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Sinn Féin to challenge Angela Smith over Invest NI record

26 July, 2005

Sinn Féin Assembly group Chief Whip, North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan, will lead a senior party delegation to meet Angela Smith, the British direct rule Minster responsible for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment tomorrow, Wednesday 27th July at 3pm in Castle Buildings.

Sinn Féin will challenge Ms Smith on the investment bias of Invest NI.

The cuts to the Invest NI Entrepreneur Programme and the on-going saga over the proposed sale of Phoenix Gas to East Surrey Holdings will also be discussed. Speaking ahead of the meeting Mr McGuigan said:

"The pattern of Invest NI investment set out in their recent annual report and exposed by Sinn Féin cannot and should not be justified. West of the Bann, Border areas, North and West Belfast, Derry and parts of my own constituency of North Antrim including the Moyle Council area are not being properly supported by the Invest NI investment strategy. This only serves to reinforce existing inequality. It also undermines the objective of achieving balanced development.

"Sinn Féin's criticism of Invest NI has been supported by the Federation of Small Businesses, by a number of councils and also by leading members of the business community with some even calling for the resignation of its Chief Executive.

"Sinn Féin will challenge Angela Smith to give a commitment to review the current investment strategy to ensure that there is a fundamental change in direction.

"Our concerns about the agenda of Invest NI and the implications of the failure of NTSN policy to make an impact need to be urgently addressed. The failure of a key government agency to deliver the equality agenda should be an issue for everyone who wants to see a better future. A further concern is that these unequal outcomes are happening in the context of Invest NI and DETI itself failing to carry out equality impact assessments on key policy area. This is something that Sinn Féin will be challenging.

"Sinn Féin also share concerns with many in the business sector that the decision to make huge cuts to the budget of the Entrepreneur Programme will have long term consequences for the development of the small and medium enterprise sector. This is an essential economic driver particularly with the decline in manufacturing sector. The failure to support the development of new indigenous businesses in the current global economic climate is a serious mistake.

Commenting on the ongoing saga about the sale of Phoenix Gas to East Surrey Holding Mr McGuigan added:

"Sinn Fein have serious misgivings about this sale and the potential for super profits to be made by a private company for a public utility. We will be pressing the department to ensure that the interests of the consumer comes first and that gas continues to play a key role in tackling the unacceptably high levels of fuel poverty in the north of Ireland.

"If a commitment by Phoenix Gas to put the best interests of local customers first is not forthcoming then DETI need to look at how the excessive profits that the sale will generate as a result of a very favourable licensing agreement can be recouped." ENDS

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