06/06/2002

Invest NI 'failing' rural businesses says MLA

Launched only a few of months ago, Invest NI has already come under attack from a local MLA over its lack of service towards SMEs in rural areas of Northern Ireland.

Joe Byrne, SDLP MLA for West Tyrone, has accused the government agency of not doing enough to promote high-speed internet access among SMEs in rural areas of the Northern Ireland.

Mr Byrne raised the issue during Assembly Question Time when he asked Reg Empey, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment how many SMEs in West Tyrone had applied for ASDL internet access under a pilot scheme headed by Invest Northern Ireland. The Minister revealed that the objective was to get 200 SMEs across the North connected, however to date there has only been 73 applications and eight of these are from businesses in West Tyrone.

Mr Byrne said: "This pilot scheme headed by Invest NI offered small businesses the ideal opportunity to acquire high-speed internet access. The target was to get 200 SMEs connected to ASDL but unfortunately there have only been 73 applications. Only eight small businesses from West Tyrone applied for ASDL and only two have been successful.

"The small number of applications starkly illustrate the fact that Invest NI is taking a very lack lustre approach to promoting the pilot programme. Invest Northern Ireland was set up to help small businesses and to attract new inward investment and already its stumbling at the first hurdle and is failing to deliver especially in rural areas such as West Tyrone."

Mr Byrne concluded by saying that Invest NI's client executives needed to get their act together and devise a more proactive and effective promotional campaign. He also said they should get out among their client firms raising their awareness of ASDL and encouraging them to embrace new technology which would help make local businesses more competitive.

(MB)

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