Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said today that strategies he, and his predecessors, have put in place have set the Northern Ireland economy on a strong footing for the future.
The Minister also highlighted how his Department responded robustly to recent economic challenges.
“There is no doubt that recent years have brought global economic challenges on a scale we have never before seen.
“The Covid pandemic was a global game changer on many levels, not least economically, and we are now in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis caused by international geopolitical and macroeconomic factors which is having a real impact on people’s daily lives. I, and my predecessors, have sought at every stage to mitigate the impact on the local economy and provide support where possible.
“My Department delivered around a half a billion pounds to around 47,800 businesses through a number of essential support schemes – support on a scale never before seen. This support enabled thousands of businesses to keep their doors open, securing tens of thousands of jobs and providing hope for families and communities.
“Subsequently, my Economic Recovery Action Plan (ERAP) was a short-to-medium term catalyst to kickstart the economy as we emerged from the pandemic. Chief among the range of measures in the ERAP was the High Street Scheme which injected more than £136million directly into the local retail, hospitality and services sectors through over 3.7million transactions on over 1million Spend Local cards right across Northern Ireland.
“Tourism was a billion-pound sector of the economy prior to Covid. My Department’s Tourism Recovery Action Plan set out how we would reach, and surpass, that level once again. Recent trends show visitor numbers are increasing and to further build on this, I announced an £11.5million funding package to support the sector and maximise its potential.”
Turning to strategies for the longer term, the Minister said:
“Northern Ireland has many strengths, not least the skills and talent of our people and our track record for innovation. My Department’s 10X Economic Vision sets out how through a decade of innovation we want to position Northern Ireland as one of the world’s leading small elite economies by focussing on areas where we can be world leaders.
“Northern Ireland remains an attractive destination for foreign direct investment, something which is reinforced any time I have engaged with business leaders around the world. The United States alone has generated nearly 13,000 jobs and £1.5billion worth of investment in the last decade with companies such as Seagate, Allstate, Aflac and Microsoft establishing themselves here.”
Alongside the 10X Economic Vision, the Minister explained that the associated Skills Strategy will support more people to improve their job prospects and fulfil their economic potential. He said:
“Through the Skills Strategy we will grow professional and technical qualifications through our further education colleges and rebalance higher education with a focus on STEM to equip people for the jobs of the future, which our local businesses are already starting to deliver.
“To this end, we have invested significantly in our college and university infrastructure, from the fantastic Belfast campus of Ulster University, to investment of around £133million in cutting edge new facilities for South West College, Southern Regional College and Northern Regional College and refurbishment works at North West Regional College.”
Minister Lyons said the 10X Economic Vision recognises the value and potential of our creative industries sector and added:
“The local film and screen industry is thriving. I recently announced a £25.2million Belfast Region City Deal investment in Studio Ulster, a cutting edge virtual production studio, and support of an additional £4.8million for Northern Ireland Screen’s new four-year strategy to continue to grow this exciting and lucrative sector.”
The Minister added that Project Stratum is also acting as a catalyst for all areas of our economy. He explained:
“Funded under the DUP/Conservative Confidence and Supply Deal, Project Stratum represents a total investment of almost £200million and is transforming the broadband connectivity of 85,000 premises in rural areas of Northern Ireland, providing access to gigabit-capable full-fibre broadband. More than half of these premises are now able to connect and the project is on track to be completed by 2025.”
Minister Lyons said the pathway to energy decarbonisation has the potential to transform our local economy. He explained:
“Our ambitious Energy Strategy – ‘The Path to Net Zero Energy’ – sets out a vision to deliver self-sufficiency in affordable renewable energy for Northern Ireland. We will grow the skills base for the low carbon economy, providing opportunities for our younger people to be the engine room for our growth. We are developing a suite of new initiatives including a £10million green innovation fund, a hydrogen centre of excellence and one-stop shop for energy advice.”
The Minister concluded:
“I am confident that the strategies I have put in place have not only mitigated the worst impacts of the significant challenges we are facing, but even more importantly, they have put the Northern Ireland economy as a whole on a strong and confident footing as we look to the future.”
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