Ministerial task force on banking and finance meets for first time

Joint Government-Executive working group sets priorities for work to promote lending and increase support for NI businesses

The joint ministerial task force on banking and access to finance in Northern Ireland met officially for the first time today, chaired by the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP.

The task force was announced by the Secretary of State last week as a forum for addressing the challenges faced by Northern Ireland businesses in accessing vital finance.

Alongside the Secretary of State, Business Minister Matt Hancock and HM Treasury’s Director of Financial Services were joined by NI Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA and Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster MLA at the meeting, which took place in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in Westminster.

Theresa Villiers said:

“Since we published the economic package, we have already taken steps to help businesses in Northern Ireland access the finance they need to grow and expand, including by extending the £117 million Start-up Loans scheme to Northern Ireland. But we are committed to doing even more to support the efforts of local people who want to work hard and get on, and to boost the private sector.

“I set up this task force as a means to promote lending and increase support for Northern Ireland businesses. The group will examine whether tailored assistance is required for our banks, and it will consider what more can be done to ensure UK-wide finance schemes have the maximum impact here. This work is absolutely crucial if we are to rebalance our economy away from over-reliance on the public sector, and enable Northern Ireland to compete in the global race for jobs and investment.”

Arlene Foster and Simon Hamilton said:

“We made very good progress at the meeting today. The joint ministerial task force on banking and access to finance is one of the most strategically important elements of the Building a United and Prosperous Community document. Banking matters are not devolved and we have been pressing the Government for action for some time now.

“Our economic recovery depends on businesses in Northern Ireland being able to access the finance they need to invest and grow. There are a number of constraints at the moment that mean this process is not working as well as it should. Our banking structure differs from that in other parts of the UK and the legacy issues from past property investment are more severe. We need tailored solutions for these problems and this task force can deliver that.”

The ministerial task force was established following a commitment in the economic package, Building a Prosperous and United Community, published by the Government and the Executive in June. The package noted the significant challenges facing Northern Ireland businesses in accessing finance and recommended the Government and the Executive agree a concerted approach to understand and address the causes.

The package also acknowledged that UK-wide schemes to boost growth have not always been as effective in Northern Ireland as they have been elsewhere in the UK.

The group will meet three times a year to discuss these issues and co-ordinate detailed work programmes. At today’s meeting, Ministers discussed their priorities for early engagement and agreed the terms for reference for the task force.

Later this week the Government and the Executive will jointly publish an update on the economic package, ahead of Friday’s Investment Conference at Titanic Belfast, which the Prime Minister will attend.

08 October 2013