With an annual budget of almost £140m and over 600 staff Invest NI is well resourced to develop our economy. However, under the DUP’s control since 2007 the organisation has lacked a clear and consistent set of objectives.
Some larger companies and consultants have been well catered for, but the vast majority of small businesses have been neglected. Lip service has been paid to the need for regional economic balance. Foreign Direct Investment has not been pursued on a strategic basis. The north’s fundamental economic problem of weak productivity has gone unaddressed. For these reasons Sinn Féin has for years been calling for fundamental reform of Invest NI.
With the organisation under sustained criticism the Economy Department finally commissioned an Independent Review into Invest NI. The report was published last week, and it confirms the need for “profound change” in the organisation. Invest NI should be given a clear set of objectives, including a focus on productivity. A broader range of businesses should be supported, and a partnership approach should be adopted to sub-regional economic development. FDI should be pursued on a more targeted basis.
These recommendations fully align with Sinn Fein’s proposals. A Sinn Féin Economy Minister would set a clear mission for Invest NI which would include raising productivity. Budgets for sub-regional areas would be ring-fenced in order to guarantee a fair distribution of investment. Local Partnerships would be established to decide how to spend this budget for the benefit of small local businesses. FDI would be pursued more strategically.
While the south of Ireland has one of the most dynamic economies in the world, the north’s economy is underperforming. There is no doubt that the north’s potential is held back by its ties to Britain.
As the Independent Review report acknowledges, fiscal and monetary levers are largely in the hands of the British Government. We are a peripheral part of Britain’s low-growth, low-productivity economy.
But devolution does offer scope to improve local economic performance. This opportunity has been wasted by successive DUP ministers who have been more interested in photo opportunities than ensuring that Invest NI delivers effectively on its remit for economic development.
Fresh political leadership is required to transform Invest NI and improve the north’s economic performance. When the Executive is restored Sinn Féin will be ready to provide that leadership.