Northern Ireland companies fall to bottom of UK league table for innovation
Northern Ireland companies have become the least active in innovation in the UK, according to research.
Just 39% of local firms were "innovation-active" between 2014 and 2016 - down from 45% in 2012-14 - according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
The findings were extracted from the 2017 UK Innovation Survey. That was conducted by the Office for National Statistics and looked at companies with 10 or more employees.
It found that Northern Ireland was the least innovation-active region in the UK and had fallen from second last in 2015 to last place in 2017, behind the north-east of England.
Within Northern Ireland, firms manufacturing electrical and optical equipment remain the most innovative, with 74% active in the field - on par with the rest of the UK.
But according to the survey, that figure fell by 13 percentage points over two years.
There were declines in the electricity, gas and water supply sector (down 31 percentage points) and with firms manufacturing transport equipment (down 24 percentage points).
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Construction also fell from a UK average of 45% in 2015 to 23% in 2017.
There was a further sharp decline in companies innovating within the services sector, with the proportion of local firms involved in financial intermediation falling from 70% in 2015 to 49% in 2017.
Stephen Kelly, the chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said the figures were disappointing.
"Every day, our manufacturing firms are innovating, solving problems and making things quicker, stronger and more competitive, so it is disappointing that the official innovation figures show a decline," he added.
Mr Kelly linked the slowdown in innovation to a reluctance to engage with government schemes designed to assist businesses, whether through innovation support or through the tax system.
"We have been working with specialists in R&D tax credits, for instance, to demonstrate what support is available (and that) the Government is actively keen to encourage more innovation activity," he said.
"Standing still for one day is one day closer to closure.
"We hope our firms will have a greater focus on internal innovation, collaboration and reaching out to external sources of support, either from the Government or educational institutions, to ensure they can continue to provide solutions for customers."