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Business Day Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 14:27 GMT
Invest NI slated by business leaders
Waterfront Hall and Hilton hotel in Belfast
Belfast and other centres could do better, leaders said
Leading members of the business community have criticised the performance of the development agency Invest Northern Ireland.

They have said the agency had not produced enough tangible benefits for the province in the seven months since it was established.

And they said they needed to know more about its strategy for economic growth.

The agency replaced the Industrial Development Board, LEDU, which supported small businesses and the Industrial Research and Technology Unit.


It seems like a football match where they appear to have a lot of midfield play, but they're not actually scoring any goals

Victor Haslett NI Chamber of Commerce president
It has a budget of more than 180m and a staff of more than 700 people.

President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce Victor Haslett said business people were determined to be positive and constructive in their dealings with the new agency.

But he said he wanted to see evidence of its performance.

"The main concern is that they have been in operation for over seven months and there is no overt achievements to be seen," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"It seems like a football match where they appear to have a lot of midfield play, but they're not actually scoring any goals."

Mr Hazlett said there was also a concern with the revamping of their financial programme.

"It is causing delays in making decisions and some of our smaller business members are nervous that the LEDU-type approach might be missing in the new organisation," he said.

'Communication problems'

Federation of Small Businesses NI spokesman Glyn Roberts said there had been a lack of communication from the agency.

"Probably the biggest issue they need to get right, is how they communicate with the grassroots and how they understand the problems a business person has to deal with on a day-to-day basis - problems with insurance and rates which prevent small businesses from growing."

But chief executive of Invest Northern Ireland Leslie Morrison, defended the agency's performance.

"In the first seven months we have been in operation, we have had to do a tremendous amount of internal reorganisation, while at the same time continuing to serve our clients," he said.

"I think we have done a pretty good job in keeping close to our clients."

'Mixed picture'

Mr Morrison said he felt many of the businesses the agency was dealing with were satisfied with its work.

"We engage very actively with the business organisations including the CBI, the Institute of Directors, and chambers of commerce. I have spent a lot of time speaking directly to our clients and the picture is mixed," he said.


It is coming right - we have got our client team in place and we are just about to roll out a number of the strategies we have been working on

Leslie Morrison
Chief Executive of Invest NI

"Some of them are very supportive of what we are doing and some say they want to see a more proactive approach.

"We expected in the first half year or so, given that our people are essentially often doing two jobs, to have difficulties in maintaining the client service that we had in the past.

"That is coming right. We have got our client team in place and we are just about to roll out a number of the strategies we have been working on."

Mr Morrison also defended the agency's performance on attracting inward investment.

"The largest part of the budget is for selective financial assistance for inward investment," he said.

"Inward investment in the world last year fell by 50%. But Northern Ireland maintained its share and in fact our inward investment actually increased by 10%."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Leslie Morrison, Chief Executive of Invest NI:
"I'm confident we are on track to do what we need to do"
BBC NI's Eddie O'Gorman:
"The CBI is reserving judgement on how well Invest NI is meeting its objectives"
See also:

01 Jun 02 | N Ireland
04 Oct 01 | N Ireland
04 Jul 02 | N Ireland
14 Jun 02 | N Ireland
11 Oct 01 | N Ireland
06 Oct 00 | N Ireland
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