A dreadful week for news….

From Joe McCormack – McCormack Associates, Belfast

The past week has not been a “good news” week – the impact of the results of the Hillsborough Enquiry has rippled across us all and the dreadful news of 700 redundancies in F G Wilson will impact economically right across Northern Ireland.

Could a reduced rate of corporation tax have made a difference in this case? Who knows!

It is ironic that the Wilson announcement was made at the same time as the Northern Ireland Executive was holding its own Economic Summit. For sure, the announcement from Larne must have been the ultimate conversation stopper. And it appears that Invest NI had no inkling of what was afoot! Clearly, the role of an Invest NI client executive must surely be one of the toughest gigs in town as anyone who has ever held an account management role will attest.

And the question now on the broader economic front is where does this leave Invest NI’s recently published grand corporate plan?

Reliance on highly mobile large corporates as the engine for economic growth was always a wobbly strategy and there is a history of cut and run in this sector in Northern Ireland. Moreover, there is also evidence, particularly in the IT industry of downsizing locally based senior management and shifting such jobs and careers to locations elsewhere where staff costs are considerably lower – Ulster Bank is just one example.

The lack of focus on business start up over the past year also continues to be a concern. Since the last InvestNI programme ceased this time last year, there has been no formal business start up programme.

Those wishing to try their luck as a business start up have literally been in limbo – Invest NI’s strategy for encouraging start ups has, for most starters, been a disappointment – register your business plan with us and then “go away!”

There have been some independent attempts to put in place more intensive business start programmes – Professionals into Business is one example which has recently been accredited by QUB Management School. This programme will run in late 2012 and at £1,500 per head, the programme is already attracting attention.

Admittedly, legal issues outside the control of Invest NI, delayed the putting in place of a new business start programme. Bids for the delivery of the new programme closed in mid July – it is now mid September and as of the time of writing, there is no determination on the outcome of the tender bid process. Even if the result of the determination is announced in the morning, it is unlikely that the programme would be running by Halloween.

Given the depth and width of this current crisis, it is vital that this economic development paralysis is arrested – Invest NI’s corporate plan with its focus on more of the same albeit, with some “rebalancing,” will simply not do! More of the same will only produce the same result.

We welcome your comments on this issue and we’ll publish them in the Bulletin – email us here and if you wish to respond anonymously, then please let us know

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