Belfast Telegraph

Number of jobs promoted by Invest NI plunges 60%

By Margaret Canning

Invest NI promoted 5,550 new jobs in the last financial period - a slump of around 60% on its best performance a year earlier.

But Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said the figures in its end of year results were a "positive out-turn" and that the numbers were ahead of the agency's 4,000 jobs target.

The positions amounted to investment of £341m - down from £1.4bn a year earlier.

Economist John Simpson said Invest NI had missed an opportunity to describe how it would use the corporation tax cut, which comes into force in 2018.

"Invest NI should now be well prepared for the introduction of lower corporation tax," he added.

"However, this critical change is not foreshadowed in their annual review.

"Does Invest NI have ideas on how the tax rate change could, or might, be made stronger by further local legislative adjustments to company taxation?

"Research and development spending (including patent protection and pilot or experimental) projects could be enhanced if the capital and spending allowances in Northern Ireland contained local variations.

"Does Invest NI have any case to make for this further enhancement of devolution?

"Invest NI has had a good track record in the last three years. However, this report can be criticised as reflecting an unwelcome degree of complacency.

"Invest NI is capable of generating a new dynamic, but it has lost momentum."

The economic development agency said it had created 6,700 jobs in the year to April 2016 - down nearly 30%. That figure refers to posts created by projects announced up to five years beforehand.

The jobs promoted figure refers to posts a company is expected to create after funding from Invest NI.

The year 2015/16 also marked the first full financial period in which Invest NI was constrained by changes to EU rules on State aid, which means it can no longer give help to established companies. It also marked the period in which councils in Northern Ireland took on responsibility for start-up companies.

PwC chief economist Dr Esmond Birnie said that the performance "whilst very creditworthy, was substantially down".

He added that wider economic factors were at play, as well as the changes to State aid and council powers. "The global economy and, indeed, the Northern Ireland economy have been slowing down," he insisted.

But Mr Birnie said new targets for jobs promoted, as well as a plan to spend up to £170m on research and development, and a plan to spend up to £40m on investment in skills, provided "a little bit of flesh for the previously bare bones of the framework Programme for Government".

However, South Down SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley, her party's economy spokeswoman, said: "The image of the Economy Minister patting Invest NI on the back will provide little comfort to the thousands of workers who have lost jobs at Bombardier, Michelin, JTI and Seagate over the last year."

Alliance Party MLA Stephen Farry described the results as "encouraging on the surface", but said a stronger focus on research and development and skills would be necessary.

He also claimed it was unclear how a Brexit could impact the work of Invest NI. "One of the most important factors in investment plans by companies is access to markets, so a Brexit may have a very big impact on Invest NI," Mr Farry said.

Belfast Telegraph