26/05/2009

Key Skills Retention Targeted

A new scheme to help businesses currently in difficulty retain the kind of key skills they will need once the economy recovers has been launched.

The NI Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster announced the £15million scheme to be run by Invest NI under its Short Term Aid Scheme.

Qualifying businesses in the manufacturing and tradable services sectors will be able to receive support of up to approximately £450,000, enabling them to retain key staff while they plan and restructure for the future.

To be eligible, a firm in difficulty will need to demonstrate a need for support and the actions already taken, or proposed to take, to address its difficulties.

Announcing the scheme to the NI Assembly, the Minister, said: "It is clear that many businesses are currently experiencing a short term reduction in demand for their products or services.

"This is resulting in company finances being squeezed and causing, what would otherwise be viable, businesses to experience financial difficulties.

"To help these businesses to prepare for the upturn when it comes, it is important that the Executive provides the most effective and efficient support. A key element of this will be to ensure that businesses retain and, where possible, enhance their skills base.

"The scheme I have announced today will do just that. Through Invest NI, eligible businesses that are experiencing short term difficulties will be able to obtain grants for salaries to maintain key skilled posts in their workforce.

"These will be at a rate of 80% for small companies, 70% for medium sized enterprises and 60% for large companies," she explained.
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The support will allow businesses to undertake a range of approved activities, including Further and Higher Education training, in-house upskilling, in-house infrastructure improvements or introducing improved management or financial control systems.

"To further encourage businesses to grow their exports, employees with key skills undertaking market research or developing new leads in new markets, will also be eligible under the scheme to have their salary, travel and subsistence costs covered at the appropriate rate," she continued.

Arlene Foster continued: "This new scheme will provide crucial and invaluable support to businesses which may otherwise have to make key employees redundant, resulting in valuable skills and knowledge being lost and therefore, not readily available when economic recovery occurs."

The scheme, which opens on 1 June 2009, is available to eligible large companies and SMEs in the manufacturing and tradable service sectors which were not in difficulty prior to July 2008 and which, although fundamentally viable, are experiencing short term difficulties.

Robin Newton, the East Belfast DUP MLA and member of Stormont's Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, has welcomed the announcement.

"This is a shot-in-the-arm for many of Northern Ireland's local businesses. I highlight in particular the manufacturing sector which is undergoing a torrid time as demand has collapsed in the current economic climate.

"However, there will be an upturn and it is essential that those businesses with many key skills to help the local economy thrive in the future are assisted where possible to retain staff and plan ahead for sunnier times.

"I would encourage all those eligible companies to ensure they are fully appraised of this new scheme and take advantage of it as soon as it is made available," he said.

(BMcC/JM)

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