Inquiry Terms of Reference

Background

  1. The Treasury consultation on rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy noted the particularly low level of business expenditure on research and development here (R&D). It further noted that R&D and innovation are particularly low when compared to successful small economies in Europe several of which are in more peripheral locations than Northern Ireland. Over the past five years business expenditure on R&D in Northern Ireland has averaged 0.69% of Gross Value Added (GVA) compared to 1.23% for the UK as a whole. Business expenditure on R&D in Northern Ireland is heavily focused on a small number of companies, with just 10 companies accounting for around 57% of all business R&D investment in 2009.
  2. In the current economic climate and with decreasing levels of Selective Financial Assistance available to companies in Northern Ireland, it is essential that the opportunities to invest in R&D are exploited to their full potential. There are perceived difficulties in attracting high levels to Northern Ireland due to issues such as the large number of small businesses here compared to other parts of the UK, the small number of universities and difficulties in attracting high levels of R&D to Northern Ireland.

Purpose of the Inquiry

  1. The purpose of the inquiry is to identify barriers faced by organisations here in availing of opportunities for support for innovation, research & development and bring forward recommendations on how these barriers can be overcome to maximise support for innovation, research & development opportunities for the benefit of the Northern Ireland economy.

Terms of Reference

  1. The Committee will critically examine the mechanisms in place in government for providing assistance to micro businesses, small and medium sized enterprises, large businesses and academia to avail of opportunities for innovation, research and development at international, EU, UK, cross-border, Northern Ireland and local government levels. The Inquiry will identify barriers faced by organisations here in availing of opportunities for support for innovation, research & development.
  2. The Committee will make recommendations, where appropriate, on how policies, procedures and practices can be improved in order to maximise opportunities to support innovation, research and development for the benefit of the Northern Ireland economy.
  3. Specifically, the Committee will:
  •  
    • Examine the current policies, programmes and opportunities available to support innovation, research and development at international, EU, UK, cross-border, Northern Ireland and local government levels;
    • Examine the current policies, procedures and practices being deployed to assist organisations to avail of those opportunities;
    • Compare the assistance provided in Northern Ireland with that provided at regional level in England, in the other devolved administrations, in the Republic of Ireland and in other EU member states;
    • Assess the appropriateness of current policies, procedures and practices in assisting organisations to avail of opportunities for innovation, research and development;
    • Identify actions to be taken by the UK Government, Northern Ireland Executive, DETI, other NI departments, IntertradeIreland, universities, businesses and business support organisations and local councils; and
    • Report to the Assembly with full findings, conclusions and recommendations on how policies, procedures and practices can be improved in order to maximise opportunities to support innovation, research and development for the benefit of the Northern Ireland economy.

Approach to the Inquiry

  1. The Committee will call for evidence from identified key stakeholders including (but not restricted to):
    • The Department for Enterprise, Trade & Investment;
    • Invest Northern Ireland;
    • IntertradeIreland;
    • The Department for Employment and Learning;
    • Relevant Northern Ireland statutory committees;
    • Queen’s University Belfast;
    • The University of Ulster;
    • Selected universities in GB and in the RoI;
    • The Confederation of British Industry;
    • The Institute of Directors;
    • The Northern Ireland Science Park;
    • The Office of the EU Commission in Belfast;
    • The Centre for business Research, University of Cambridge;
    • Oxford Economics;
    • The Northern Ireland Local Government Association;
    • Local councils;
    • The Centre for Competitiveness; and
    • Businesses (to be identified) which have successfully availed of opportunities for support for innovation, research and development.
  2. A general call for evidence will also be made through the Assembly website. On the basis of written evidence submitted, the Committee will decide which organisations and individuals to invite to provide oral evidence to the Committee.
  3. The Committee will undertake visits, as appropriate, to gain a practical understanding of the issues involved and the problems faced by key stakeholders. Such visits may be inside or outside Northern Ireland.
  4. Assembly Research will be asked to undertake appropriate research to inform the Committee and, if appropriate, specialist research may be commissioned from outside the Assembly. Initially, research will be undertaken into:
    • Research & Development strategy, expenditure and constraints in Northern Ireland;
    • Assistance provided to support organisations to avail of research and development opportunities at regional level in England, in the other devolved administrations, in the Republic of Ireland and in other selected EU member states;
    • Identification of the best performing universities in the UK and RoI for Research and development.
    • Identification of international best practice in research and development.
    • Identification of both regional and sector-specific initiatives in the UK.
  5. The Committee use the services of a Rapporteur in conducting the inquiry. However the Committee will harness the knowledge and experience of all its members in collecting, and analysing the evidence for the inquiry and in determining conclusions and recommendations.
  6. Those providing written evidence to the Committee will be asked to respond by 16 th December 2011. Oral evidence will be taken between 9 th February 2012 and 29 th March 2012. The Committee intends to report to the Assembly with findings, conclusions and recommendations by 31 st May 2012.

Expected Outcomes

  1. The expected key outcome of the Inquiry will be a report outlining the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the Inquiry. It is also expected that the Inquiry Report will be debated in plenary session in the Assembly.  

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