The Detail had some interesting data on where Invest NI puts its money. Interesting largely for the uneven distribution of its cash. But it should be said that this is a spread of money largely informed by the possibility of a return on the initial investment.
No one asks Invest NI to just give the money away. Even if left to their own devices they have a responsibility to account for how it is spent. So, as we have noted in the past there is a huge inequality between the money east Belfast attracts and the west of the city.
But as The Detail’s infographic also highlights, there’s very little money going to into Ards and North Down compared with South Antrim, Down and even Derry. The money generally has to follow enterprise, not the other way round.
In this respect, Colum Eastwood’s broadside on Invest NI arguing that “the North has been repartitioned along an east/west investment axis” misses a key point. It is Ards that received the lowest investment of all 26 former district council areas, and it’s firmly in the east.
Investment managers make investments. And Invest NI managers make investments with public cash. The real issue is the NI Executive’s inattention given to – never mind underinvestment in – education, transport and energy.
This is something that seems broadly lost on northern parties (especially though not exclusively nationalist parties), but the Celtic Tiger for all its many great faults took forty years of turnaround policies in all these areas to achieve.
It is hard to regrow an industrial base in the west when energy is so expensive and supply subject to frequent interruption. Broadband remains patchy. Meanwhile educational reform has consisted of resiling to local plans as a handy point of least political resistance.
There is a need to channel wealth outwards to the west and downwards to the poorer parts of society. But responsibility for that needs an acceptance of broader agency, not just heaping blame on public officials for doing their job within the current constraints.