Invest NI declines to clarify questions over 'delay' in progressing major jobs deal

Invest NI's headquarters on Belfast's Bedford Street. Picture by Mal McCann.
Invest NI's headquarters on Belfast's Bedford Street. Picture by Mal McCann. Invest NI's headquarters on Belfast's Bedford Street. Picture by Mal McCann.

INVEST NI has declined to clarify why a major jobs deal struck last year was not progressed before the end of the 2020/21 financial year, despite ministerial sign off.

Anglo-Indian conglomerate Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS) UK announced plans to create 563 remote working jobs in Northern Ireland in June 2021.

It was one of two major foreign direct investment (FDI) deals secured by Invest NI in March 2021 as its teams approached the financial year-end.

The end of March marked both the end of the 2020/21 financial year and a four-year strategic window for Invest NI, where it measured the success of its FDI efforts against four-year targets.

However, just one of those deals was included in the 2017-21 targets.

That concerned an offer to US fintech company Fiserv to support plans to bring 551 jobs to Northern Ireland.

It’s understood Invest NI was able to hit its FDI target for 2017-21 with the Fiserv deal, while the 563 HGS jobs came under a new set of targets beginning from April 1 2021.

Invest NI has denied that the legal letter of offer to HGS was held back.

An internal Invest NI communication circulated in April 2021, seen by The Irish News, informs staff that the HGS deal was not issued before the end of March because of delays in the Department for the Economy (DfE).

Invest NI has subsequently confirmed that former economy minister Diane Dodds did sign off on the £1.7m support for HGS on March 30 2021.

Asked whether there were any issues within DfE that may have delayed the progression of the HGS offer, a spokesperson for the Stormont department told The Irish News: “DfE is satisfied that there was no delay in the department’s processing of the Hinduja Global Solutions UK Ltd project.”

Invest NI initially responded to a number of queries on HGS, including confirmation that it was signed off by Diane Dodds on March 30.

But when asked last week to clarify why the offer was not progressed before the end of March 2021, despite that ministerial approval, a spokesperson for Invest NI said the organisation would no longer be commenting due to ongoing legal proceedings.

The Irish News revealed last week that nine current and former members of staff have initiated legal action against Invest NI.

The nine include five former members of the London-based FDI team who quit last year and have not been replaced.

It’s understood the forthcoming tribunal proceedings will focus on employment terms after the staff were brought into the organisation from an external company, and not the HGS offer.

When pressed on the issue, a spokesperson for Invest NI said: “We will not be responding to this or any future queries you may have which relate to the London operation, GB projects or staff matters whilst proceedings are ongoing. HGS is a GB project.”

It’s understood Invest NI originally received notification of the tribunal proceedings around 18 months ago.

Invest NI has also declined to comment on whether US group Fiserv will follow through on the deal to create 551 jobs in Northern Ireland.

Almost one year has now passed since the offer was made to the payments and financial services technology company.

Fiserv is also tight-lipped over the deal, issuing a brief statement to The Irish News stating: “Fiserv has not announced any plans for expansion in Northern Ireland.”

The Wisconsin-based company has however launched a major recruitment drive in the Republic.

Less than three-months after Invest NI’s offer, Fiserv announced plans to create 200 jobs at its Co Tipperary operation based in Nenagh. The deal was backed by the Republic’s own inward investment agency IDA Ireland.

Fiserv also has a base in Donnybrook, Dublin. As of Tuesday, the company listed 111 vacancies across both Nenagh and Dublin.

No jobs were listed for Northern Ireland.