Belfast Telegraph

Global downturn affects Invest NI's aims: Foster

By Michael McHugh

Invest NI's pipeline of new jobs has deteriorated, the economy minister has said.

Companies are delaying expansion because of the global recession, with the last two months seeing a fall in the number of projects being commissoned by the agency, Arlene Foster said.

Mrs Foster said: "Invest NI has indicated that the pipeline is not as good as they would like it to be. A lot of people who were indicating that they were coming here either delayed or decided not to expand.

"Because of the general economy people are not expanding as quickly as we would like. Certainly the pipeline is not as good as we would like it to be. It has deteriorated because of global pressures."

According to the 2009/10 annual report of the jobs creation agency, the Stormont Executive continues to place a high priority on the economy, with an overarching goal of halving the private sector productivity gap with the UK average by 2015.

In 2009/10 the agency secured £687m of investment commitments for which it offered over £182m of support. It made 3,817 offers of assistance, a 12% like for like increase over the previous year, reflecting its response to the difficult economic conditions. A total of 93% of these offers were to locally-owned businesses.

The agency supported the creation of 4,307 jobs and helped safeguard a further 2,264.

The minister said reducing corporation tax to compete with the Republic of Ireland's rate of 12.5% for foreign direct investment represented a huge issue for her.

She expects an autumn response from the Treasury on the case for devolving the power to set corporation tax to the Executive. Ms Foster strongly supports the idea of devolving tax powers.

"Corporation tax will bring a new focus on to Northern Ireland. Sammy (Wilson) is finding it hard to get behind the figures with the Treasury," she said.

She added that firms considering investment wanted certainty about the rate in the years ahead.

The Treasury is also considering the case for lowering Air Passenger Duty, which has threatened the viability of Continental's Belfast to New York service because it is higher than tax on similar routes operating from Dublin. It adds £60 to the cost of a flight to the US.

Mrs Foster added: "We have been pushing and pushing and pushing. It is a huge issue for us, we have spent so much time and energy on it because that route is important to us."

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