Foster meets Lord Mandelson in Belfast

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has met with Lord Mandelson to discuss ways to overcome the difficulties faced in the current economic climate.

The visit began this morning with a tour of Bombardier, where Arlene Foster and Lord Mandelson met with senior management.

Following yesterday’s announcement that Bombardier is set to reduce employment by 300 temporary workers across its four Northern Ireland sites, Arlene Foster said: "This is very regrettable news which has come about as a result of a reduced demand for Learjet and Challenger aircraft, in which Northern Ireland has significant involvement. I understand that Northern Ireland will be less affected than the Canadian or US operations.

"Invest NI and the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR) in London are working closely with Bombardier to identify further business development opportunities."

Lord Mandelson and Arlene Foster also discussed the importance of the CSeries project to Bombardier’s future, and the wider benefits this will bring to the economy.

Arlene Foster said: "Bombardier is continuing to recruit new staff for the CSeries and I understand there are approximately 100 new positions on this programme to be filled in Belfast.

“The CSeries project is vitally important to the Northern Ireland economy and has the potential to provide economic benefits over the next 20 years. The significant supply-chain opportunities associated with such a major programme offer benefits for the wider economy in Northern Ireland, the UK and Europe.”

Following the Bombardier visit, Arlene Foster and Lord Mandelson held a meeting to discuss issues of interest to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR).

They discussed the current economic climate and the need for the UK government and the Northern Ireland administration to work together to assist local businesses overcome the difficulties currently faced.

Welcoming the fact that the package of finance measures announced by BERR on 14 January extends to Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster said: “The UK Government has taken a series of measures nationally, aimed at reducing the impact of the recession. The Bank of England’s decision to cut the interest rate to 1% should go some way to help stimulate the Northern Ireland economy.

“I am fully committed to helping our local companies through this recession. This week’s announcement by Ulster Bank to provide financial support to help local businesses manage their capital and cashflow in the current downturn, is a very welcome move.

“I will continue to encourage all banks here to participate in the loan guarantee schemes and the UK Government’s new Enterprise Fund, to provide companies with a wider range of funding options to inject a boost of much needed confidence at this difficult time.”

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said: “It is good to be back and to see the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland since I was last here. These positive changes are down to the hope and determination of the people of Northern Ireland and their politicians to achieve a peaceful, more prosperous future. The UK Government is committed to do everything it can to work with the Northern Ireland Assembly and others to give you the help you need, now and in the future.”

Arlene Foster and Lord Mandelson also attended a business lunch, hosted by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, where they met with business representatives to discuss the impact of the current economic situation.

The Ministers then visited Audio Processing Technology (APT) in Belfast. Established in 1988, APT specialises in the manufacture and worldwide distribution of digital audio compression technology for use in a range of electronics and software industries including the music recording, telecommunications and broadcasting sectors.

The Minister said: “APT is a quality employer of new software and electronics graduates. The highly skilled workforce in Northern Ireland is crucial to the success of high-tech businesses here and pioneering companies, such as APT, play a significant role in raising the profile of our economy worldwide as a centre of excellence.”

Arlene Foster ended the day by attending a Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust dinner, where Lord Mandelson was guest speaker.