Ryan McAleer: 'Crisis? What crisis?'

The interim chief executive of Invest NI, Mel Chittock.
The interim chief executive of Invest NI, Mel Chittock.

“LET me be very clear, there is no crisis.” The immortal words of Invest NI’s interim boss Mel Chittock before Stormont’s economy committee on March 2 2022.

The appearance came one day after this newspaper detailed the resignation of a dozen key staff in London and North America inside a year and the legal proceedings launched by nine current and former staff members.

That report came on the heels of Kevin Holland’s surprise resignation as chief executive coupled with a budget crisis, prompting Invest NI to pause offers of support. To top it all off, an independent review was launched in late January.

“If I felt there was a crisis, I would say so now,” Mel Chittock told MLAs. “In fact, I would have difficulty staying in the organisation if I felt it was in crisis mode.”

To be fair to Mr Chittock, many of Invest NI’s biggest challenges in recent times have been outside its control.

Covid-19 derailed the entire global economy while Brexit took millions from its budget, impacting its ability to fund certain programmes.

But the publication of Sir Michael Lyons’ report on Wednesday has very much laid some of Invest NI’s biggest problems squarely at the feet of its most senior figures.

READ MORE: Review of Invest NI calls for "profound change" within "damaged" economic agency

READ MORE: Invest NI: Failure by senior figures to act on 'serious' whistleblower case "extraordinary" - Sir Michael Lyons

The ex-BBC chairman’s report found “profound division” at the highest levels, which he said had damaged its performance.

Whether it be failing to act on serious whistleblowing cases or the “negative and damaging relationships” between the board, chief executive and other senior leaders, Invest NI’s institutional dysfunction is there to be seen across its 371 pages.

Sir Michael has spent the best part of a year looking under the bonnet of Invest NI, and it doesn’t appear roadworthy in its current state.

So would it pass the MOT this week, I asked the ex-BBC chair?

“We’d be sending it back for some urgent work,” came the reply.