The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Sir Reg Empey):
I want to make a statement on the reorganization of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's economic development agencies. Members will recall that the Programme for Government identified the focusing of the economic development agencies on the new challenges as a key issue. I have considered how the economic development agencies within the ambit of my Department should be reorganised to meet those new challenges in the most efficient and effective manner. Several agencies fall within the ambit of my proposals.
The Industrial Development Board (IDB) employs 358 staff and has a budget of £135 million. Since it was set up in 1982, it has been responsible for attracting inward investment, encouraging the growth, improving the competitiveness of indigenous companies and promoting and assisting the development of international trade. The IDB is an executive arm of my Department.
The Local Enterprise Development Unit (LEDU) has 187 staff and a budget of £28 million. Set up in 1971, it is responsible for supporting local economic development and promoting the establishment and expansion of local enterprises that normally employ fewer than 50 people. LEDU is a company limited by guarantee.
The Industrial Research and Technology Unit (IRTU) employs 143 staff and has a budget of £22 million. Set up in 1992, it is responsible for spearheading the drive for competitiveness in Northern Ireland companies through innovation, research and development and the use of technology and technology transfer. It also provides a range of scientific, technological and environmental services to the Government and industry. Since 1995, IRTU has been a Next Steps agency.
The Company Development Programme (CDP) was formerly administered by the Training and Employment Agency. However, it is currently part of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and employs 30 staff. It provides assistance to management and skills training in companies.
Finally, there is the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), which, in addition to its promotional and marketing roles, has some 30 staff who administer financial support to businesses in the tourism sector. The NITB is a non- departmental public body.
As a first step in this process, I commissioned detailed research on the current arrangement and on how economic development support is administered in other parts of the UK, in the Republic of Ireland, in mainland Europe and further afield. I also asked for a detailed report on local enterprise provision. In October, I issued a consultative paper entitled 'Towards a New Structure for Economic Development Support in Northern Ireland'. I sent it to ministerial Colleagues, the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, the business bodies, other social partners, through the Economic Development Forum, and NIPSA, the trade union representing staff in the existing agencies. Responses were received from over 40 interested parties, representing a wide cross-section of opinion. The clear and constructive input of ministerial Colleagues and the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee was particularly appreciated and helpful.
The overwhelming weight of opinion supported the view that the time is now right for a better and more efficient delivery of economic development services, and that the best and most efficient means of achieving this is through the establishment of a new, single agency. The clear predominance of opinion is that the agency should have more flexibility and creditability and it would also be more responsive to the needs of its clients if it were at arm's length from Government. In short, it needs to be capable of responding quickly and should not play catch-up in an intensely competitive global market place. It must be dynamic, nimble and focused, with more emphasis on getting the job done and less on bureaucracy and it must have as its core a more aggressive and targeted approach to the international stage to position and promote Northern Ireland as a business base with few rivals.
In my deliberations, I have examined a wide range of options. These include: integration of service delivery entirely within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment; the status quo and minor variations from it; a lead-agency scenario, and the setting up of a single agency both inside and outside Government. Many commentators and respondents to the consultation paper have been adamant that structures should follow strategy and that if the strategic context and policy direction are not right, the structure, in itself, will not contribute significantly to the success or otherwise of our efforts.
Although the work I have undertaken has been focused primarily on the most appropriate structures, I should emphasise that a great deal of work has already been done on both the strategic context and the policy framework. This includes not only work on Strategy 2010, but more recently, the detailed work which led to the draft Programme for Government and ongoing work in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment on corporate planning on a three-year basis and operational plans for the coming year.
The Department has also been looking critically at aspects of service delivery that cut across a number of the existing agencies. These include: export services and programmes; the use of repayable forms of assistance; and how indigenous businesses are handled.
These deliberations have been set in the broad framework of post-Strategy 2010 thinking, in the context of Northern Ireland business's operating in a global economy and facing ever more rapid technological change and in the context of the growing role of local government in economic development.
Globalization means that all businesses in Northern Ireland - large and small - face the same challenges, and all must innovate and respond to new technologies. In turn, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment must provide a comprehensive service to businesses, and I believe that a single agency is now the most appropriate vehicle to deliver this.
Some may ask "Why bother?" That is a valid question, and the answer is simple: for years, our agencies did sterling work, both at home and abroad, against the backdrop of a reign of terror. They had to grapple with the negative image of Northern Ireland created by the gunman and the bomber. Corporate doors were closed to them - not unnaturally. Potential investors sought stable economic and political regions before even considering the sales pitch. This means that the successes they have scored were all the more remarkable, and for that they are owed a debt of gratitude.
The climate is changing, however. Northern Ireland is climbing slowly back to normality, and we need to capitalise on the new opportunities that are opening up. That means that to attract the best, we have to modernise, innovate and seek new ways of doing the job.
I have considered in detail whether such an agency should be inside or outside Government. With the advent of devolution and the re-organization of Departments, there are plausible arguments for keeping such significant expenditure - currently in the region of £200 million - within the direct control of Government. However, in order to meet the challenges of the knowledge- based economy - which we must promote even more keenly - we need structures which facilitate rapid decision taking and give flexibility to respond to changing markets. We need to be able to employ key specialists and offer the terms necessary to motivate them. I am convinced that this cannot be easily achieved within the Civil Service. Northern Ireland is unique in the United Kingdom, and, indeed, in these islands and further afield, in having economic development responsibilities so close to Government.
I have, therefore, concluded that the right model is a single economic development agency in the form of a non-departmental public body (NDPB) sponsored by my Department. In such an arrangement, accountability will be a key issue. The details are yet to be defined, but the permanent secretary will remain as overall accounting officer. I have had helpful input from the Minister of Finance and Personnel, Mr Durkan, and officials from his Department on accountability arrangements and financial and personnel implications. We shall wish to follow up on the detail with the Department of Finance and Personnel in due course. I also wish to consult with other ministerial Colleagues in order to learn from best practice on accountability in their areas.
Although the performance of the existing agencies has been strong, particularly in the last few years, we face new challenges, and the new agency should be designed to meet them. It will not be an amalgamation of the existing agencies, but an entirely new body. As an NDPB, it will have an executive board. I shall consider the composition of this board carefully, but shall certainly wish to include representatives of the social partners. The agency's ethos will be professional, businesslike and responsive to customer need. The mainstay of its focus will be the promotion and facilitation of innovation and entrepreneurship in the economy.
The new approach will facilitate a shift towards assistance more appropriate to the needs of dynamic indigenous businesses seeking to respond quickly to the rapidly changing demands and skill requirements of the knowledge-driven, service-based global economy. It will seek to accelerate the modernization of our traditional businesses and will strongly promote international trade in support of GDP growth. It will liaise with and develop appropriate partnership arrangements with local government and will be responsible for attracting inward investment aggressively.
The creation of jobs and wealth is essential to it all. Talent is a precious commodity, and we have it in abundance. We cannot afford to export it to other countries where it flourishes. We must be creative in finding new ways of keeping that talent at home, of saying and then proving to our people - our asset base - that they need not emigrate and put down new roots elsewhere, for everything they want is right here. To do that, it is vital that we engineer the right business and economic culture to allow talent to blossom, new products to be developed, and jobs to be created.
This "road map" to address the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead is therefore people-centred and people-driven. I do not suggest change for the sake of change; change is imperative if we are to realise our full potential and build the kind of future that many of us in this House have worked for so long to achieve.
I therefore propose to establish an entirely new economic development agency that will have a high degree of autonomy, but also be clearly accountable to my Department and to myself. It will have a remit including the existing activities of the IDB, LEDU, IRTU, the company development programme (formerly part of the T&EA) and the business support activities of the NITB.
As Members will be aware, the new North/South Tourism Company will promote the island of Ireland as a single tourist destination to the mutual benefit of both parts of the island. However, the NITB continues to have statutory responsibility for its important functions of promoting Northern Ireland as a holiday destination, regulating the industry, and assisting its small businesses. Through this restructuring, I propose to integrate the development of Northern Ireland's tourism businesses into mainstream local economic development.
In response to my consultation paper, many of those commenting on tourism were firmly of the view that assistance to the tourism sector was no different in principle or practice to business support for any other business sector. Indeed, it is perceived that support for businesses in the tourism sector will be strengthened in the new economic development agency. This transfer of business support functions will free the NITB to concentrate on functions which should remain with a free-standing statutory tourist board. Of key importance is the need to build a strong, professional marketing role based on an understanding of what Northern Ireland has to offer and how it should best be communicated.
It is imperative that the NITB continues to work closely with key industry interests in tourism, so that a coherent approach is presented and understood by all.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment will continue to exercise its responsibilities in relation to wider economic development policy, energy, tourism, health and safety, consumer interests and business regulation. The Department will retain the key responsibility to set and drive policy in relation to the new single agency. As noted, the Department will be a key link in the accountability chain for the agency's expenditure.
I am acutely aware of the importance of integrating strategy and policy with service delivery. In developing detailed implementation plans for the new agency, I will be seeking to build in mechanisms to ensure close working relationships between the agency, the Department and the other Departments that have key roles in economic development.
The policy, practice and implementation of industrially focused research and development will be centrally embedded within our new economic support structure. By effectively harnessing our existing expertise, the new agency will fully exploit the contribution of the science and technology base in the creation of a sustainable, knowledge-based economy. In furtherance of this, relationships between the agency, the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, the universities and business will be fully developed. The mainstay of our focus will be the promotion and facilitation of innovation and entrepreneurship in the economy. The "golden thread of innovation" will be woven through the entire fabric of the new agency.
The restructuring I am proposing will not of itself impact on the arrangements for local economic development. At present, LEDU has the lead role within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment for liaison with the councils and other bodies that undertake local economic activities. The IDB has a separate but important responsibility to work with the councils to market their areas to potential inward investors. These two functions will be brought together and enhanced in the new agency within the context of the small business strategy, which is one of my actions in the Programme for Government.
There is considerable scope for better co-ordination and elimination of duplication in local economic development, and my aim will be to make as much progress as possible on this, pending the review of local government. I welcome this review, and I hope that a restructured local government will be better placed to develop its relationships with the new agency and to exploit the greater scope which will exist for specific actions to be undertaken in due course by councils.
Closely related to local economic development is the social economy, and we have accepted that this is a sector that has potential to contribute more to our social inclusion agenda. At this stage, I have not decided whether the new agency should have the lead role on the social economy within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment or if this should remain with the Department. I will be considering this as part of the detailed planning for the new agency.
Staffing of the new agency will be critical. We are indebted to our existing staff for their efforts hitherto, sometimes in very trying circumstances. I am proposing to build on the expertise of the agency staff who will be working at the new agency from its launch. I expect many of them to remain and develop their careers therein. The existing staff are a mix of civil servants, mainly IDB and IRTU staff, but it includes a small number of former T&EA staff in the Business Support Division, and public servants, mainly from LEDU. There is also a small number of employees from the NITB, who currently administer grant support to small businesses in tourism. I have, therefore, decided that the best way to proceed is to second the civil servants to the new agency, transfer LEDU staff and relevant staff of the NITB, and give the agency the facility to recruit directly in order to meet its changing needs quickly and flexibly. The agency will have a strong regional profile and will draw up and implement its own equality scheme. A high level of priority will be given to both equality and New TSN issues. I am wholly and practically committed to determining how more efficient and effective business support can be increasingly focused in the areas of highest need, many of which also now offer the best opportunities for employers to attain the employees they need.
Although decisions have been taken in principle, there is still significant work to be done. I want to pay particular tribute to the restructuring unit in my own Department, which has worked so hard and coherently over the last six months. Preliminary assessment shows that the changes that I am contemplating are likely to have a positive financial impact, but a full cost-benefit analysis will be required as further details are established. Work has been carried out on the equality implications of such a change, but, again, more comprehensive consideration will be required, and consultation with section 75 groups and others will be undertaken.
I will present a policy memorandum to the Executive Committee in January, seeking approval to introduce legislation as soon as possible thereafter. However, on the basis of the weight of legislation currently under consideration, I feel that it is unlikely that the legislation will be passed before autumn 2001. The new agency will be formally established as soon as it is practicable to do so thereafter.
I will conclude by summarizing matters. Currently, Northern Ireland is substantially a small and medium-sized (SME) business economy. In recent years, great strides have been made towards normality. In business terms, significant and welcome progress has been made. For example, in 1999 employment in Northern Ireland in the new industries - tradable services and information and communications technology - increased by over 30%.
Significant new challenges still lie ahead. The economy must be increasingly geared towards meeting the needs of the rapidly changing, knowledge-based, global economy, where demands are increasing all the time. To do this, we need more vibrant, entrepreneurial, local businesses, which are capable of winning export business and generating greater wealth. It is imperative that the Northern Ireland economy grasp the opportunity now available to it. We must respond with confidence to these new challenges. If it is done correctly, the future can be faced with confidence - a future with greater wealth and prosperity for all in an inclusive, fair and stable society.
Northern Ireland has a long and proud tradition founded on its inventiveness and its ability to innovate. That same business acumen and courage will dictate the shape of our second industrial age. Already, efforts to nurture knowledge-based industries have been impressive, but I must tell the House that they are merely a beginning. If this necessary restructuring of our agencies is driven with vision and vigour, we can fast track the growth - along with the hope - that we all need in the Northern Ireland of the new century.
I know that more investment can be encouraged from home and abroad. I also know that our local businesses, our workers, and the staff in my Department and its agencies have the confidence to achieve what is needed for the future. I ask the House to support me, my Department and the new agency in the daunting task that lies ahead.
The Chairperson of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee (Mr P Doherty):
A LeasCheann Comhairle, I welcome the Minister's statement, and I wish him well in completing the enormous task that he has set himself by autumn next year. I also welcome his kind comments about my Committee. The Minister recognised the clear and constructive, collective input that the Committee had made to this report. I recognise in the Minister's statement a commitment to innovation, co-operation, the tourist industry, industrial and information technology development, the social economy and equality.
Can the Minister reaffirm the new single agency's commitment to New TSN as a core value? I acknowledge the comment on page four of the Minister's statement that the climate is changing and that we are slowly climbing back to normality. However, does the Minister recognise that the North's negative image has many more roots than those mentioned in his statement?
Sir Reg Empey:
I thank the Member for his comments.
I said in the statement that New TSN and equality issues will be, and will continue to be, at the heart of this. We have set targets in the Programme for Government. Those targets are very ambitious, and are aimed at achieving not only 75% of first-time visits into TSN areas by potential inward investors, but 75% of new jobs in those same areas. Those are very ambitious targets.
In my opinion, there is potential in many of those areas, because they have the potential resource of personnel that companies need. I said in my statement that I believed that we could match the needs of companies to the skills in those areas. That is not something that can be done by my Department alone. We will need to audit the TSN areas to ascertain the skills base and training needs to match the skills of the local community to the requirements of the new businesses, and the indigenous businesses which we hope will expand.
That is a huge task, and I must acknowledge the co-operation of Dr Farren, Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, and his Colleagues, because we are working very closely with them to ensure that there is a real possibility of achieving those objectives.
I do not want the House to doubt for one minute our desire to succeed. One of the purposes behind the new agency is to create the recognition that Northern Ireland is a small economy. Its compactness, the free movement of ideas, and the joining together of the different themes will help to accelerate our achievement of the aims set out in the Programme for Government.
Our negative image goes back a long way. We owe a debt of gratitude to those working in tourism and to those who have tried to achieve inward investment and indigenous expansion against our background of the last 30 years. It would be churlish not to place on the record our debt of gratitude to those civil servants and other public servants who have achieved very considerable success against such a terrible backdrop.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee (Mr Neeson):
I warmly wel- come the Minister's very important statement today. During the Committee's investigation into 'Strategy 2010', we found very strong support in the community for the proposals which the Minister has brought forward this morning.
In his statement, the Minister said that Northern Ireland is substantially a SME economy. We made a very successful visit to North America in August. We visited the offices of the American Small Business Administration, which is very innovative in dealing with small businesses and encouraging a much wider remit for the development of small businesses than we have under LEDU. Bearing that in mind, will the Minister be taking on board some of the ideas and lessons that we learnt from that visit, and does he also recognise that, through such innovative developments, more women can be encouraged to participate in business?
Finally, does the Minister also accept that, if we are to move away from the grant culture towards providing softer incentives for business development, local banks will need to become more involved in the economic development process?
Sir Reg Empey:
I am indebted to the Member for his comments. I accept that our economy is primarily a small- business economy. We are indebted to LEDU for the work that it has done, and is continuing to do, in that sector.
Our visit to Washington in August, when we met representatives from the Small Business Administration, was not our first encounter with that organization. Dr McDonnell and I, along with our colleagues, met Aida Alvarez, the American Cabinet Minister, who is responsible for the Small Business Administration, in Belfast in 1998. We were impressed then, as we were in August.
There is no doubt that the vast growth in the American economy has come from employment in small businesses. The major Fortune 500 companies have not increased employment. Small businesses have also brought many more women into business. Most of those setting up new businesses through the Small Business Administration are women. Northern Ireland is behind in that area, although we are improving. However, we should take a new look at how to develop the required packages. We are trying to move away from the grant culture and, in the case of small businesses, we are - to a significant extent - succeeding. However, further work is required.
There is continuing criticism of the role of the clearing banks in business in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom. In America there is a different legal framework which obliges them to provide certain services to local communities. I am keen to explore the idea of offering loan guarantees to replace grants.
We must change the way that we offer assistance. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is considering proposals on how to rebalance the packages that we can offer. I am open to the Committee's views on how that could be best done, but I am conscious that a new agency will want to focus on what it believes to be the best way of getting back the spirit of entrepreneurship that used to be dominant in Northern Ireland. A century ago, Northern Ireland had one of the most innovative economies in the world. I want us to return to that, because we have been languishing in recent years, despite some significant improvements. Much more could be done, and that is one of the major challenges that we face.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
I remind Members and the Minister that many Members wish to speak, and therefore they should be as concise as possible.
I congratulate the Minister on dealing with this issue. It has been long discussed but, until now, no action has been taken. It has often been said that form should follow function. Given that, how does the new structure promote innovation and the attainment of a higher rate of research and development spending in the local economy?
Does the Minister think that the Company Development Programme (CDP) is better located in the new agency or in its former home, the Training and Employment Agency? The statement is relatively silent on the issue of the internal demarcations in the new agency. Will there be sub-divisions, for example, for internal industries and externally owned firms?
Sir Reg Empey:
One of the principal reasons for the reorganization was to put innovation at the core. In the consultation document, I said that the golden thread of innovation would run right through the agency. The IRTU, which was the most recent of the organizations to be set up, has made a significant improvement to our recognition of the importance of research. The Department has tried to take that work forward through the information age initiative, but I felt that it was wrong to have it sitting in splendid isolation; it must be brought into the centre of things. I assure the Member that a top priority will be to reach the targets set out in the Programme for Government for an increase in research and development.
That is the only way that we will keep ahead of the competition. It is the key issue in the knowledge-based economy to which we are committed. The CDP was not put into the Training and Employment Agency when the new Departments were created, because CDP concentrates on training for people who are in work, as opposed to those who are out of work.
I said to Mr Doherty that the key will be to match the needs of companies to the new situation and, therefore, to the skills of their employees. We have to bear in mind that we are in the era of lifelong learning, so when an employee joins a company, he has to be continuously trained and retrained. It is one of the mechanisms we can use, as opposed to grants - one of the softer forms of assistance that we can make. For that reason, I am fully committed to having the CDP as an integral part of the agency.
There will be internal demarcations, but I wish to consult further with the Department, and I may engage other assistance, because we must remember that we have a transition programme to move through. There is a great deal of detail to be worked out, and consultation must take place with regard to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, so it will be some time before I can bring forward detailed proposals. All of these matters will have to be addressed in the new agency.
I warmly welcome the Minister's statement. Now that we are in the twenty-first century, we all recognise that there is a desperate need to refocus our efforts on the whole range of economic development. We have seen how many North American cities and regions have reinvented themselves over the last few years.
The statement goes a long way towards clearing the air and removing the uncertainty and indecision that prevailed. I particularly welcome the Minister's comment that the new agency will need to be capable of responding quickly and not playing catch-up in an intensely global marketplace; that it must be dynamic, nimble and focused, with more emphasis on getting the job done, and less on bureaucracy; that it must have, at its core, a more aggressive and targeted approach -
Mr Deputy Speaker:
Dr McDonnell, will you please come to your question?
We desperately need this new agency to meet the challenges that we face. We need a much stronger emphasis on innovation and research. Can we assume and ensure that the "golden thread" that the Minister mentions is sufficiently robust and effective, and that it is not so fine that we can barely see it? That is the nub. We can have a golden thread running through it, but if it is very fine, it may get lost. That thread will need to be very strong, because it will form the backbone. Can we get the necessary legislation moving much more quickly? I am a little worried by the suggestion that it will take a year to put the whole thing in place. We need to avoid wasting time. What can we do now to begin to implement the reshaping and restructuring that will move the process on? The rest of the world will not wait for us; we have to get ahead.
Sir Reg Empey:
I assure the Member that the whole purpose of doing this, from my point of view, is to introduce innovation and research into people's natural way of thinking - to make them systematic. That is why I was concerned about the IRTU's being isolated; I was also concerned about the information age initiative's being isolated. I want the ideas, skills and knowledge of people in those organizations to continue to exist throughout the new agency. If that does not happen, we will have failed, and we will not be successful in the market place. It is as simple as that.
With regard to the Member's point about legislation, I was trying to end the uncertainty, as he suggested. I am conscious, however, that a great deal of staff there are doing a good job. I am conscious that they have careers, and I do not want to delay or lose the momentum of the agencies. I will be doing everything to work with the staff to ensure that that does not happen.
Members control the legislation, and the best thing we could do would be to improve the speed with which we pass legislation. In reviewing the Assembly's performance so far, it seems that we have not passed legislation with the speed which we would like. If this legislation could be passed more quickly, I assure the Member that I would not be holding it back.
Will the Minister accept that there would be a general welcome for what has been proposed? It is very much in line with what the Committee decided.
I welcome the tribute paid to the staff who played such an important role in promoting inward investment during a very difficult period of Northern Ireland's history. Does the Minister accept that there will be a great deal of concern and uncertainty on the part of the staff of the present agencies about his statement that a "majority" of the staff will be transferred to the new body? The implication is that a number of staff members will not be transferred to the new body. Can he tell the House how many staff will not be transferred and what grades will be affected? Can he assure the House that those who are not transferred, but who are civil servants, will be offered alternative employment within the Civil Service? What will happen to those members of staff who are not civil servants, and who have not been offered an opportunity of employment in the new body? Will he accept that there will be some concern if the reward for staff who have been working for 10 or 15 years, trying to promote Northern Ireland in terribly difficult circumstances, is to be made unemployed as a result of this decision.
Sir Reg Empey:
Inevitably, in any change process, there is bound to be concern. I have made it clear, on a number of occasions this morning, that I appreciate the work that has been done. I said that, from day one, the agency will be staffed by people currently working for existing bodies. The precise scale has not yet been determined. There are outstanding matters. For instance, I have not concluded how we should treat the social economy - whether it should be done in the Department, through the agency, or by some other mechanism. However, we have been in close contact with our trade union representatives, and I have assured them that there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of this activity. I have further assured them that no individual member of staff will be personally disadvantaged as a result of this reorganization.
Staff in the agencies are of various categories. Some are civil servants and some are public servants - for example, LEDU is a company limited by guarantee outside the Government. People are of different status. Within the IDB, civil servants have different categories. It is a very complicated issue, but it is our intention to ensure that nobody is disadvantaged; there will be no compulsory redundancies, and staff have been assured of this.
We will be working as hard as possible to ensure that we do not lose our present momentum. When it comes to carrying out the reorganization, people will be given every opportunity. I believe that the majority will choose to remain in Economic Development and develop their careers there. Obviously, there may be positive financial aspects from this, as the total number of staff may be less than is currently employed. The precise details of that have not been worked out, but I can assure the Member that people will not be disadvantaged or made redundant.
As a Member of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, I look forward to working with the Minister on this and other issues in the coming months. An overhaul of the agencies, especially the IDB, has been long overdue. Concerns have been expressed about accountability, transparency, performance and value for money. These were especially outlined by the Westminster Public Accounts Committee. Will the Minister assure this House that adequate measures will be taken to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated?
The Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee intends to visit the South of Ireland, Scotland and Wales in January. We will meet with other bodies in those three jurisdictions. It is to be hoped that those meetings will show us how they do things, and we will pass that on.
A Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment working group reported that there was considerable scope for greater co-operation in trade development on the island of Ireland. What links and co-operation does the Minister foresee between this new body and the Industrial Development Agency (IDA), Enterprise Ireland and the all-Ireland trade body, InterTrade Ireland, which was established under the North/South Ministerial Council? Go raibh maith agat.
Sir Reg Empey:
I am looking forward, obviously, to hearing from the Committee after it visits the other agencies in these islands to see how they do things. As I said, we have carried out a body of research, which I am sure has been available to you, and it will be interesting to meet people and to see how they see things.
Of course, we must remember at all times that we are competitors and that we are fighting for many of the same pieces of potential inward investment, but that has not stopped us from co-operating. In May, the IDB and IDA met for the first time. They have undertaken some work, particularly in the north-west - as the Member's Colleague will be aware - and there has been further communication since then. I have every reason to believe that the board of the IDB is planning to continue that work.
InterTrade Ireland has specific roles, which do not include inward investment, but it does have the role of promoting trade, in which it has been very active. There is a good deal of communication between all the development agencies and InterTrade Ireland for the simple reason that it is necessary to work together to ensure that there is no overlap. InterTrade Ireland had a focused remit in the first few months of its life, which was drawn from the agreement. It had a particular agenda to work through from its inception. It is working its way through that, and a progress report was given at the last meeting of the body. It is beginning to develop its corporate plans and find the most effective use of its time.
Co-operation between these organizations - joining up their activities -is common sense. I am confident that the new agency will, as part of its natural development, be able to harness any communications and work together with other organizations to avoid duplication. I do not doubt that it will wish to review the general memorandums of understanding that exist in these islands to ensure that we are not involved in Dutch auctions for potential inward investments.
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