Blaming poor investment policy on a single government agency is surely missing the point?

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.

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  • Robin Keogh

    Putting aside the usual tendancies to make accusations along sectarian lines; you have to admit that the balance seems a bit off to say the least. Derry clearly has been overlooked and rural communities have also been shortchanged. I dont suspect its a deliberate attempt to deprive nationalist majority areas of investment as it is not that unusual for governemnt investment agencies to focus on large population density Urban areas however in the context of the North’s old argument the situation would leave invest NI open to such accusations. 80% going East compared to 20% going West looks as if their is a bit of mismanagement going on. You are correct of course that Invest NI needs to consider the potential for a return on investment but their currenmt strategy seems to discount long term return in favour of short term pobabilities. In other words, the West is unlikely to generate a sustainable profitable industrial base if funding groundwork is not adequetely put in place. As I mentioned in the other thread; given the Stormont set up, it might be time for all parties to develop an agreed economic plan in conjunction with Invest NI which would spread the cherries more reasonably, responsibly and effectively.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Some would argue that Ards/North Down doesn’t need investment and has a much older population.

    The graph itself is a bit deceiving when it comes to the bigger end, Belfast gets nearly one and a half as much as its nearest competitor. Magherafelt, Ballymena and Larne are coloured green even though they should not be green but yellow or dare I say it orange in my opinion. The sliding scale is deceptive, uneven and ad hoc.

    The other factor we have to consider is the issue of per captia. Belfast is by far the the most populated area, yet still has large regions of deprivation.

    Somehow the average Belfast citizen gets more investment than the ones of Derry, Lisburn, Armagh, Newry (& Mourne) combined, and you could also throw in Limavady for good measure. This per capita Belfast vs. five average level of investments in the other cities combined remember.

    The other thing is that The Detail also says confirmed in the report.

    Businesses in the east of Northern Ireland received 81% of funding, compared to 19% in the west. Taking an ad-hoc three county split (Antrim, Down and Armagh being the East), the population is divided up roughly 73% to 27%. When you take public bodies out of the equation including the two western UU university campuses vs. QUB and UU Belfast, the per capita balance is probably more in favour of the East.

  • chrisjones2

    This needs examined but its much more complex than suggested.

    Much investment goes to existing firms for developing exports. If you are established in the Belfast area you are unlikely to want to open a new office in Derry or Omagh or Enniskillen. The ‘investment’ per capita population analysis therefore skews the analysis. Inward investment will be different – but then it depends what the inward investors want in terms of facilities, skills, infrastructure and living conditions for their senior staff. Many of the areas cited just cannot compete

    You also need to consider travel / commute distances. Our council areas are still so small that this is a major factor eg all the figures for the Belfast hinterland need to be grouped together as Bangor Carrick Ards and (to an extent Lisburn and Antrim) and largely commuter hinterland

    Finally, Invest NI is totally focused on export. There’s next to no support available to firms servicing the NI market. These bigger firms will probably group towards the transport hubs for economic reasons.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Urban to Rural divide is questionable figure as most of the outside Belfast urban hinterlands outside Craigavon e.g. Derry, Lisburn, Newtonards, Bangor, Ballymena, Newry even Castlereagh get less NET funding than Dungannon and South Tyrone.

    How urban is East Tyrone? It’s the lesser populated half of County Tyrone.

  • Kevin Breslin

    “Reliant on export”, isn’t there a place West of the Bann that has a Port and a Harbour?

    If it’s good enough for Seagate, it’s good enough for other investors.

  • mickfealty

    Yes Robin, it is more than a bit off. It’s a rumbling economic and social disaster, which everyone seems to want to talk about but do nothing for. Like I say in the last paragraph:

    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.

    Classic having your cake and eating it territory. Meanwhile the Executive is struggling even with quick wins like the proposed and signed off Enterprise Zone around Coleraine.

    The south’s reforms involved using public resources to reshape the economic outline of the country is important because it developed out of a broad post war (and multiparty) consensus on the need to rebuild.

    It even crossed the border for a time. Thinking that this can be done without looking for (searching for) a similar broad consensus is, quite frankly, nuts. But that’s what we’ve been doing heretofore with inevitable results.

    Hitting Invest NI is the political equivalent of ‘kicking the cat’.

  • notimetoshine

    Invest NI will be able to do very little for the west. It is not as an inviting place to do business as Belfast and the A1 corridor for instance. Invest NI can’t create business.

    Maybe they would be better using the money that is earmarked for invest NI and spend it on infrastructure upgrades in the west.

  • notimetoshine

    Apart from anything else, is Invest NI really not just the Northern Ireland call centre and low paid workers fund?

    They seem very good at funding poor quality, low security jobs that are here one minute gone the next.

    Is there any sort of quality analysis when deciding who gets money?

    Or is it a case of “800 call centre jobs brilliant, take what you need?”

  • Kevin Breslin

    A third of their money goes directly back into public services, if they prove to innovate or have a commercial component.

    Then again I don’t know if call center work are eligible for art and R&D grants but it might be very innovative if they try that.

  • Kevin Breslin

    1. The Enterprise Zones in my view was mainly an N.I.O/Conservative Party brainchild … but by all means let the Executive take the monopoly on bad ideas and let those who want direct rule maintain their fantasies.

    2. The Northern Irish economy is and was more reliant on the Southern Irish Private Sector mainly due to the lack of a jurisdictional conflict. This is why such things like the National Asset Management Agency had such a big stake in our regional infrastructure.

    3. Post-war state financing of infrastructure on both sides of the island needed to rebuild, the bigger difference is that while both sides were more East-centric, the South were generally seen to be fairer to its west than than North was.

  • Kevin Breslin

    “Infrastructure upgrades” are an investment, and in some cases you can get Invest NI access for.

    In terms of Belfast, the biggest problem I have is that money is being lumped almost entirely into the South. Even when there is no space to build there’s an insistence that one gets found. Money is already being wasted on getting the highest priced real estate when expanding into the North, West and even the East is being sacrificed.

    It’s surprising that areas such as The Botanic Gardens, Ormeau Park, The Lagan Meadows , Wedderburn Park even the Giant’s Ring aren’t simply sacrificed for another shopping center or a manufacturing pant, when brown belt space elsewhere in Belfast may be more suitable.

    Commuter towns like Newtonabbey and Antrim offer better value for money than some regions in Belfast, with most of the same benefits but the costs are simply going up there too.

    Newtonabbey for example is closer to the port than South Belfast, and you can move stock avoiding the inner city gridlock.

    Saying that in this age where we are being less reliant on physical space, where international companies set up in Donegal to get the benefits of low tax and the NI/UK market, where areas such as Derry have had a windfall from cultural activities, where imports and exports of supplies and goods can get to your business quicker than they may do through the busier port of Belfast, where you have access to two university campuses (albeit not Russel Group level) and a few Southern Irish institutes … there is a case to be made for the West.

  • chrisjones2

    Good you go and dictate that to them and see how far it gets you.

    You should do very well in managing inward investors expectations

  • notimetoshine

    Well fair enough if there is a commercial element to some innovative public service but otherwise no way.

    I doubt they are, but they seem to manage quite well with significant invest NI funding

  • chrisjones2

    ….again you are very good at telling investors where to put their money. Remember that Invest NI is a top up. The real cash comes from the company and they decide what they want

  • chrisjones2

    …and there is no concensus – just a pork barrel

  • notimetoshine

    I see your point on Belfast, but then surely is south Belfast not the trendy, ‘with it’, youthful beating heart of the new progressive Northern Ireland?

  • Kevin Breslin

    In my city we have a Port and Harbour Commission and a Chamber of Commerce with a much better pay grade than I do.

    But here’s a brochure anyway.

    http://www.investderry.com/invest-derry/

  • Kevin Breslin

    1. The South is the region with the highest crime rate.

    2. Population wise West Belfast and North Belfast are the younger constituencies, Foyle is a younger constituency.

    3. Development wise West and North Belfast are younger parts of the City, South Belfast is arguably still the oldest part.

    So I disagree New Belfast (my apologies to Máirtín Ó Muilleoir) and Young Belfast is not in the South.

    Personally I question how progressive it would actually be if it didn’t have the economic retail legacy to back it up. In a nutshell, there’s an argument that financing the South (and even within the South areas like the Village and the Markets are ignored) isn’t financing progress, it’s financing segregation.

    Belfast will need to adapt its growth strategy to the shorter-term pressures created by the recession. Recent falling unemployment has masked the concentrations of worklessness that remain, leaving many neighbourhoods cut off from the city’s recent growth. Much of this worklessness and deprivation is concentrated in the North, West and East of Belfast City, with the outer areas of Greater Belfast better linked into recent success than the city core.

    http://www.centreforcities.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/09-03-19-Belfast-Tipping-the-ballance.pdf

    North and West are unfairly stigmatized but they have some of the best innovators. Andor Technology is a homegrown West Belfast Company for example.

    It’s simply opting for Suburban/University Retail Belfast over Abandoned Industrial Belfast at a time when “making stuff” and not “selling stuff” is more required.

    We can’t cram everything into a mere quarter of the city, especially one which attracts investment simply because of its green belt zones.

  • Kevin Breslin

    What investors are reading this site saying, you know what, that guy is telling me where to spend my money, I’m just going to dump a massive wad in South Belfast just to spite him and ignore whatever opportunities might exist elsewhere.

    What investors are going to this site of all places for opinions on making business decisions?

    Where to set up, let’s see what Slugger O’Toole thinks!

  • Gopher

    No mystery here, one third of the budget goes to attracting filming to Northern Ireland and various projects in Universities. Since these are located largely in Belfast for obvious practical reasons thats why Belfast is top dog. You have to reinforce success and you have a limited budget. The fact is the west is doing bloody well, too well than is mentioned. You could say that money is a sop, dead money and would get a better return in Belfast.

    We have bad comunications to Belfast from abroad , we have passenger duty and the roads that are a joke (all the collective assemblies fault) why would anyone invest in the west just as its pointless investing in Ards, seriously you would have no concept of the value of money to do so.

  • mickfealty

    When it finally got going. Donegal still lags, and the vastly improved road between Letterkenny and Derry and Letterkenny and Strabane only started getting going by the very early 80s.

    We stopped doing anything strategic in Northern Ireland in 71. And forty years later we are seeing some of the fruits of that initial and then forestalled investment programme falling out of the basket.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Oh Mick, Donegal is a great place to work. I’ve applied for a couple of jobs in Donegal before when Northern Ireland was lagging in suitable engineering opportunities.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    looking at the map, at least the favoured areas are pretty balanced between the two ethnies. Among the worst served areas are Larne, Carrickfergus, North Down, East Londonderry. So it’s not a simple Protestant east vs Catholic west thing. Mick is right, where investment goes reflects current potential for return on investment. injecting aid into the economies west of the Bann is very important but is perhaps not strictly Invest NI’s job to rebalance the economy locally – that’s a multi-agency, Stormont and Westminster task. And it may well be there’s some socio-geographic inevitability to Belfast and its environs being richer in business and development potential than rural hinterlands.

  • mickfealty

    Of course it is. Do you really expect me to disagree? But if Derry is being strangled by poor infrastructure, Donegal all the moreso… [It doesn’t end at Letterkenny you know…;-)]