Belfast Telegraph

Cuts put Invest NI projects in jeopardy

A MEMBER of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment committee has hit out at the department for "squeezing" Invest NI in its spending proposals.

SDLP MLA Dr Alasdair McDonnell said most of the agency's projects, whether helping foreign companies who wished to invest in Northern Ireland or giving a helping hand to indigenous enterprises, had been "squeezed to death".

He spoke following a private session of the committee in which Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton and chairman Stephen Kingon gave evidence to members on DETI's draft budget.

The committee meeting was to be held in open session before a last-minute decision to close it to the public and press.

DETI has to make cuts of over £9m between 2011 and 2015 under the finance minister's draft budget.

Dr McDonnell said the plans for Invest NI should be reconsidered.

"It's my view that we have to take a serious look again at the job creation budget of Invest NI.

"I believe that the cupboard is bare and that there is not enough money there to take advantage of all the opportunities."

The South Belfast MP said the cut was "totally at odds with the economic development strategy".

"The strategy is good and ambitious, but when you pull out the money there's no strategy."

He added: "Civil servants in DETI don't understand when they do budgets that Invest NI have a four or five-year roll-out of plans."

The committee wanted to "underpin the little bit of economic growth we have had in the last couple of years".

It is estimated the agency has committed to investment plans to bring up to 6,000 jobs but those plans are now in jeopardy.

The agency makes forward financial commitments to companies up to five years ahead.

An Invest NI spokesperson declined to comment on any matters discussed in the meeting

When the agency announced figures for the year ending March 31, 2010, Mr Hamilton said if its budget were to go "down or substantially down then we are in severe difficulties".

A spokesman for the department said: "DETI has not yet finalised its budget plans."