Leslie Morrison, Invest Northern Ireland Chief Executive, has expressed regret over yesterday’s announcement by Desmonds that 482 people are to be made redundant as a result of a commercial decision.

Mr Morrison said: “Invest NI is conscious of the disappointment and dismay felt by those employees directly affected, their families, the local communities in which the factories are located and the economy of the North West in general.

“We maintain close contact with the company and are awaiting further information about the timing of the redundancies. When this is available, Invest NI staff and officials from other departments will meet with the company’s workforce to present training opportunities and provide one-to-one counselling to those interested in self-employment or other enterprise related options through a series of customised seminars and clinics.”

Mr Morrison said Invest NI is also assisting textiles and clothing companies and their trade association to implement a business action plan designed to transform the industry and enable it to meet the challenges posed by competitors in lower labour cost countries.

“Kurt Salmon Associates (KSA) was commissioned to help Government and the industry develop the action plan. A number of companies have already implemented the actions recommended, including increasing investment in areas such as branding; balanced sourcing; product innovation; strategic alliances and e-business.

“Over £80 million has been committed to the development of the sector over the past three years, with Invest NI and its predecessor agencies providing approximately £17 million of this. This investment is helping to transform the industry in line with the KSA recommendations.

“As a result of this approach, we have witnessed a number of successes, in companies such as Ulster Weavers, Adria, Ulster Carpet Mills and Bedeck which are already experiencing growth. DuPont is a good example of a company that has achieved technical and commercial excellence through the focus on innovation recommended by KSA. It is blending its synthetic textiles with natural fibres.

“Textiles and clothing will remain an important sector in the Northern Ireland economy. Invest NI will continue to assist companies to improve their competitiveness in external markets and build on external sales. These are currently worth an annual £600 million, ” he added.

Mr Morrison said Invest NI, since its formation in April 2002, has strengthened its presence in Londonderry and opened new offices at Coleraine and Enniskillen. The new Coleraine office, he said, will help to enhance economic development in the North West by harnessing the R&D and other expertise within the university.

“As a result, the Invest NI offices in Derry, Coleraine, Omagh and Enniskillen are already seeing increased activity.

“We are engaging with local councils, business bodies, the university and enterprise bodies in the North West on the development of our new business plan for the region. This process will assist in the development of other sub-regional business plans that are responsive to the unique assets and challenges of their areas.

“In the past year, we have launched the Accelerating Entrepreneurship strategy for raising the quantity and quality of business starts; and we have inaugurated a new approach to assisting established businesses achieve sustainable growth, as outlined in Invest NI’s Business Support Principles.

“These initiatives provide a comprehensive and integrated approach that complements our business action plans designed to address regional disparities.

“Invest NI will continue to build partnerships at many levels across the North West and throughout Northern Ireland that will help us reach our goal of a more resilient economy,” he added.