On the eve of a major investment conference at Titanic Belfast, the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive have published an update on the Building a Prosperous and United Community economic pact, which was agreed in June.
In the 4 months since it was signed at Downing Street, several of the proposals agreed in the pact have been implemented, aimed at helping the Northern Ireland economy take advantage of the opportunities the investment conference will bring.
Secretary of State Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP said:
The success of the G8 summit has given us a solid platform on which to build Northern Ireland’s reputation as an attractive destination for investment. The world saw the best of Northern Ireland and the Executive and Government are committed to ensuring it continues to be seen as a great place to start and grow a business.
This week’s investment conference will showcase the brilliant business opportunities which exist in Northern Ireland. Our reputation for excellence in key sectors and our highly-educated workforce, excellent infrastructure, advanced telecoms and transport networks and competitive cost environment mean Northern Ireland is now one of Europe’s leading inward investment locations.
However, further action is needed to address the long term challenges Northern Ireland faces in building a shared society and rebalancing the economy. That was the purpose of the economic pact. On both counts - as we demonstrate in today’s update - progress has been made. But this is only a beginning and positive steps towards a prosperous and united community will continue.
Today’s update on the economic package sets out what has been achieved so far and indicates the steps already planned to deliver others. Highlights include:
Supporting shared housing and education projects
The Government can announce today that it has approved the Executive’s request for additional borrowing of £15m over the next 2 years to progress its flagship shared education campus at Lisanelly. Six schools from a range of sectors, catering for around 3,700 pupils will be co-located on the site. This is the first proposal to be approved under the additional borrowing facility for shared future projects. The Executive expects to identify other areas where similar support could be provided.
The Executive has agreed an international relations strategy to promote Northern Ireland in international markets. The strategy will support:
- peace building
- conflict resolution
- science and technology development
As part of this strategy, the Executive is announcing today that will open a Bureau Office in Beijing to strengthen relations with China and develop mutually beneficial opportunities for partnership.
Support for Research and Development
The Government and the Executive have approved the business case for a £120 million research and development project at Bombardier Aerospace in Belfast. Invest NI and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) will provide up to £12m and £8m respectively towards this project, which could create over 230 jobs in Northern Ireland.
Banking and Access to Finance
A Ministerial task force chaired by the Secretary of State, and comprising the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the UK Minister for Enterprise and Skills, and the NI Ministers for Finance and Enterprise met for the first time on 8 October. This working Group will examine whether tailored support is required for Northern Ireland’s banks and businesses and consider how UK-wide finance schemes can have the maximum impact in Northern Ireland.
NI’s young entrepreneurs and innovators can now access finance through the Government’s Start-up Loans scheme. Delivery partners are in place and the first loans have already issued. The Executive and Government will continue to work together to increase awareness of the scheme.
European Structural Fund allocations
In July, the NI Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment launched a consultation on plans for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme for 2014-20. Separately, the NI Minister for Employment and Learning is consulting on the future application of the European Social Fund (ESF) investment programme for 2014-20. The Executive will approve formal submissions to the European Commission by early 2014. The future focus of both schemes is anticipated to be around projects aimed at rebalancing the economy, driving growth and building a united community.
Creating a planning system that encourages growth
On 25 June, the NI Assembly voted in favour of amendments to the Planning Bill that would permit the introduction of economically significant planning zones and restrict judicial reviews, which can sometimes hold back key projects.
Building a Prosperous and United Community committed the Government and Executive to an annual summit to report progress on the package, and to publish yearly updates to the NI Assembly and UK Parliament. The next update will be published in summer 2014.