Is Invest NI creating new jobs or just subsidising existing jobs?

The online fashion retailer Asos is planning to create 184 jobs at a new tech hub in Belfast. From the BBC story:

The global firm, which is popular with younger people, will recruit over the next three years with 52 of the jobs in place in the first year.

The company is investing £14m in the permanent base which will be operational early in 2022.

Recruitment is already underway with a range of roles including in engineering and data science.

What is not to like? It is great that new firms are setting up in Belfast, is it not?

On the face of it, yes it is. But when you dig a little deeper questions arise. The tech sector in Belfast is booming and there are massive skill shortages. Already there are not enough IT workers for the existing companies. Encouraging new companies to come just makes the skill shortage worse. The key issue is that we are subsidising these new jobs. From the BBC story:

Invest Northern Ireland said it had been working with Asos since 2017 and had offered almost £1.2m towards the new roles.

For the existing IT companies, it would be fair for them to ask the question: is Invest NI just subsidising new companies to poach my staff? It is a bit like Invest NI grant aiding a restaurant that is full every night anyway. What is the point?
In a way, this argument is coming from a very privileged position. I am old enough to remember the days when we had an unemployment rate of 20-30%. We are now basically at full employment. It is nothing short of an economic miracle.
But we need to be asking if subsidising an already over-saturated market is the best use of public funds? Would these funds not be better spent on other areas of the economy like promotions exports or boosting small local businesses?
Not everyone can work in IT. With a 30% economic inactivity rate we need to be focusing our efforts on other areas of the economy.

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