“I wouldn’t suggest that the executive’s programme for government is quite so meaningless…”

The once and future Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, and Sinn Féin’s candidate in the Irish Presidential race, Martin McGuinness, MP, MLA, is keen to promote his “strong  track record in seeking Foreign Direct Investment, leading important Trade Missions and attracting investment and jobs”.  But, as Mark Devenport highlights from the leaked draft programme for government, [as with so many things… – Ed] that’s only half the story.

However, glancing at the draft obtained this week by my colleague Martina Purdy, you do get a sense of departments throwing in targets and statistics to some extent for the optics.

Some figures are relatively firm (literacy and numeracy levels to be raised from 59% in 2009/10 to 66% in 2014/15), whereas others need more work (our draft, for example, talks about reducing offending rates by X%).

The headline in the budget – supporting the promotion of 21,000 jobs – looks fairly impressive.

But how have we done so far?

The draft mentions that during the executive’s previous term, Invest NI promoted 15,565 new jobs, safeguarded 5,329 existing jobs and supported 8,267 new local business starts.

It doesn’t mention that in the spring the unemployment rate jumped to 8% – its highest level since the Good Friday Agreement.

Although unemployment has fallen slightly, it remains at 7.4%, with much higher levels amongst our young people.

So we get one half of the equation, but not the other.

Meanwhile the Department of Enterprise is to return to the Executive “a surplus of £17.5m of unspent money” from Invest NI’s £185m budget.

Both the Department of Enterprise and Invest NI declined to comment, but it is understood Invest NI is blaming falling business confidence.

A departmental document cleared by the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “Invest NI has identified reduced requirements of £17.5m.

“The reason for this is that market conditions have substantially changed for the worse since February last.

“Invest NI has detected a marked decline in business confidence among its client base which is attributed to a much more difficult set of market circumstances than originally assessed when putting forward its draft budget plans.

“As a result of this, many of the larger companies where Invest NI has significant financial commitments against agreed business plans, are proceeding to implement these at a much slower pace than had originally been anticipated.”

On top of the surplus, an additional £5m is being re-allocated from Invest NI’s budget to Tourism Ireland for overseas marketing.

Whether the NI Executive will do a better job implementing the eventual ‘programme for government’ than they did last time is another question entirely…

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