating jobs.

Mr Wilson, however, said Invest NI funding had to be matched by investment from firms, and claimed suitable business proposals were not coming forward.

"It is unfortunate that the money which Invest NI had been hoping to spend on job creation has not been fully spent this year," he told the Assembly.

"And, of course, that is not a reflection on the work which is done by Invest NI and by the Deti (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment) minister, but because a lot of this funding has to be matched.

"If the firms can't find funds - either within their own resources or from the banks, or indeed in some cases they don't have the confidence to invest - then there is not a great deal that can be done about that."

He added: "We have reallocated the money to projects that will create jobs. It is not that as a result of this money not being spent, job opportunities are being lost."

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