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Last Updated: Friday, 10 June, 2005, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Cash crisis for business scheme

By James Kerr
BBC Northern Ireland business editor

A key government scheme aimed at helping more people to start their own business is in danger of running out of money.

The 'Start A Business' scheme is facing a budget cut

The Start a Business programme is facing a 3m cut in its budget and may not be able to run beyond the autumn without further funds.

Last year, nearly 4,000 people went through the programme which is run by Enterprise Northern Ireland.

This year, because of budget cuts, there is only money for just over 2,000 people.

The scheme is part of a main plank of the government's economic policy.

In the past couple of years there has been a drive to encourage more people to become entrepreneurs and start their own business.

EU money

As a result Invest Northern Ireland launched a major marketing campaign called 'Go For It'.

Many of the people who respond to that advertising find themselves on the Start a Business programme, for which funding is channelled through Invest NI, but also comes from the EU and local councils.

Invest NI says EU money can no longer be used and as a result most of the councils have pulled their matching funds.

It is understood the Board of Enterprise NI are currently working on a strategy to see if it can stave off a financial criticism; this is likely to involve a considerable amount of lobbying at Stormont by local political leaders.

There appears to be a considerable degree of anger with Enterprise Northern Ireland that this situation has been allowed to occur.

The perception is that the government has raised the profile of entrepreneurship by spending several million pounds on marketing; but that the funding is not in place to deliver the required follow-up.

This is not the only financial problem which Invest NI faces at the moment.

The agency had its budget cut in recent years because of the economic downturn, and its inability to spend its full allocation on investment projects.


However, a commitment was made that if economic activity increased and more funds were required to back business investments, then the money would be found under an industrial investment concordat.

Invest NI has done its financial projections for this year and concluded that its baseline budget is fully allocated, and as a result it is reluctant to make further significant financial commitments until agreement is reached on further funding under the concordat.

In such a climate finding the money to fully fund the Start a Business Programme is only likely to be sorted out as part of the wider financial situation facing the agency.

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