Innovation at the heart of economic growth: Foster

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has welcomed the publication of the report by the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment into developing the Northern Ireland economy through innovation, research and development.

Commenting on the Committee inquiry into what can be done to encourage businesses to invest in R&D Arlene Foster said: “It is reassuring to see that there are clear synergies between the ETI Committee’s recommendations and what the Executive is doing now and plans to do in the future in relation to innovation and R&D.

“The underpinning theme of the Economic Strategy is the need for stimulating innovation, R&D and creativity. Innovation is an economic priority because it is the key driver of productivity and economic growth. Innovation is critical if we are to improve our overall levels of productivity and in particular in sectors such as tourism, retailing and services.”

The report highlighted that annual expenditure on R&D in Northern Ireland and the level of innovation activity in local firms has also been low. The Minister responded: “Over the past five years R&D expenditure has risen by 95%. In 2010 over £500million was invested by Northern Ireland companies and research institutions in R&D – that is the highest annual figure recorded to date.

“During the 2008-2011 Programme for Government, Invest Northern Ireland support led to £320million business investment commitments in R&D, and, last year, it offered a further £65million in support. Northern Ireland now lies sixth of the twelve UK regions in terms of Business Expenditure on R&D (BERD). Over the period of the next Programme for Government Invest NI will continue to build on this and aims to support 500 businesses to undertake R&D for the first time.”

Arlene Foster continued: “The Committee has recommended that there should be a clear vision for Innovation and R&D in Northern Ireland. I welcome this and can confirm that we have put the first stage of that in place through the Economic Strategy’s prioritising of innovation, creativity and R&D as its key underpinning theme.

“The Economic Strategy will be supplemented by an Innovation Strategy and accompanying action plan which will be published later this year. The Committee’s report is therefore very timely in informing the development of the draft strategy and I will welcome further engagement with the committee as the Innovation Strategy is developed over the coming months.”