Statement to the Assembly 22 February 2022

Date published: 22 February 2022

Mr Speaker, I wish to update Members on my decision to commission an Independent Review of Invest Northern Ireland.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons

I know that there has been a lot of interest in the Chamber, and across Northern Ireland, in the launch of this review. 

I will begin by putting this announcement into context.

As Members will be aware, Invest NI helps new and existing businesses compete internationally, as well as attracting new investment in to Northern Ireland.

Over the past decade, Invest has had a fantastic track record in making Northern Ireland the most attractive location in the UK, outside of London, in respect of FDI. We have seen the Province become a global leader in cyber, fintech and advanced manufacturing. We have seen Invest support established companies win new contracts in overseas markets – as I saw first hand on a recent visit to the Middle East; and they have supported new small businesses find buyers and partners in new markets – with one of the best examples of this being the ‘Going Dutch’ programme which again, I had the opportunity to experience when visiting and speaking with participants of most recent cohort in Amsterdam last year.

So whilst there is no doubt Invest NI has a good track record, there is also no doubt that the Northern Ireland economy has been dramatically impacted over the past two years. The impact of COVID has accelerated change, and given us an opportunity to reset as we go about building a healthy economy for all.

Thanks to the various interventions from national and local government, there are now clear signs that our economy is rebounding from the impact of Covid-19, and whilst the pandemic has had a profound impact on the local labour market, many indicators continue to hint at improvements.

Economic activity is at a 13-year high and business confidence is up, with many firms positive on the outlook for 2022.

I recognise however that there are some indicators that are yet to return to pre-pandemic levels and there are still some negative effects felt disparately across various sectors and groups in society.

As we seek to consolidate and boost recovery for everyone in Northern Ireland, it is imperative that we examine our position holistically.

Throughout the course of the pandemic, industries and consumers have had to pivot to address the new trading environment since leaving the European Union, and deal with the frictions caused by the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol.

Public sector budgetary constraints remain a key challenge and my Department is currently seeking to identify the most sustainable financial model to fit local economic priorities and allow us to continue to deliver quality services with reduced resources.

I am however confident about the future.

Our 10X Economic Vision - published in May 2021 - sets out our ambitions for the next decade and aims to create a step change in how we improve our economy. It has received the backing of people working in business, skills and from people across the chamber.

The realisation of this bold vision, which places innovation at its core, will ultimately see Northern Ireland situated amongst the elite small advanced economies in the world.

As I mentioned previously, Northern Ireland already has world-class strength in a number of areas including fintech, cyber security and advanced manufacturing - but we must build on these strengths. We cannot stand still while the world moves forward.

In support of this overarching Vision, the Department has launched a number of publications that focus on some of our key policy levers including ‘Skills for a 10X Economy’ and ‘Trade and Investment for a 10X Economy’.  

10X is also the spine of my Department, with each division working towards a common goal; whether in FE, HE, Skills, Energy or Economic Development. The excellent work of other Departments too, can feed into that 10X vision.

But achieving our vision cannot be done in isolation. As our regional economic development agency, Invest NI’s role in translating 10X strategic objectives into a new, refreshed and inclusive economic reality is critical.

This exciting opportunity to make a generational change - alongside the Executive’s ‘New Decade, New Approach’ commitment to review Arm’s Lengths Bodies - has underpinned my decision to commission an Independent Review of Invest NI. 

Now is the right time to take stock and ensure the organisation is primed to respond to a changing economic landscape in preparation for an economy that has the aspiration of being ten times better.

The Review, which I launched on the 26th January, will be led by Sir Michael Lyons, former Chairman of the BBC and current Chairman of the English Cities Fund. For the avoidance of doubt, he is no relation…although he is clearly from good stock!

Sir Michael recently chaired the Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission.  His distinguished track record and depth of relevant experience will be crucial in steering this public debate around the future of economic development in Northern Ireland.

I am delighted to also confirm that Dame Rotha Johnston and Maureen O’Reilly have been appointed to support Sir Michael in the delivery of the review.  Between them, they bring a wealth of business and economic experience in Northern Ireland to complement Sir Michael’s own skills and experience.  

I can assure Members that the review will be completely independent of my Department and I have asked the panel to engage widely across this House and Northern Ireland to ensure that they capture all relevant opinions.

Sir Michael will update me on progress in April and I expect a final report to be delivered in September this year.

I am sure that the whole of this House will wish to join me in wishing Sir Michael every success in his new role and encouraging stakeholders across all sectors and regions of Northern Ireland to ensure their voices are heard.

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