Belfast Telegraph

Geography has no relevance as to how Invest NI allocates money

By Alastair Hamilton

Between April 2011 and September 2015 Invest NI made more than 7,000 offers of support - 95% of which were to local companies.

This has helped promote over 39,000 new jobs and contribute to £3.6bn of investment in our local economy. These jobs and investments benefit the whole of Northern Ireland.

While it makes easy headlines to claim 'disparity', 'bias' and 'regional imbalance', when time is taken to look behind the figures none of this can be substantiated.

There are approximately 68,000 businesses across Northern Ireland, 65% of which are located in the east, 35% in the west.

It is encouraging to see that a discussion has now started about the importance of infrastructure to support economic development in the west. This is a wider Government responsibility, and one that we are actively engaged in, and supportive of.

Within this, as an agency targeted with driving innovation and exports, we focus on those companies who are, or have the ability to, export their goods and services in international markets. Clearly, not all of the 68,000 businesses are in scope for our financial support.

Despite the commonly held view that we allocate our funding based on geography or sector, Invest NI's support is demand-led - i.e. it is dependent on a business approaching us with a business plan that demonstrates the need for Government funding.

Taking all of this into account, it is hardly surprising that we will see a higher concentration of financial support in some areas.

While our support is demand-led, we do proactively reach out to businesses to encourage them to engage with us through calls for applications, promotion of funding schemes, and through our regional offices across Northern Ireland.

We run seminars, workshops and advice sessions to help businesses realise their potential, and where we can, we offer financial support. We link with business networks, the local councils and MLAs to help raise awareness of how we can help businesses, and would welcome any other support our stakeholders can offer to help increase the number of businesses seeking our support.

There does appear to be some confusion around our funding through NI Screen and the two NI universities. NI Screen is a specific body set up to promote and support the creative industries, a sector which has been identified as a priority by the Executive.

While NI Screen sits under Department of Culture Arts & Leisure, its primary funding is channelled through Invest NI. This funding is then used by NI Screen to support creative businesses across Northern Ireland.

To present the £42m four-year funding agreement for such a body in the same category as local business project support will clearly distort figures.

Funding for research and development is another key priority for the Northern Ireland Executive. To enhance the value of R&D, we encourage collaboration between businesses and universities.

Our funding for universities is specifically for projects with businesses, or for a university research project that could result in a new spin-out business or for commercialisation of university research. It is not a source of funding towards the universities' operational costs.

These projects between business and academia can bring about significant benefits for the business, as can be seen by the £200m deal secured by Almac with Californian company Genentech to licence a new cancer treatment. This was the outworking of an R&D project between Almac and Queen's University, supported by us.

Invest NI regularly publishes performance information every six months and in its annual report. We are due to do our next update next week. This is done through a presentation to the Assembly committee for enterprise, trade and investment, briefing business organisations, a media briefing, a newsletter to stakeholders and a press release.

These presentations include details on the number of offers we have made, the amount of assistance we have offered and the number of jobs we have helped promote - all of which is split by local and external companies. We are completely transparent in what we are doing to support the local economy and how we are spending the money assigned to us by the NI Executive.

  • Alastair Hamilton is CEO of Invest NI

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