Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Be realistic about Invest NI spending

It is inevitable that questions will be asked when government departments or their agencies spend large amounts of money on hospitality.

The inquiries will intensify at times of austerity when ordinary people are experiencing hardship in their own homes and want to be assured that public money is spent as wisely and efficiently as possible.

Such questions are right and proper and part of the democratic process, especially in an administration like that at Stormont which has no real opposition. The £500,000 bill run up by Invest NI for wining and dining corporate clients in the 2011/12 financial year will raise eyebrows.

Some people might wonder why the jobs creation body had to attend two big golf tournaments in America as well as the Irish Open at Portrush.

Quite simply they were attempting to cash in on the province's worldwide reputation as a golfing hotspot. The exploits of Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell have put the province firmly on the map.

While it is proper to explore what was spent and on whom, we also have to be realistic. Investors just don't roll up to Northern Ireland and say they want to start a business. We have to compete against other world economies – some with better incentives – and that means persuading, charming and forming relationships with potential investors. Invest NI, rightly, would be condemned if it was not maximising every opportunity to promote job creation opportunities here.

At the same time Invest NI has to accept that its expenditure will be carefully scrutinised. It should be open with its accounts – always taking into account client confidentiality – and should not put obstacles in the way of legitimate inquiries. It is a question of balance. The public has to accept that Invest NI is in the business of getting business for Northern Ireland. If it does not attempt to woo investors, there are 150 other similar agencies more than willing to take its place at the hospitality table.

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