In June 2013 the UK Government and NI Executive launched the joint economic pact, Building a Prosperous and United Community. Today the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland met the First Minister and deputy First Minister to reflect on the progress made towards rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy and building a shared future, and to consider the challenges that still lie ahead.
An update was published alongside today’s meeting. It announced the projects brought forward by the Executive that will benefit from the additional £100 million of borrowing made available by the Government:
- £8 million to prioritise investment in integrated primary schools at Omagh, Portadown and Corran
- a further £30 million to fund more development at the Lisanelly shared education campus
- £7.7 million for an additional 300 homes in a shared environment, including sites in Belfast City Centre, Felden Mill and Ravenhill Road
- £15 million to develop a new shared mixed tenure housing scheme
- £22.5 million for a new Further Education college at Craigavon providing more local school children the opportunity to spend time in a shared space
The Government also announced that the Green Investment Bank will make 2 separate investments of £1.5 million and £1.7 million to help increase the efficiency of the Northern Ireland agri-food sector.
And the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has identified 106 properties in Lisburn and Holywood which could be used for shared housing in these areas subject to appropriate proposals being developed by the Executive.
The Northern Ireland economy has gained significant momentum during the last year, with signs of improvement across a wide range of indicators. Economic activity expanded in 3 successive quarters and increased by 2.6% across 2013. The number of employee jobs has increased by 16,000 with the vast majority of these created in the private sector.
Today’s update on the economic pact reveals that Government schemes have had a direct impact in Northern Ireland over the past 12 months, with £36 million of investment from the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme and the recent introduction of the Business Finance Partnership (£2.4 million) and Start-up Loans schemes (£400,000).
Figures published for the first time today by the British Bankers Association (BBA), also show new lending to Northern Ireland’s small and medium size enterprises (SME) reached £362 million in the last quarter of 2013 - a 46% increase compared to the same quarter in 2012. And the BBA also estimate that 9 out of every 10 SME loan applications are approved.
Prime Minister David Cameron said:
It is great news that the long-term economic plan is working for Northern Ireland. In the last year output, employment and exports have increased; access to finance for small and medium sized enterprises has improved, and independent forecasters have revised up their outlook for the region. This means more financial security for hardworking people and businesses in Northern Ireland, who can be more confident about a brighter and more prosperous future.
Today’s announcements are in addition to the progress already made over the past 12 months, including the Coleraine Enterprise Zone announced by the Chancellor at the Budget and the Executive’s United Youth Programme, supported by an additional €50 million added to the PEACE IV Programme.
The Government also recently announced that from this autumn the British-Irish Visa Scheme will allow visitors from China and India to visit the UK and Ireland without the need for separate visas. This will help attract business and boost tourism, complementing trade missions made by the Executive, including to Beijing where the Executive will open a Bureau Office later this year.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers said:
Today’s update on the economic pact highlights very welcome progress on economic and shared future initiatives. There are clear signs that the Northern Ireland economy has started to turn the corner. The Executive has also developed a wide ranging set of commitments to tackle community division.
But the Government and the Executive recognise that more needs to be done. We will continue to work with the Executive to build on the progress already made, and to deliver the measures agreed in our pact last year.
Together we remain committed to our joint ambition of a prosperous and genuinely shared society in Northern Ireland, with strong foundations for continued peace, stability and prosperity.
The First Minister Peter Robinson said:
Today’s update shows the ongoing commitment of both the Executive and the Government to our shared objective of rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy.
We have worked together to address a range of issues facing our economy and we are now starting to see clear signs that it has begun to recover. Progress has been made in areas such as job promotion, research and development, further work on Corporation Tax and further fiscal devolution, the red tape review, setting up a Joint Ministerial Taskforce to address banking and identifying further shared future projects to be progressed with additional shared future borrowing.
These actions are establishing the foundations for future economic growth in Northern Ireland and illustrate that progress has been made. I remain committed to a long term stable future and to economic growth in Northern Ireland and will continue to work with Executive colleagues and the Prime Minister to make this a reality.
The deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said:
Twelve months on we can reflect on the progress made with the commitments in the Economic Pact and consider the challenges that still lie ahead. It is important we continue to work to build on the progress already made and ensure all commitments are delivered in a timely manner.
This economic pact was designed to complement measures proposed in our good relations strategy, including developing youth placements, increasing shared schools and housing, and the 10 year plan to eliminate peace walls. Progress towards these headline actions has been made. The Executive’s proposals to use the rest of the £100 million additional borrowing will allow the prioritisation of spending on integrated primary schools and shared neighbourhood schemes.
The past 12 months provides a strong foundation and we remain focused on working hard to deliver on all our objectives challenging as that may be. I remain committed to building a shared society which provides peace and prosperity for all.
A number of commitments made in Building a Prosperous and United Community are still being developed and will be met before the end of 2014, including:
- the Executive’s Red Tape Review’s final report
- recommendations to Government and Executive ministers about the scope for further fiscal devolution
- consideration of the Implementation Panel’s interim report on access to finance
- the Government and the Executive working together to deliver at least 3 Ambassador-led trade missions to Northern Ireland, promoting investment opportunities.
The Government also remains committed to making a final decision on the potential devolution of corporation tax no later than this year’s Autumn Statement. If a decision to proceed with devolution is made then the Government remains on track to introduce a stand-alone Bill with the aim of it becoming law in this Parliament.