Short and long term challenges must be overcome in order to build a dynamic and innovative Northern Ireland economy.
That was the message from Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster as she addressed the audience at the Northern Ireland Economic Conference in Belfast today.
The Minister said: “I recognise that there is more work to be done as we seek to build a stronger economy for Northern Ireland.
“The report on the Independent Review of Economic Policy, published yesterday, contains a series of recommendations on policy issues relating to my department and Invest NI. It also refers to wider economic policy formulation across the Northern Ireland Executive.
“It comes at a time when we are not only facing immediate economic challenges but also looking to the future and seeking to build a dynamic and innovative local economy. As the Executive continues to provide support to businesses in the short term, it is vital that we continue to address the longer term challenges.
“This Report will contribute greatly to the debate on how we can achieve the economic goals outlined in the Programme for Government.”
The Minister highlighted the areas of work that government is currently undertaking to grow a modern economy.
She said: “In the past six months I have launched a consultation on a revised Strategic Energy Framework and begun work on a new Tourism Strategy.
“Tourism is playing an increasingly important role in the local economy as Northern Ireland becomes a more attractive destination. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board, in close consultation with my department and a wide range of private and public sector partners, is in the process of developing a new Strategy for Northern Ireland Tourism which will help build this sector and map out the way forward over the next number of years.
“Energy is a key area in which we must continue to invest for the future. Northern Ireland is overly dependent on fossil fuels and my department is working on a new Strategic Energy Framework to help achieve increased competitiveness and sustainability as well as security of supply. The need to increase the level of electricity from renewable energy sources is an important debate that the business community.”
The Minister continued by outlining the work underway on telecoms: “Northern Ireland’s telecommunications is among the best in Europe, with our fibre networks among the most extensive in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. However we must continue to push ahead with new projects including the new direct international telecoms link, which will be operational by the end of this year.”
Arlene Foster went on to highlight the important link between MATRIX and the recommendations in the IREP Report:
The Minister said: “Innovation is key in a dynamic and modern economy and the MATRIX Report highlights the future global opportunities where Northern Ireland needs to concentrate its talent and resources.
“While academia and government have their parts to play in achieving the goals of MATRIX, the main focus is on business and its leading role in driving forward innovation and research and development. MATRIX is highlighted in the IREP report which identifies businesses as the most important players in Northern Ireland’s economic development.
“The Independent Review Panel has raised a number of challenges for the Executive and for the business community.
“Its analysis and recommendations will prove a valuable stimulus for consideration of what needs to be done to develop the dynamic economy that we are all seeking.
“I am seeking a comprehensive range of views on the Report and ultimately a consensus on how we move forward to reduce the productivity gap and raise living standards across Northern Ireland.”