Economic development agency Invest NI has confirmed it has paused offers of financial assistance to companies.
The organisation has been facing a funding crisis over its position in the draft budget for 2022-25 since late last year, when it was advised by its parent Department for the Economy to make no financial commitments after March. Board meeting minutes for December have confirmed the funding position. According to the minutes, “it was noted that Invest NI has paused issuing letters of offer that would increase commitments against next year’s budget, on the advice of DfE”.
The minutes added: “This pause, which is likely to last until mid-January, is to give the department time to assess the impact of draft budget figures for 2022-25 on the department and its arm’s length bodies.
“This pause of business activity may likely have an impact on targets, in-year budget spend, and company engagement, depending on how long the pause lasts for.”
However, the pause is still in place.
In a statement, Invest NI said: “In response to the current budget position, we have been asked by our funding department to pause activity that would incur new financial commitments beyond March 2022.
“Whilst we await clarification on our potential 2022/23 budget allocation, we are currently unable to issue any new financial offers.”
It’s understood Invest NI’s position is worse under rollover arrangements which will apply as a result of the collapse of the Executive, which has meant that the draft budget cannot be passed.
Last week Belfast Telegraph reported on the loss to Northern Ireland of two US firms, who had wished to invest in Northern Ireland but had withdrawn after the agency could not release funds to them.
It also revealed the frustration of Invest NI staff who have not been able to release letters of offer to confirm funding for companies. South Belfast MLA Matthew O’Toole, the party’s economy spokesperson, said the DUP was to blame for Invest NI’s position as it had been in control of the economy department.
“It is clear that Invest NI is in crisis,” he said.
“It is equally clear that the DUP, which has dominated the strategy of Invest NI for a decade and a half, is responsible for the crisis.”