Opportunity for Excellence - The Report on the Committee's Inquiry into Growing the Economy and Creating Jobs with Lower Corporation Tax

30/06/2015

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 30 June 2015

Reference: NIA 259/11-16

ISBN: 978-0-339-60587-9

Mandate Number: Mandate 2011/16 Sixth Report

ETI-Opportunity-for-Excellence.pdf (24.53 mb)

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Executive Summary

Overview

1. This report by the Committee for Enterprise, Trade & Investment considers the long-term development of the Northern Ireland economy from a strategic perspective. The report is the result of a wide-ranging inquiry covering, not only, the direct requirements to develop the economy and create jobs, but also how this can be integrated into an overall approach to economic development covering education, skills, physical and virtual infrastructure and society. The acceptance of the report recommendations represents an opportunity for Northern Ireland to achieve excellence in the development of the economy from now and over the next 20 years and beyond.

2. In his overall assessment of this report, the Committee Specialist Advisor on economic policy, the Open University’s Dr Leslie Budd referred to it as thorough, comprehensive and coherent. He informed the Committee that the report represents good practice from which other regions can learn and apply its recommendations. He stated that the report:

“…makes a major and significant contribution to understanding the challenges facing the economy and society of Northern Ireland over the longer term.”

3. Dr Budd believes that, in its approach, the Committee has suggested policy instruments and mechanisms which can achieve the key objectives of the Inquiry. As the objectives of the Inquiry focus on establishing the conditions which will help Northern Ireland realise its long-term economic potential, the Executive must examine the Committee’s findings and recommendations in detail and consider where and how it can add to these to devise and implement an entirely holistic solution to secure Northern Ireland’s long-term economic future. The Committee believes this opportunity for excellence must be grasped now.

Background and Purpose of the Inquiry

4. There are two key assumptions in the Committee’s Inquiry. The first is that corporation tax varying powers will be devolved to the Executive from April 2017. The second is that the Executive will agree to significantly reduce corporation tax rates for trading profits. The Committee is mindful that any reduction in corporation tax will result in a reduction to the block grant. It is therefore essential that any reduction in corporation tax brings the maximum benefits to the Northern Ireland economy both in relation to inward investment and growth of indigenous businesses.

5. The Committee undertook the Inquiry in order to examine the wider policy areas which have the potential to impact on economic development in general and on economic growth and job creation in particular. It is essential that Government policies are aligned to ensure that the most favourable conditions are in place to maximise the potential that a reduction in corporation tax can bring. If there is no decision to reduce corporation tax the priorities and focus for economic development will be different. However, it is worth noting that, even in the absence of a decision on the devolution of corporation tax, the recommendations in this report remain valid as they will contribute to economic growth and job creation regardless of the wider policy environment.

Vision and Strategy for Economic Development

6. Evidence has demonstrated that there is much positive and constructive work being undertaken by Government departments, arms-length bodies and local government which is bringing benefit to the economy through supporting business growth and job creation. In some cases there are good examples of how policies demonstrate some level of integration where they impact on more than one department. Examples include the Economic Strategy,the Investment Strategy, the Regional Development Strategy and investment by the Department for Employment & Learning (DEL) in skills development in areas of key economic drivers. The new Apprenticeship Strategy currently being rolled out by DEL provides a good example of integration of skills with the identified needs of employers and the economy. However key business representative organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Institute of Directors (IoD), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Manufacturing Northern Ireland (MNI) provided significant evidence to demonstrate that there is no overall long-term, strategic, integrated approach to economic development. A number of reviews have been undertaken which demonstrate some willingness by, and a need for, departments to further consider a more integrated approach to developing the economy and creating jobs. Important policy areas which need to be addressed include policies relating to the economy, employment, education, skills and physical and virtual infrastructure. The Committee believes that for any approach to economic development to become truly integrated will require a society and community dimension which considers factors such as government’s role in society, work/life balance, leisure activities and financial considerations such as wages and salaries and cost of living.

7. Important factors which are inhibiting the potential to align policies to provide the most favourable conditions for long-term economic growth and job creation are firstly, that longterm policies within Executive departments often seem to be developed in isolation and with little consideration of the wider needs of other areas of government and, secondly, that policies are often developed within the five year Programme for Government (PfG) cycle with little regard for the potential strategic, long-term impact. Another important inhibiting factor is the absence of a strategic joined-up approach horizontally between Executive departments and vertically between regional and local government. Evidence to the Committee has demonstrated that there is little consideration given to any long-term vision for the economy and no agreed integrated strategic approach to long-term economic development. Evidence from a range of both public and private sector organisations has also demonstrated that there is no agreed approach, and little consideration given between departments or between different levels of government, to how policies, which directly or indirectly impact on the economy, can be integrated to bring the optimum level of benefit.

8. To address the issues identified will require a far-reaching change in outlook and approach from the Executive. The five-year Programme for Government (PfG) cycle will have to be strengthened with the development of a much longer-term strategic approach. The Executive should be able to look much further forward with a moderate degree of certainty to what the economic landscape of Northern Ireland will look like in 10-15 years’ time and with some indication of what the economic landscape will look like beyond that period. By looking further forward, the Executive can put in place a PfG and Investment Strategy to, not only meet the short to medium-term economic development needs, but to work towards achieving Northern Ireland’s long-term economic aspirations. However, to do so will require a long-term vision and a more strategic approach to planning for Northern Ireland’s long-term economic future.

9. The development and implementation of a long-term vision and strategy will require appropriate structures and processes to be put in place. Expertise will be required from the business, skills, employees and community perspectives to ensure horizontal integration and from both regional and local government perspectives to ensure vertical integration. Longterm strategies which acknowledge the Executive’s ranking of the economy as the number one priority will be have to be put in place for economy and employment; education and skills; infrastructure; and society and community. A framework for economic development will be required to develop and integrate these strategies to monitor implementation and to ensure they work together to support the overall vision and strategy for the economy.

10. It is important that existing good practices are not lost where they can be integrated into the overall approach to economic development. However, they should not be too heavily relied upon where it is clear that they cannot be appropriately integrated into the overall approach. Structures, policies and processes which are considered key to the implementation of strategies within the economic development framework will have to be reviewed and prioritised to ensure they support the horizontal and vertical integration of the strategy for economic development across Northern Ireland. This strategic review should identify and ensure the retention of good practices where appropriate. It should also identify areas for improvement and gaps in provision. A strategic approach should be taken to integrating existing, improved and new structures, policies and processes into the overall framework for economic development.

11. The key recommendation of this Inquiry outlines an approach to developing, leading and implementing a Vision & Strategy for Economic development. The Committee’s key recommendation is that the Executive must articulate and implement a rolling 20-year shared Vision & Strategy for Economic Development. The vision and strategy can be renewed and updated through each Programme for Government period. There must be full integration between the strategy for the economic development and the Investment Strategy. The following actions will support the development and implementation of the Vision & Strategy for Economic Development:

a. In developing the Strategy for Economic Development, full consideration should be given to what can be achieved through the Investment Strategy at a time of reduced resources in order to complete those projects which have the greatest potential to positively impact on economic development.

b. A steering group should be established which includes representatives from all levels of government; education and skills sectors; and business, employee and community representative organisations. The steering group will have the role of developing and implementing the ‘Vision & Strategy for Economic Development’.

c. The Strategy for Economic Development must be driven by a Regional Economic Development Framework with integrated strategies for economy & employment; education and skills; infrastructure; and society & community. Working groups comprising key stakeholders will be required to develop and monitor the implementation of strategies.

d. Organisational structures, policies and processes which are considered key to the future of the economy must be identified and prioritised. Those considered high priority should be strategically reviewed to ensure they provide the horizontal, vertical and geographical integration required to provide the Regional Economic Development Framework to drive the Strategy for Economic Development.

e. An overall strategy to achieve horizontal, vertical and geographical integration of priority policies and strategies should be developed and implemented to address identified gaps and to ensure the Regional Economic Development Framework is appropriate at all levels of regional and local Government and across all local authorities (Recommendation 1).

12. The Executive’s vision for the long-term position of Northern Ireland in the wider economic landscape is as yet unclear. This is not surprising given the current uncertainty relating to both European Union (EU) membership and the date and rate for corporation tax devolution. These are matters that must be addressed in order to develop any long-term vision for economic development. The Executive has little influence over the timing of a referendum however in order to inform the debate on European Union membership, the Executive must provide a detailed analysis of the impact on the Northern Ireland economy of a UK exit from the European Union. This must be based on robust economic data. (Recommendation 2).

13. The Executive has considerably more say on the rate at which corporation tax will be set following devolution. However the rate will be dependent on the cost to the Executive. This must be established before a rate can be set and a date agreed. Therefore it is essential that the Executive works with HM Treasury to identify the overall cost of reducing corporation tax so that it can get to a position where a rate and a date for devolution can be set at the earliest feasible opportunity (Recommendation 3).

Economic Development & Employment Strategy

14. Government financial, and practical support for economic development are essential in developing and driving a vibrant economy. The accessibility of finance is essential for business as is access to both markets and suppliers. Business regulation is seen as an important factor in which improvements and support could bring considerable benefits to business. Innovation is seen as a key driver for economic development in the future. The subregional balance of economic development was also seen as key to developing the economy and creating jobs across all parts of Northern Ireland. These should all be key components of a future Economy & Employment Strategy. The development of the Economy & Employment Strategy must be supported by robust, long-term economic data at both regional and subregional level. The Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment (DETI) and the Department of Finance & Personnel (DFP) must provide certainty that the economic data collected and presented is accurate, complete, timely and appropriate to the needs of the Economy & Employment Strategy. In making any future economic decisions, including a decision on the devolved rate of corporation tax, DETI and DFP must be confident that the available economic data which is relied upon is robust, accurate, complete, timely and appropriate (Recommendation 4).

15. Northern Ireland has, and will always have, a small internal market. Reliance on exports is, and will continue to be, a critical driver of economic competitiveness. Northern Ireland’s export base has suffered in the past number of years and there have been calls for more support from Government to increase the capacity of the private sector to export, to open up new export market and to support and develop existing export markets. One key export market which has suffered considerably due to the economic downturn is the Republic of Ireland (RoI) market. The Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment (DETI) believes its Export Plan will be a new and innovative approach. In consideration of the relationship between Northern Ireland both economically and geographically, the Export Plan and other strategic and local economic development plans along with other strategies and plans relating to the economy and employment must fully consider the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in supporting economic development and job creation through maximising cross-border opportunities (Recommendation 5).

16. The concept of enterprise zones has been put forward on a number of occasions over the years by a range of interested parties as a means of providing a structured approach to integrating support for economic development within a defined geographical area. It is only recently that the concept has been seriously considered and there are proposals in place for the establishment of the first Northern Enterprise Zone in Coleraine. The concept has been supported by a number of organisations giving evidence to the Committee and a range of proposals have been made for what should be included in an enterprise zone. These have related to taxation, rates, financial incentives, planning and infrastructure. The Committee welcomes the establishment of the first enterprise zone but sees it as an opportunity to explore the value of the concept. Therefore, a plan should be put in place at the earliest opportunity to evaluate the Coleraine Enterprise Zone in order to consider if and how the Enterprise Zone concept can be rolled out to other areas across Northern Ireland in the future (Recommendation 6).

17. Enterprise zones may be one way to start to address sub-regional imbalance in economic development. It is recognised both within and outside government that a regional prosperity gap exists and continues to grow between Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland. This is apparent in areas such as skills, telecoms and physical infrastructure. Whilst these issues are considered in other sections of this report, it is important to also consider them from a sub-regional perspective. There is some working being undertaken by Invest NI to support sub-regional economic development but, as demonstrated during the Committee’s visit to 5 Executive Summary the Stuttgart Region of Baden Württemberg in Germany, a properly integrated approach to economic development would provide the potential for a step change in approach. For Northern Ireland to integrate its approach to sub-regional economic development will require consideration of the roles, relationships and linkages between Invest NI, Enterprise NI, district councils and the local business community in each council area. There is much confusion, especially within Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) relating to the nature and availability of support and advice and how to access it. Therefore, a review should be undertaken of the existing local provision of advice and practical support to businesses on issues such financial support, export advice, HR, finance, taxation, industrial relations, ICT and business regulation and plans put in place to improve and integrate provision where appropriate in line with business needs (Recommendation 7).

18. The Committee explored, with a number of witnesses, the possibility of Invest NI having sub-regional targets in place for job creation. The consensus from the business sector was that it would be difficult for Invest NI to identify realistic targets at local level. It is Invest NI’s belief that it is responsible for setting targets for Northern Ireland as a whole and that local councils have a responsibility to establish a proposition for their region which Invest NI can use to promote Northern Ireland at sub-regional level. This would suggest that there should be more responsibility on local councils to develop propositions and set their own targets for job creation based on what they have to offer. The Ministerial Sub-group on Economic Opportunities must work strategically with Invest NI and district councils to develop firm commitments to sub-regional economic growth and job creation. District councils should be encouraged to work with Invest NI to develop a proposition which Invest NI can use to promote the area. They should also be encouraged to take responsibility for deciding what is achievable and for setting targets for their council area following advice from Invest NI. (Recommendation 8).

19. An important and increasingly critical factor in economic development is the level of innovation within an economy. It is currently considered a key priority and must remain a key priority in a future strategy for the economy. During their visit to Stuttgart, Committee members witnessed at first hand the support provided by the regional government for the development of competence centres for business clusters. Plans are in place to establish the first competence centre in Northern Ireland in the agri-food sector. This is an important development of a concept that may well be appropriate to other sectors. Therefore, a plan should be put in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the Agri-Food Competence Centre and consideration should be given to how this model can be used as a pilot to assess the viability of future competence centres in other priority sectors identified through MATRIX and prioritised in the current Economic Strategy (Recommendation 9).

20. DETI recognises that the ability of businesses to access finance has been particularly challenging in recent years. Both the Minister of Enterprise, Trade & Investment and the Minister of Finance & Personnel meet regularly with the main banks to emphasise the importance of supporting business development and growth. Issues have been identified in relation to branch closures and to the difficulties small companies face in finding their way through the complexities of how to access various forms of finance. Implementation of Recommendation 6 should go some way to addressing many of the issues identified by SMEs however it will not, in itself, resolve the problems faced by businesses in accessing finance through the banks. In developing an Economy & Employment Strategy consideration must be given to how a step change in access to finance can be achieved and to how the Northern Ireland banking sector can become involved in working as partners in economic development (Recommendation 10).

21. The volume, cost, time, and bureaucracy associated with, regulation is an issue for many businesses. Advice and support available to businesses, especially SMEs is disparate. Consideration should be given to developing a more consolidated approach to supporting businesses with regulation. This may form one aspect of the implementation of Recommendation 6. The way in which EU legislation is transposed in Northern Ireland was of concern to a number of organisations providing evidence to the Committee. Unfavourable comparisons were made with other EU Member States and even with the Westminster Government in the way in which EU legislation is handled in Northern Ireland. The evidence to the Committee in this area was anecdotal however it is important that there is neither the perception nor the reality that EU legislation is unnecessarily burdensome in Northern Ireland compared to elsewhere. For this reason, a review should be undertaken of how EU legislation is transposed in Northern Ireland, drawing on, and learning from, the experience of other EU Member States, to ensure that unnecessary burdens on business are eliminated and that future transposition of EU legislation has due regard to the costs to business associated with compliance (Recommendation 11).

22. There were a number of issues raised in relation to the slow speed of planning decisions. The Department of the Environment informed the Committee that it is bringing forward a new strategic planning policy framework. It believes this will be more responsive to the priorities and needs of businesses and will provide a significant contribution to growing the economy. With the transition of responsibility for planning moving to the new district councils, consideration should be given to how this can be used as an opportunity to speed up and improve the planning system to support inward investment and the growth of indigenous businesses.

Infrastructure Strategy

23. The existence of appropriate infrastructure across Northern Ireland is essential to growing the economy across the region. Infrastructure such as energy and water are utilities that many take for granted yet in some parts of Northern Ireland a lack of provision is inhibiting investment and forcing businesses to rethink their plans for investment. Northern Ireland is a largely rural region which means that transport infrastructure is essential both for businesses to access suppliers and markets and for enabling people to commute to places of employment. Northern Ireland has an increasingly improving telecommunications infrastructure with high-speed broadband now available to the majority of people and both 3G and 4G connectivity becoming increasingly available. However there still remain pockets of unavailability, sometimes in areas where businesses are located. The availability of appropriate accommodation for businesses to locate is also an important factor in supporting inward investment and business expansion.

24. The cost and availability of grid connections remains a major issue for many growing businesses, especially those wishing to expand operations outside Belfast. The cost of electricity compared to other regions, also remains a key issue for large energy users here. In developing an Infrastructure Strategy clarity must be provided in electricity policy both for large energy users in relation to what they can be expected to pay for electricity and for all businesses to provide assurances that they will be able to access a timely affordable connection. The next price control period will provide an opportunity to improve the integration of electricity policy with economic development. It is important that the electricity infrastructure is in place to meet current and future expected demand. A more strategic approach as part of an Infrastructure Strategy within a wider Economic Development Framework should help reduce the risk of stranded assets. As part of the development of the Infrastructure Strategy DETI should revisit the recommendations in the Committee for Enterprise, Trade & Investment reviews on electricity pricing and grid connections to ensure that policies for grid infrastructure and electricity costs are structured to support current and future economic development (Recommendation 12).

25. There were some issues expressed in relation to water infrastructure, especially in the Belfast area. Any existing or potential restriction on future economic development as a result of inadequacies in drainage infrastructure must be addressed as a priority. If, as was suggested to the Committee, NI Water is 30% less efficient than a comparable company in Great Britain (GB), inefficiencies must be quantified and addressed.

26. The mix of employment across Northern Ireland will influence transport infrastructure requirements and conversely, the transport infrastructure that is in place will influence the ability of businesses to attract employment. Development of a transport infrastructure strategy will have to consider connectivity of key transport routes to provide access to markets and suppliers for businesses and access to work for employees. The strategy should include accessibility of ports and airports and the cost of travel by air and sea. The Executive will have to consider how to achieve the most appropriate balance of public transport and private transport to meet the needs of businesses, employees and communities.

27. The roll-out of broadband is progressing as is the roll-out of 4G across Northern Ireland. It is generally accepted that Northern Ireland is well served compared to other regions however many areas of poor connectivity remain. Improvement in both broadband and mobile communications must remain a priority for the Executive. Consideration should be given to not only expanding broadband speed but expanding broadband access across the region.

28. One of the key considerations for future economic development following the devolution of corporation tax will be the availability of accommodation for those businesses attracted to invest in Northern Ireland. Invest NI is taking steps to address the shortage of Grade A office accommodation and this is to be welcomed. However, consideration should be given to how appropriate office accommodation and workspace can be made available across Northern Ireland so that inward investors are not attracted to Belfast solely on the basis that appropriate accommodation is unavailable in other areas. The appropriateness of any accommodation will be linked to the availability of other key infrastructure such as transport infrastructure, electricity infrastructure and transport networks as well as links to skills and other support services. Consideration should also be given to how more creative solutions can be developed to address the facilities in existing buildings to make them Grade A quality rather than merely incentivising the construction of new builds.

Education & Skills Strategy

29. The development of education and skills is a crucial element to developing a growing and vibrant economy. If a long-term vision for economic development is to be achieved, it is essential that the development of the current and future skills needs of businesses is fully integrated into the Economic Development Strategy. This, in turn, will require a holistic approach within the education and skills sector from primary school, through secondary education and into the further or higher education sector and the world of apprenticeships and work.

30. The secondary education sector has a vital role to play in preparing young people for adulthood and work. It is essential that young people in school develop a knowledge and understanding of the options and opportunities that will be available to them when they leave. For example, with 40% of employers in Northern Ireland reporting or anticipating problems in recruiting experienced people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills, it is important that young people are made aware at an early age of the opportunities open to them in these sectors. In the past there Northern Ireland has had a high dependence on public sector employment but Northern Ireland cannot continue to focus the education of young people in skills which are more suited to the public sector if the long-term plan is to reduce the public sector and grow the private sector. There have been a number of suggestions for how schools can influence the choices of young people including increasing provision of skills in STEM subjects, business, computer programming and entrepreneurship. There have been calls to increase the number and influence of business people on boards of governors in schools in order to promote the private sector and help highlight opportunities. DETI believes there is more scope to work with the Department of Education to influence curriculum policy, careers education and the thinking of parents on the career choices being considered by their children. The Stuttgart Region has integrated education and business needs through the provision of long-term workplace experiences for school pupils as part of their learning. There will have to be consideration of what the best approach is for Northern Ireland to integrate education with business needs.

31. Any initiatives in schools will have to be complemented by the Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) sectors. If young people are to be encouraged to pursue routes where skills are in most demand by employers, the FE and HE sectors much ensure that sufficient places on appropriate courses focusing on the development of those skills are available in universities and FE colleges. There were calls for better and closer collaboration between Invest NI/DETI and the higher and further education sectors to form more direct strategic and operational links to better match employer needs with skills delivery. A number of those giving evidence to the Committee would like to see better targeting of courses to the needs of business and potential investors. The higher and further education sectors play a vital role in developing the skills that businesses will need. It is of paramount importance that existing gaps are closed between the skills being developed in universities and FE colleges and existing and potential employment opportunities. The provision of incentives for students to study subjects where demand is high should be considered. Consideration should be given to how the private sector can be encouraged to participate in such initiatives. Any future strategy for education and skills should look at how a systematic plan can be developed to target skills to investment in order to create employment. To this end, a structured mechanism should be put in place for collaboration at a strategic level between the HE and FE sectors and Invest NI to ensure the best alignment between skills and current and future investment in both the short-term and long-term (Recommendation 13).

32. There were calls for the profile of apprenticeships to be enhanced to make this a more acceptable career path for a wider range of professions. The Committee agrees that apprenticeships are an important element of growing the economy and creating jobs. The apprenticeship route a very worthwhile option for any individual considering a career path to a professional qualification. The Committee can see the value of allowing employers to develop apprenticeships in sectors where there is a demand for skills. Care must be taken to ensure that apprenticeships focus on skills that can lead to sustainable employment for individuals involved. The future of apprenticeships should focus on skills that lead to sustainable employment through the ongoing development of the new employer-led Apprenticeship Strategy in sectors of high demand (Recommendation 14). The new employer-led Apprenticeship Strategy must be promoted and driven to raise awareness of the value and benefits of this route to employment regardless of age or gender. Public procurement and the use of social clauses can contribute (Recommendation 15).

33. Many individuals and companies will seek to grow and enhance their skills base in a wider range of areas. There have been calls for support through the education system to improve business support skills such as human resources, finance and health & safety, language skills, ICT skills as well as management, leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Consideration should be given to how this can be achieved through all stages of education and training and in the workplace to support life-long learning. There is also a need to consider how up-skilling and re-skilling can be undertaken to help people to get into employment and to progress. It will also be important to distinguish between skills gaps which are structural in nature and skills shortages which are cyclical. Skills shortages can be addressed by increasing provision of appropriate education and training. Skills gaps are more difficult to address as this involves putting in place mechanisms to educate and train people in the appropriate skills.

Society & Community Strategy

34. The Committee recognises that, whilst the economy is the number one priority for the Executive, this must be considered very much within the context of the society and communities in which we live. The needs of the economy must be balanced with the needs of people in order to provide a fair and just society. The focus of this Inquiry was on the development of the economy. Further work will need to be undertaken to further consider the requirements for a Society and Community Strategy. Important strands in the Society & Community Strategy will include considerations such as government’s role in society, work/ life balance, leisure activities and financial considerations such as wages and salaries and cost of living.

Summary of Recommendations

Vision & Strategy for Economic Development

Recommendation 1

The Executive must articulate and implement a rolling 20-year shared Vision & Strategy for Economic Development. The vision and strategy can be renewed and updated through each Programme for Government period. There must be full integration between the strategy for the economic development and the Investment Strategy. The following actions will support the development and implementation of the Vision & Strategy for Economic Development:

a. In developing the Strategy for Economic Development, full consideration should be given to what can be achieved through the Investment Strategy at a time of reduced resources in order to complete those projects which have the greatest potential to positively impact on economic development.

b. A steering group should be established which includes representatives from all levels of government; education and skills sectors; and business, employee and community representative organisations. The steering group will have the role of developing and implementing the ‘Vision & Strategy for Economic Development’.

c. The Strategy for Economic Development must be driven by a Regional Economic Development Framework with integrated strategies for economy & employment; education and skills; infrastructure; and society & community. Working groups comprising key stakeholders will be required to develop and monitor the implementation of strategies.

d. Organisational structures, policies and processes which are considered key to the future of the economy must be identified and prioritised. Those considered high priority should be strategically reviewed to ensure they provide the horizontal, vertical and geographical integration required to provide the Regional Economic Development Framework to drive the Strategy for Economic Development.

e. An overall strategy to achieve horizontal, vertical and geographical integration of priority policies and strategies should be developed and implemented to address identified gaps and to ensure the Regional Economic Development Framework is appropriate at all levels of regional and local Government and across all local authorities.

Additional recommendations below are designed to support the development and implementation of Recommendation 1 and the achievement of the long-term vision and strategy.

Political Certainty

Recommendation 2

In order to inform the debate on European Union membership, the Executive must provide a detailed analysis of the impact on the Northern Ireland economy of a UK exit from the European Union. This must be based on robust economic data (Recommendation 2).

Recommendation 3

It is essential that the Executive works with HM Treasury to identify the overall cost of reducing corporation tax so that it can get to a position where a rate and a date for devolution can be set at the earliest feasible opportunity.

Support for Economy & Employment

Recommendation 4

In making any future economic decisions, including a decision on the devolved rate of corporation tax, DETI and DFP must be confident that the available economic data which is relied upon is robust, accurate, complete, timely and appropriate.

Recommendation 5

The Export Plan and other strategic and local economic development plans along with other strategies and plans relating to the economy and employment must fully consider the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in supporting economic development and job creation through maximising cross-border opportunities.

Recommendation 6

A plan should be put in place at the earliest opportunity to evaluate the Coleraine Enterprise Zone in order to consider if and how the Enterprise Zone concept can be rolled out to other areas across Northern Ireland in the future.

Recommendation 7

A review should be undertaken of the existing local provision of advice and practical support to businesses on issues such financial support, export advice, HR, finance, taxation, industrial relations, ICT and business regulation and plans put in place to improve and integrate provision where appropriate in line with business needs.

Recommendation 8

The Ministerial Sub-group on Economic Opportunities must work strategically with Invest NI and district councils to develop firm commitments to sub-regional economic growth and job creation. District councils should be encouraged to work with Invest NI to develop a proposition which Invest NI can use to promote the area. They should also be encouraged to take responsibility for deciding what is achievable and for setting targets for their council area following advice from Invest NI.

Recommendation 9

A plan should be put in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the Agri-Food Competence Centre and consideration should be given to how this model can be used as a pilot to assess the viability of future competence centres in other priority sectors identified through MATRIX and prioritised in the current Economic Strategy.

Recommendation 10

In developing an Economy & Employment Strategy consideration must be given to how a step change in access to finance can be achieved and to how the Northern Ireland banking sector can become involved in working as partners in economic development.

Business Regulation

Recommendation 11

A review should be undertaken of how EU legislation is transposed in Northern Ireland, drawing on, and learning from, the experience of other EU Member States, to ensure that unnecessary burdens on business are eliminated and that future transposition of EU legislation has due regard to the costs to business associated with compliance.

Infrastructure

Recommendation 12

DETI should revisit the recommendations in the Committee for Enterprise, Trade & Investment reviews on electricity pricing and grid connections to ensure that policies for grid infrastructure and electricity costs are structured to support current and future economic development.

Education & Skills

Recommendation 13

A structured mechanism should be put in place for collaboration at a strategic level between the HE and FE sectors and Invest NI to ensure the best alignment between skills and current and future investment in both the short-term and long-term.

Recommendation 14

The future of apprenticeships should focus on skills that lead to sustainable employment through the ongoing development of the new employer-led Apprenticeship Strategy in sectors of high demand.

Recommendation 15

The new employer-led Apprenticeship Strategy must be promoted and driven to raise awareness of the value and benefits of this route to employment regardless of age or gender. Public procurement and the use of social clauses can contribute.

 

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