The Independent Review (IREP) asked for new arrangements that were less restrictive than those which qualify as Invest NI clients. Will Invest Northern Ireland improve access for a greater number?
There is no doubt that we could, and should, be seeking to extend our programmes to a broader business base in order to accelerate the growth of innovation and exports. Over the next few months we will develop options for the minister to consider. This will probably see proposals for a tiered engagement strategy with customers, designed to better meet customer needs.
One of the criticisms of Invest NI is that decision making is too slow.
We are discussing extending our delegated limits with the relevant departments with a view to having new arrangements in place for the start of the next financial year.
This will result in fewer steps in the approvals process, faster decision making and greater responsiveness to our customers.
We are also considering how best to refine and streamline our processes to enhance the overall customer experience. The introduction of a new system later this year will, for example, reduce the amount of paper-handling, required for a claim.
Does Invest NI support the proposed changes to allow higher levels of delegated decision making on financial assistance?
We do, and this was one of the recommendations recently brought forward by the Minister.
We are currently in discussion with DETI and DFP with a view to extending our current delegation limits beyond £1m, a limit which has been at this level for a number of years. For projects beyond our delegated authority, we are taking forward the minister’s proposal for parallel approvals by relevant departments.
Does Invest NI have any proposals to minimise the potential 'dead weight' effect where some financial assistance may have gone to businesses which might have proceeded without assistance?
The panel took a very specific view on the assessment of dead weight and not necessarily one with which I agree.
That said, in the current economic climate we are examining how we optimise the use of selective financial assistance.
We recognise that this is a challenge and are determined to minimise the issues whilst retaining the use of SFA, for as long as it is available.
We will continue to rigorously appraise all projects to assess the economic benefits brought by Invest NI support in terms of size, scale and timing. If a project can go ahead without Invest NI support then there is no case to assist that project.
As a result of critical comments in the IREP, will InvestNI be changing its appraisal techniques for projects? Will indigenous firms be treated differently to FDI?
We do not differentiate between local and internationally-owned companies.
There is a large piece of work associated with the appraisal of projects based on innovation and R&D.
We need to encourage more such projects, but, in some cases, the current methodology does not measure all of the economic benefits that may be derived. This is a difficult and challenging area but we need to ensure that innovation and R&D projects are not at a disadvantage.
InvestNI has been allocated a budget reduced by £8m for 2010-11. Will assistance to some customers be trimmed?
We are operating in a tighter financial situation and choices may have to be made. This will be done on a project by project basis, regardless of sector or ownership.
We will continue to encourage projects which contain higher levels of innovation and R&D, since these projects tend to have the potential to generate jobs paying higher wages and salaries. Only by doing this can we hope to lessen the productivity gap and contribute to the achievement of the goals of the Programme for Government.