Invest NI in pledge to retain Brussels office after Brexit

NI Office/Invest NI share their Brussels base with Google and Huawei
Gary McDonald Business Editor in Brussels

INVEST NI insists it won't follow the lead of some development agencies in Britain by closing its office in Brussels after Brexit.

It emerged this week during EU Regions Week in the Belgian capital that at least one development agency in England has appointed agents to probe a potential disposal of its building there.

And a source close to the Scottish government's thinking told the Irish News that "for us, every property option remains open if we leave".

But the Northern Ireland office, headed by Andrew Elliott, Invest NI's director of European division, is staying.

In a statement the jobs creation agency, which is in a period of transition having just appointed both a new chair and chief executive, said: “At this point, Invest NI does not envisage any change to the role or operation of the office.”

It added: “Our Brussels base is an important part of our international network of offices and continues to play a valuable role in promoting Northern Ireland as a potential investment location and supporting local companies to grow their exports.”

There are currently 14 members of staff based at the NI Executive Office at 180 Chaussée d'Etterbeek, which it shares with Google and Huawei.

Some are employed by the Executive Office, some are locally employed, and others are from a range of departments in the Executive. Invest NI has an office in the same premises.

Indeed it is currently recruiting for a new Brussels-based role as Invest NI's business development manager for the Benelux region, with a salary of €48,700 (£43,800).

As well as its working function, the Northern Ireland regional office also plays a key cultural and social role for visitors.

Last month, coinciding with events in Belfast, it presented its own Culture Night in conjunction with the NI Arts Council, with its ‘Brussels Platform' being an international showcase for culture and arts from the north.

And just this week, as part of the Regions and Cities events, the office hosted a workshop on "Urban policy and locally-led strategies in a new financial perspective", when the speakers included Belfast City Council's resilience commissioner Grainia Long.

Despite the UK's pending department from the EU, many key structural and investment programmes will remain in place in the event of a withdrawal without a negotiated agreement.

The EU has already committed that the current programme which supports peace and reconciliation will continue between the Irish border counties of under all Brexit scenarios.

The Interreg programme which promotes economic, social and territorial cohesion across Northern Ireland, the border counties of the Republic and Western Scotland also stay and will continue to be financed from the EU budget, with funding levels unchanged until the end of 2020.

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