Question Time: Enterprise, Trade and Investment Tuesday 02 June 2015

Jonathan Bell participated in his first Question Time as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Mr Bell was asked about the latest employment figures and labour force survey estimates. The Minister is “pleased that the latest figures demonstrate that the economic recovery is progressing.” The number of people claiming unemployment benefits has fallen for the 28th consecutive month and unemployment is down to 6.2%. This positivity is also reflected in the growth of jobs with 30,000 net new jobs added to the local economy since 2012. The Minister did however warn against complacency saying “despite those positive figures, all of us will recognise that we still have a number of labour market challenges to address.” Michael McGimpsey tempered the optimism further by pointing out that the figure for economically inactive in Northern Ireland is the highest in the UK. Mr Bell acknowledged the problem and outlined the steps that his Department is taking, in conjunction with DSD, DHSSPS and DEL, to address the current issues.

During the topical question period the Minister discussed the prospect of additional flight routes operating from Belfast International airport. Last month it was announced that Belfast was successful in its bid to host Routes Europe 2017. Routes Europe is a major conference that brings together the main decision makers from airlines, airports and tourism operators, giving them the opportunity to meet and build the relationships that go on to shape the world’s future air routes network. The Minister enthused, “To have that in Belfast is a huge vote of confidence for Belfast. The number of people involved from all around the world will provide a significant boost for our economy. We will work with BIA to develop new routes where feasible.”

During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on programme for government targets, the prospects of a new hotel in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland’s composite economic index and PricewaterhouseCooper’s ‘UK Economic Outlook’.

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