Firms in Northern Ireland missing out on innovation funding

Gary McDonald Business Editor

BUSINESS in Northern Ireland has been unable to secure its share of innovation funding, potentially stifling growth in the region, a new study says.

Research by intellectual property services and R&D tax credit experts GovGrant found that businesses in Northern Ireland received just 1.61 per cent of Innovate UK funding awarded since 2004, the lowest of all UK regions.

Businesses here have been awarded £94.7 million over the year, but that is 15 times less than London (£1.43 billion) and 11 times less than the South East (£1.06bn).

Using key performance measures identified by GovGrant, the research found that Northern Ireland sees some of the lowest returns for improving company turnover, net worth and growing employee numbers.

One in eight (13 per cent) Northern Irish companies experience a positive impact on their turnover — the lowest of all UK regions, and only around half (48 per cent) increase their net worth following Innovate UK investment.

Northern Ireland also comes bottom for the percentage of companies who experience a post-investment uptick in employee numbers, with just 22 per cent of companies benefitting in this way.

Two companies based in Belfast are among the 50 commercial entities with the most Innovate UK funding - Short Brothers (£32.4m) and Artemis Technologies (£25.7m).

Luke Hamm from GovGrant, said: “Northern Ireland has a proud history of engineering and manufacturing, while esteemed higher education institutes help to position it at the forefront of UK innovation.

“It’s been immensely interesting to see the lid lifted on Innovate UK. Unfortunately, data shows Innovate UK funding coming into Northern Ireland isn’t having the impact seen in other regions. This would be cause for concern for any investor, and calls into question whether investments are being effectively targeted on the opportunities present in the region.

“At a time of serious political and economic unrest, ‘levelling up' is a policy that sees support across the country and from many who voted the current government into power. Unfortunately, levelling up has just become a buzzword used to score votes – instead of being an actionable, sensible and timely approach to regional development.”