Action plan launched to recover NI economy

The Economic Recovery Action Plan places an emphasis on innovation, investment and a skilled workforce. Credit: Press Eye

The Economy Minister has spoken of hope for Northern Ireland's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Scores of businesses have suffered under restrictive regulations, with the current lockdown still in place and no dates yet available for the reopening of non-essential retail, hospitality and the close services sectors.

Diane Dodds said she believes in the hopefulness and resilience of people, as she launched a new blueprint for economic recovery.

Her department's Economic Recovery Action Plan places an emphasis on innovation, investment and a skilled workforce.

Mrs Dodds said the plan will focus on "where we have the greatest opportunity to drive innovation and develop the skills and capability of our workforce to secure better jobs".

It identifies supporting a highly-skilled workforce, stimulating research and development, building a greener economy and promoting investment, trade and exports as the drivers to recovery.

Mrs Dodds's department is set to develop a flexible skills fund, widen access to apprenticeships by removing the age cap and develop proposals to implement a Northern Ireland artificial intelligence centre of excellence.

It is also to deliver the High Street Stimulus Scheme, a Tourism Voucher Scheme, accelerate delivery of City and Growth Deals and develop a green innovation challenge fund.

Mrs Dodds added: "The discovery of a vaccine is a game-changer, allowing us to look beyond the current restrictions and plan for recovery. The Recovery Action Plan sets out a suite of decisive actions that will further the rebuilding agenda."

The plan has been welcomed by a number of business sector leaders.

Angela McGowan, director of the Confederation of British Industry Northern Ireland, said last year had seen dips of up to 12% in terms of economic activity.

She added: "We know what we have to do to promote economic growth going forward, so for the business community to see those things in the plan today, investment in skills, investment in the green economy, investment in trade, support for investors as well - those are all really important and hopefully will help to get the economy stimulated in the latter part of this year and in the next four-five years."

Kevin Holland, chief executive of Invest Northern Ireland, said work is under way on building "detailed delivery plans under eight economic drivers aligned to the department's plan".

He added: "These plans can impact quickly, generate public economic success and build for the future."

John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, said the sector has been severely impacted by the pandemic but he has seen "huge resilience and a determination to adapt and survive".

He added: "The plan will also allow us to develop and deliver industry-wide training to the tourism sector, as well as campaigns and additional funding to provide the skills and capabilities to improve and grow product offerings and business models."

  • Video report by Katie Andrews: