Belfast Telegraph

Invest NI must not be harmed by Budget cuts - Arlene Foster

By Clare Weir

Budget cuts must not be allowed to prevent Invest Northern Ireland from attracting jobs to Northern Ireland, the Enterprise Minister has said. Arlene Foster was speaking as energy firm SSE Airtricity announced it is creating 143 new jobs with an average salary of just under £20,000.

Invest NI has offered almost £700,000 of support for the jobs and associated training through its skills growth programme.

While Government departments in Northern Ireland, including justice, employment and learning, and social development, are implementing spending cuts of almost £78m, the Executive will have to find a further £87m from the next quarterly budget monitoring round to begin to meet the cost of Treasury 'fines' on the Block Grant for failing to implement welfare reform.

The health and education departments have had their budgets ringfenced to protect from further cuts.

Since 2008 SSE has invested half a billion pounds in the development of Northern Ireland's sustainable energy infrastructure.

Ms Foster said that with more jobs announcements in the pipeline, it was important that Invest NI was allowed to continue its work.

"Invest NI has done a brilliant job in attracting new jobs and investment to Northern Ireland and like all departments, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment will be facing cuts," she said.

"I will do my best to make sure that we have enough funding to keep on making announcements like this and to bring new jobs to the region and further strengthen the economy."

The new roles for SSE Airtricity will include customer service, retail and sales jobs. The new workers will join 98 existing staff in new premises at Millennium House on Belfast's Great Victoria Street after it opens next month.

The minister said: "This investment represents further growth in Northern Ireland's important business services sector, which already boasts a number of international companies that have been attracted here by the cost-competitive environment."

SSE Airtricity is a subsidiary of the Scottish FTSE-listed firm SSE plc and supplies natural gas and green electricity to more than 300,000 homes and businesses.

As well as being the second largest energy provider here, the company is Northern Ireland's largest renewable energy generator, owning and operating enough wind energy to power 75,000 homes.

Stephen Wheeler, SSE Airtricity managing director, said that the new jobs reflected a more open energy market in Northern Ireland.

"We now supply around a third of the energy customers in Northern Ireland and we think it is very important that our customer services teams are as close as they can be to our customers," he said.

"With these new staff members on board, many of whom will be involved in sales, we hope to gain more of a market share here and will continue to expand."

Invest NI has offered an employment grant of £500,500 and a skills growth programme grant of £177,789.

The proposed training includes recognised qualifications through City and Guilds and IICM, which will enhance the skills pool in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph