Invest Northern Ireland has welcomed the publication of the Assembly Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee report into developing the local economy through Innovation, Research and Development.
Commenting on the report, Alastair Hamilton, Chief Executive of Invest NI said: “Invest NI fully agrees that driving economic growth in our economy will increasingly rely on local businesses becoming much more innovation active across the full spectrum of activities. The Committee is to be congratulated for determining to address this very important issue and for the resulting report which is a welcome addition to the debate. The growing importance of innovation to local businesses is also evident from the many contributions provided by businesses themselves. Their input is also very beneficial to helping us shape our future R&D offerings particularly in light of the potential changes to European State Aid funding which could see our ability to offer Selective Financial Assistance reduce significantly.
“In compiling its report, and making its recommendations, the Committee largely drew on the statistical evidence previously utilised in the Independent Review of Economic Policy in 2009. Many of these recommendations have already been acted upon. Since 2008 Invest NI expenditure in support of R&D activities has grown from £19m to £29m in 2011/12 and we are already seeing the results of the steps we have put in place. Business Expenditure in R&D is now at a record level, and grew from 0.6% of GVA to 1.2% between 2008 and 2011 and there was a 42% increase in the number of people employed in R&D.
“As a result, Northern Ireland now lies sixth of the twelve UK regions and just below the UK average. Last year our support resulted in businesses committing to a further £64m investment in R&D and, perhaps most encouragingly, some 75% of all support was offered to local SME’s.
“Invest NI is also supportive of the need for an integrated and holistic approach to increasing levels of R&D in Northern Ireland and has, over the past three years, made a number of significant advances in this area, such as identifying, and seeking to implement, best practice in innovation and R&D and a much higher level of engagement with other stakeholders to agree a coherent and integrated strategy.
“We fully recognise the need to maximise opportunity and minimise bureaucracy and completely redesigned our Grant for R&D programme. Last year, under our Boosting Business campaign, we introduced a new streamlined call for R&D projects which has resulted in 153 enquiries and 96 applications resulting in 45 offers valued at £1.6m. These applications were largely from businesses that are new to undertaking R&D. These actions to promote and simplify support for R&D have resulted in high levels of business recognition and satisfaction with the support available to encourage innovation and investment in R&D.”
Alastair Hamilton concluded: “It is clear from this that, whilst there is no room for complacency, local businesses are recognising the fundamental value of innovation to driving their future growth. For our part, Invest NI will continue to focus on ways to place innovation at the heart of businesses throughout Northern Ireland by providing programmes and services which are easy to understand and access and that add the maximum value.”