The Economic Advisory Group met Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister, Arlene Foster on 24 April to update her on its activities over the last six months and its future work plans.
“Since we last met the Minister on the 29th of September 2011”, said EAG Chair Kate Barker, “the Group has been actively engaged in analysing and contributing to the strategic direction that the Executive has mapped for itself over the coming years.
“The areas on which the Group has commented have included the future of Regional Aid for Northern Ireland and the Executive’s Programme for Government, Economic Strategy and Investment Strategy.”
Turning to the future, Kate Barker went on to say: “The EAG believes that the Executive has the right strategic framework to improve the local economy but implementation is now paramount.
“The Group also sees its role changing from one of commenting on the strategic framework to one of influencing the strategic direction. There are three areas in particular where we see ourselves adding value to the debate on Northern Ireland’s economic future.
“Access to Finance is one of the most important issues for business at this time. This is a strong message which we have received from the Minister and from the economic stakeholders we met in November last year. We therefore intend to carry out analysis which will detail the funds, programmes and support available to businesses and try to identify gaps and make recommendations which may improve the situation.”
Turning to the Executive’s Economic Strategy, Kate Barker said: “The Executive Sub-Committee on the Economy has overall responsibility for the successful implementation of the Economic Strategy. But we believe that the EAG can add value by providing an independent appraisal of the actions that are taking place to implement that strategy and the progress being made in achieving its targets.”
A third major piece of work the EAG is undertaking is an assessment of where Northern Ireland sits internationally in terms of economic competiveness.
As Kate Barker explained: “In the Economic Strategy document there is a commitment to measure the level of competitiveness in the Northern Ireland economy. There is, however, no comprehensive measure of competitiveness currently in place. The EAG is therefore developing such a measure. This will allow the Executive to track the progress of its overall target of improving Northern Ireland’s competitiveness.
“We have already begun this important work and will be providing the Minister with our initial assessment in the autumn of this year.”