In an Assembly debate on the economy local TUV MLA Jim Allister questioned why North Antrim was not getting its fair share of Invest NI’s loan and growth funds, citing only £43,000 received in the constituency from the Agency’s spin out funds, and why in 5 years North Antrim has only been the object of 2 visits arranged by Invest NI for potential foreign investors.
In a speech addressing the international context of economic downturn, Mr Allister picked out the European Central Bank for particular mention and criticism.
In the course of his remarks Mr Allister said: “When I look at the motion, the first point that intrigues me about it is the unquestioning lauding of the European Central Bank. As I look across Europe, my conclusion is that the actions and inactions of the ECB have been as much part of the problem as they have been part of the solution. In fact, the financial instability across Europe, and wider, I would have thought, has been exacerbated by the ECB’s failure to deal with the euro zone contagion. We have seen it move from one country to another, courtesy of the ECB’s policies.
“Therefore, for the Alliance Party to begin its motion by lauding the recent actions of the ECB is akin to lauding a company that specialises in home security yet has presided over record levels of break-ins. It is farcical to think that the ECB has made a positive contribution. The crisis has dragged on and on, and it has morphed into increasingly bizarre outcomes. It is clear to me that one of the central culprits is the ECB itself.
“The ECB alone has the currency-issuing capacity to provide sufficient demand to allow economies to grow, and the crisis in Europe, if not that across the world, is about lack of growth. The bond markets would not be picking off one country after another if those were economies in growth. Therefore, we have to look at how the ECB has helped or hindered. It chose — deliberately — to inflict a negative growth strategy on the region. It forced fiscal austerity, which is very good in its own place, on the weakest economies, guaranteeing that the crisis would morph into a full-blown problem. I think that the fault there lies with the German-based and German-orientated ECB.
“Now, although the ECB declared its willingness to buy unlimited volumes of government debt, it will do so only if the member states are in depression. It is not a rescue plan at all. Therefore, when you look at the global context, the last people that the motion should be lauding are those in the ECB.
“That having been said, let us be a little more parochial for a moment. As Mr Frew pointed out, in my constituency of North Antrim, we have some great gems of industry. Long may they be with us, and may we be spared from the globalisation attraction of some of them to elsewhere. However, for small and medium-sized businesses, two things concern me. A couple of months ago, I asked the Minister for figures on the amount of money from start-up funds that was going to my constituency. Out of the £7·5 million from Invest NI’s access to finance strategy, a derisory, negligible £43,000 of the Northern Ireland spin-out funds had gone to North Antrim, and nothing at all at that stage had gone there from Co-Fund NI.
“I heard another Member question whether there is equality of access to funds across Northern Ireland . It can be said that you have to apply, but Invest NI has a bounden duty to encourage, nurture, mentor and make sure that applications are brought along.”
Mr Allister continued: “I ask that in the context of the fact that I discovered not so long ago that, in the past five years, there had been but two, if I recall correctly,visits to north Antrim by foreign companies brought by Invest NI, looking to invest in the area. Two in five years.
“So, we need some equity across the area.”