'R&D spending vital despite economic downturn'
Northern Ireland companies were urged to keep spending on Research and Development today despite the tightening of their finances because of the economic downturn.
The call was made by the Economy Minister as it was revealed spending on R&D hit a new record high last year.
The £351.1 million was a £10.7 million (3.1% ) rise on the previous year and for the first time business expenditure topped, in real terms, the previous high achieved achieved in 2002.
However while business spending was up that by the province's universities and other places of higher education was actually down.
Of the total R&D spend, £185.1 million (52.7%) was spent by businesses, £151.3 million (43.1%) by the Higher Education sector and the remaining £14.7 million (4.2%) by the government.
The manufacturing sector accounted for the majority (56%) of business R&D spending during the year - even though the sector share was down slightly year on year.
The 10 biggest spending companies accounted for almost half of the total spend, while small and medium sized concerns accounted for nearly two thirds of the business expenditure.
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Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the continued rise in 2007.
She said: "While there have been significant changes in the global economy since then, it is vitally important that companies continue to prioritise R&D activity.
"Those companies that continue to invest in R&D, despite difficult trading conditions, will be best placed to exploit future opportunities.
"We must continue to extend the number of companies who devote resources to R&D and to make this an integral part of business culture in Northern Ireland."
The minister said the recent work of Matrix, the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel, would inform thinking on future market opportunities through better exploitation of the region's R&D strengths.