Four year business strategy ends with a year of significant change
2020-21 was the final year of our four year Business Strategy. It was also the year of COVID and EU Exit and our final year priorities adapted to significant economic change.
Our economy was pushed to the limits last year with the temporary closure of some businesses and the limited operations of others during lockdown. Thankfully some businesses also flourished. At the same time businesses worked to understand and adjust to different operating environments following the EU Exit.
While the year was different from what we, or any business, had planned we completed our long term Business strategy with four of our five targets met and with outturn at the upper end of the target range. (see above graphic and supporting news release)
The final year outturn for the fifth target of Research and Development (R&D) investment is due from NISRA in the autumn. At the end of year three, business investment in R&D had increased by £83m, against a target range of £160-200m.
The UK economy should recover to its pre-COVID level by the end of the year.
Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England (15 March 2021)
The shape of the economy post-COVID will certainly be different, and the restoration of some lost activity may take time, but as restrictions ease and more businesses open up, we see activity and investment accelerating as the year progresses.
For every £1 of Invest NI support, £6 is invested in the NI economy so our work to support local businesses with their investment plans, and to attract new inward investment will play an important role in stimulating recovery.
During 2020/21 we provided intensive expertise and funding to over 1,800 businesses, a 16 percent increase on last year, kicking off investment projects that will deliver nearly £600m of investment in our economy.
During 2020/21 NI businesses experienced change at a rapid rate. The final details of EU Exit brought significant change to operations, for which businesses had little time to prepare. And COVID forced many to adapt rapidly, for example to adopt digital solutions to address restrictions caused by the pandemic. NI businesses demonstrated their resilience and ability to weather the storm.
Nearly 80 percent of the 1,800 businesses we supported in 2020/21 were outside Belfast.
Many businesses continued to make commitments for strategic investment and business growth. During 2020/21, we made over 3,000 offers totalling £106m to support these commitments. 73 percent of these offers were to businesses outside Belfast. For example, we worked with 226 businesses in Mid Ulster, 155 in Lisburn & Castlereagh, 219 in Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon, and 179 Newry, Mourne & Down council areas during the year, helping them with job creation, investment in R&D or skills, or exporting to new markets.
While we supported some high-profile large company expansion projects in 2021/22, such as 220 jobs by KPMG and 219 jobs by Finnebrogue in Downpatrick, we made 94 percent of the offers to SMEs.
In 2020/21 we also provided £5m of funding to the 11 councils (including £3.7m ERDF) under the Local Economic Development (LED) initiative of the EU Investment for Growth & Jobs Fund 2014-2020. This will help to deliver eight programmes to support the economic needs of each area, including the NI Business Start-Up Programme and the Digital Transformation Programme, both of which are collaborative programmes across all 11 councils. These eight programmes will support around 8,000 businesses.
You can explore our support for each council area in more detail by clicking on the relevant region on this map:
Adapting to change
The changes facing businesses meant we also had to change and adapt rapidly. Between COVID and EU Exit we engaged directly with an additional 14,000 businesses last year.
In addition to delivering our established schemes, we also put in place nine, new COVID recovery schemes, ranging from equity investment to grants for implementing efficiency, productivity and organisational improvements. At the end of the 2020-21 financial year, we had issued offers totalling nearly £6m of support to 443 businesses through these schemes.
We also supported the NI Executive to deliver five emergency recovery schemes. At the end of the financial year, we had delivered £100m of emergency financial assistance to over 13,100 applicants.
In addition to financial assistance we also provided free professional advice and guidance to businesses through nibusinessinfo, our dedicated EU Exit team and our business support line.
Our Business Support Team handled over 35,500 calls to our 0800 numbers, a 600 percent increase on a standard year, and dealt with almost 11,000 email enquiries over 12 months in 2020-21.
A year of recovery
We are already three months into a new financial year and our focus is very much on recovery. We are implementing actions across eight economic drivers to provide a solid pathway to recovery in line with Department for Economy plans.
These drivers reflect our ambition for economic prosperity and creating a sustainable economy over a longer period of time. They will contribute to the trade, investment and jobs that will support our economic recovery and future success. Ultimately, they will underpin the building of a shared, prosperous future for all our community.