Northern Ireland

Funding not adequate for investment in skills needed to grow economy – Murphy

Economy Minister Conor Murphy said his department saw cuts of £74 million over the last two years.

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Conor Murphy
Northern Ireland Economy Minister Conor Murphy (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland’s Economy Minister has said his department is not funded enough to deliver its aim to grow the economy.

Conor Murphy said damaging cuts to his department must be undone to allow investment in skills.

He was speaking at the Assembly’s Economy Committee, the latest of the department scrutiny committees meeting following the resurrection of devolved government after two years, to hear need being voiced for additional funding.

Mr Murphy said his department saw cuts of £74 million (9%) over the last two years when Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris was left to set the budget in the absence of the executive.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (James Manning/PA)

He said the current baseline of the department is “not adequate to enable investment in skills which we need to grow the economy”.

Mr Murphy also referenced discussions between the First Minister, deputy First Minister and Finance Minister with London over Northern Ireland’s fiscal framework.

“I sincerely hope that that brings us some fruitful product, certainly that we can start to plan for next year as soon as we possibly can,” he said.

“If we get the fiscal floor issue right, all of the departments will have more baseline money.”

Mr Murphy said there are significant opportunities such as dual market access to both the UK and EU markets from Northern Ireland following Brexit.

He also described the all-Ireland economy as a “resource of immense potential that we have yet to fully realise”.

Mr Murphy said he is bidding for additional funding for his department to “enable us to begin to maximise opportunities to grow the economy and make it accessible”.

These bids include an additional £78 million in resource funding and £360 million in capital funding.

“I am obviously aware of pressures facing public finances for all of the departments and it hasn’t been helped by the failure to replace lost EU funding, which has left an £18 million gap in the department’s apprenticeship programme and their package of funding which is insufficient to meet our ongoing needs,” he told MLAs.