Foster: ‘Large number of start-ups during UK City of Culture’

Hundreds of entrepreneurs in a neighbourhood renewal area of Londonderry set up their own businesses during the UK City of Culture year, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has said.

She said that figure was “probably one of the highest figures for a neighbourhood renewal area.”

Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

The Minister had been speaking about employment in the Foyle constituency after being asked, during Minister’s Question Time at Stormont, by local MLA Pat Ramsey.

The SDLP man asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment “to outline the resources that have been allocated to the Foyle constituency since the end of the City of Culture year to create sustainable employment.”

Mrs Foster replied: “I am sure that the UK City of Culture will have created a new confidence that will be reflected in future economic success in increased investment and in a larger number of tourists. Invest Northern Ireland has a regional office in Londonderry, and businesses in the Foyle constituency can call on the same levels of financial and other assistance as any other part of Northern Ireland.

“Through the jobs fund, for example, as of December 2013, the most recent figures available show that Invest Northern Ireland has promoted a total of 562 jobs in Foyle, of which 454 have been created. Invest NI has also recently offered support of over £2,600,000 to nine companies in Foyle through the loan fund.

“I assure the Member that Invest NI is committed to bringing jobs to all of Northern Ireland, including the Foyle constituency and surrounding areas. I was pleased to announce on 17 April this year Convergys’s decision to undertake a £10,100,000 million investment in Londonderry, promoting 333 jobs, which Invest NI has supported with £1,400,000 million of funding.”

Continuing the exchange, Ramsey said: “I thank the Minister for her response and her continued efforts to create a good environment for employment in my constituency. Clearly, today’s announcement about the City of Culture’s legacy, with MTV coming to the city in September, is good. There is absolutely no doubt that it has created a magnificent environment around the city. Unfortunately, however, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) figures for November 2013 indicate that unemployment levels in the city have gone up.” He asked: “Will the Minister outline to the House who will now have the key role in the legacy of the City of Culture, particularly when there has to be a true legacy of employment opportunities?”

Mrs Foster replied: “For me, it will be a shared responsibility across the Executive. As the Member knows, Minister Farry and I are looking at economic inactivity, and he has engaged with me on that. I will continue to work with Invest Northern Ireland to bring more jobs to Londonderry and to encourage companies that are already there to expand. The culture and arts part of the legacy will be taken forward by the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Therefore, it is a responsibility that we share across the Executive. I suppose that, from the Member’s perspective, the One Plan sits very much with the Executive and not just with one Department.”

East Londonderry MLA Gregory Campbell said: “I was delighted to hear the Minister criticise those who bombed Londonderry at the weekend. It is always good and appropriate to remind people that they failed in the past and are failing again, however reprehensible their activities.

“Following the success of the UK City of Culture, can the Minister, as a Fermanagh-based MLA, outline the importance of jobs being created right across Northern Ireland and particularly in the north-west?”

The Minister replied: “Again, I take the opportunity to say that those who engaged in terrorism in the past, and those who engage in it now or in the future, will not succeed because there is a determination, not only in the business community but in the wider community, that they will not do so.

“On the creation of jobs for the north-west, we continue, as I said, to work with foreign direct investors, some of whom choose to come to the city. The Member will know that Fujitsu announced 177 new jobs earlier this year, and Convergys has brought over 330 new jobs. As well as that, some companies that are already here have announced new jobs. Allstate, for example, a significant employer in the north-west, not only in Londonderry but in Strabane, has announced 200 new jobs.

“Some local companies, such as Fleming Agri-Products and Allpipe Engineering, are creating tens and twenties of jobs, which are very important to the local economy. We will continue to work with those companies to try to create jobs in the north-west, the south-west and right across Northern Ireland.”

Mr Leslie Cree, an MLA for North Down, asked specifically about business start ups: “The Minister referred to the great investment in the City of Culture in Londonderry and the jobs created. Can she also share with us the number of business start-ups that can be attributed directly to that investment?”

Mrs Foster said: “I cannot give him a figure for those directly related to the UK City of Culture because you cannot make the direct link. However, 262 individuals resident in neighbourhood renewal areas in Foyle have set up their own business.

“That is, I think, probably one of the highest figures for a neighbourhood renewal area. They have been able to avail themselves of the business start grant. Thirty-eight young people aged between 16 and 24 who were not in education, employment or training have set up their own business under the NEET business start grant. Those elements were added in, as the Member may recall, by Invest Northern Ireland and me at the time of the recession. We tried to encourage people to start their own business. I am very pleased with those figures as well.”