Northern Ireland

Invest NI to shift focus to economic productivity following review

Invest NI aims to reshape how economic policies are developed (Liam McBurney/PA)
Invest NI aims to reshape how economic policies are developed (Liam McBurney/PA) Invest NI aims to reshape how economic policies are developed (Liam McBurney/PA)

Stormont’s business support agency is to shift focus from job creation to overall productivity in the economy following the findings of an independent review earlier this year.

The Department for the Economy (DfE) has published an action plan in response to the review of Invest Northern Ireland.

The review in January said research suggested it was having “little, if any” impact in increasing productivity in Northern Ireland.

The review panel also raised serious concerns about “damaged” relationships at the senior leadership level of the organisation, particular in the dynamic between the board and executives.

Mike Brennan, Permanent Secretary at the department, said the review had challenged Invest NI to “completely reshape how economic policies are developed and implemented going forward”.

He added: “Together we have taken the time necessary to get this action plan right, ensuring its implementation will not only be impactful, but is aligned with the 10x triple bottom line of innovation, inclusivity and sustainability.

“Invest NI, like all public bodies, must do more with less in the constrained budgetary landscape, and difficult decisions must be taken to ensure this plan is implemented.”

Colm McKenna, Invest NI’s interim chairman, said: “This action plan is a clear commitment for change by Invest NI and DfE and we understand that its delivery will require changes to our leadership, structure, operations, culture and strategy.

“We do not underestimate the challenge ahead to ensure we fulfil everything we have committed to.

“We have already made good progress in the eight months since the publication of the review and have taken immediate action in several areas while we also carried out the detailed scoping work on the more challenging recommendations.

“Previously the targets we were given were heavily focused on job creation but starting now, our customer is the wider Northern Ireland economy.

“Our focus will now pivot from supporting job creation to delivery of 10x and city and growth deals in order to raise the overall level of productivity in our economy.

“This includes a commitment to strengthening our regional impact and ensuring Invest NI is equipped to deliver the department’s 10x policy priorities of innovation, sustainability and inclusivity to ensure we deliver a high-performing Northern Ireland economy.”

Alliance Party MLA Sorcha Eastwood said leadership and accountability was required now from Invest NI.

She said: “While I am glad to see an apparent emphasis now being placed on addressing regional imbalances, our fractured skills ecosystem and the green economy, I eagerly await the outworkings of this shift in focus.

“The review rightly pointed out DfE have ‘had many strategies in the past, but it has not given enough attention or sustained effort to their implementation’ and that is our concern in the implementation of these actions.”

She added: “Leadership and accountability from Invest NI will be crucial and therefore there is an obvious issue remaining, which is the lack of an Assembly and economy committee to play an essential role in ensuring scrutiny of DfE and Invest NI.”