Invest NI: Three years of offers under the microscope

INVEST NI is the government agency that controls millions of pounds to support businesses and create jobs in Northern Ireland. It is the cornerstone of Stormont’s economic strategy, but how is it performing?

Detail Data today publishes for the first time three and a half years of financial offers made to Northern Ireland firms, revealing more information than ever on the work of Invest NI.

A THIRD of all Invest NI funding to support Northern Ireland businesses in 2011-2014 went to Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and the government agency responsible for boosting the film industry. NI Screen, together with the two universities which also receive millions of pounds annually from the Department for Employment & Learning - were offered a total of £107million from Invest NI. Over the same period the figures show that 2,792 other local firms shared £216million Invest NI funding.

Research into the figures provided by Invest NI has also raised questions over the level of job creation, it has illustrated a stark east/west split in Invest NI funding across Northern Ireland, and suggested that Invest NI may fall short of commitments to support deprived communities. Economist John Simpson said: “Invest NI is an important influence on what's happening in the local community. We have had a modest amount of information on the support it has offered up to now. Invest NI has been tested by the [Stormont] Public Accounts Committee and the Audit Office, but now we have the capacity to look at a very large number of forms of assistance, which will better inform policymakers on how Invest NI has done.”

Invest NI defended its record and said: “We principally support those businesses that can make the greatest contribution to growing our economy.” Both universities said that the Invest NI support funded vital research. At Ulster University this included fire testing which helped develop new concrete fire and blast proof panels through its spin-out company Vifkon. And at Queen’s University £7million of the Invest NI funding was spent working with Almac on identifying ways to treat cancer. NI Screen said it did not want to comment on its funding from Invest NI, however, it has used the financial support to attract productions like HBO’s Game of Thrones and Universal Pictures’ Dracula Untold to Northern Ireland.

Detail Data examined 6,653 projects that were financially supported by Invest NI between April 2011 and September 2014. 

Key findings

  • Three government-funded organisations received one-third of the Invest NI spend on local companies. They were NI Screen (£64million) Ulster University (£24million) and Queen’s University (£19million).
  • Businesses in the east of Northern Ireland received 81% of funding, compared to 19% in the west.
  • A total of 71% of projects that received funding had no specific job creation targets. However, Invest NI said that job creation was only one condition potentially applied to funding, with others including research and development, skills development, or innovation which could also ultimately create jobs.
  • Invest NI’s spend per head of population across Northern Ireland ranged from £33.24 in the former Ards Borough Council area to £452.59 in the former Belfast City Council area.
  • 823 local start up projects were funded. This included initiatives to tackle deprivation with 208 in Neighbourhood Renewal Areas (NRA). Invest NI’s corporate plan target (2011-2015) was to fund 1,500 business start ups by residents of NRAs during the current Assembly term.
  • £257million of Invest NI financial support was spent in urban areas compared to £66million in rural areas.

To view the full article by the Detail's Lindsay Fergus, click here.

There are no allegations of wrongdoing against Invest NI, which falls under the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment (DETI), or against any business that received support or any other party.

The Data The findings of this article emerged from Invest NI data secured by Detail Data through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Details of 6,653 offers accepted by indigenous firms between April 2011 - September 2014. Invest NI said information on a further £28million of offers could not be disclosed citing FOI exemptions including data protection and commercial sensitivity. To view the data that support this story click here

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