Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, discussed the future of credit unions during today’s Question Time. The Minister plans to bring a draft Bill to the Executive in May 2015 with a view to bringing it to the Assembly shortly after. It is anticipated that the Bill will see the services of credit unions become less restricted and more widely available which should help in areas that have been adversely affected by bank closures. Mrs Foster is also working with the Minister for Social Development to see if there are any options that can be introduced through credit unions (and post offices) to offer alternatives to people who have become reliant on pay day loan companies.
Pat Sheehan then enquired about the measures the Minister is taking to tackle the high rates of economically inactive people in Northern Ireland (the working age unemployment rate has grown to 27.8%). The Minister is working with Invest NI and the Departments for Employment and Learning, Social Development and Health to develop a draft strategy to reduce the levels of economic inactivity. It is hoped that the strategy will help the affected groups make the transition into the labour market. It is currently with the Executive and awaiting implementation upon approval. The long term target is that the employment rate will be over 70% by 2023 – a target that the Minister feels is achievable particularly if the impending devolution of corporation tax proves as successful as predicted.
Mrs Foster also answered questions on inward investment in Derry/Strabane, island-wide trade, superfast broadband and the number of new businesses in South Antrim. This was followed by a topical question period in which the Minister also answered questions on topics including the construction industry, foreign investment in the Foyle region and tourism promotion of the Antrim coast.