CAUSEWAY Enterprise Agency has called upon the NI Assembly to urgently review a decision by Invest NI to award a £5m contract to a Glasgow-based business to deliver the Go for it programme which has been successfully delivered by Enterprise Northern Ireland for the previous two decades.
Jayne Taggart, Chief Executive of Causeway Enterprise Agency, (right) which is one of 32 agencies which make up Enterprise Northern Ireland said She was stunned that by the decision which effectively put local economic development in the hands of a Glasgow-based organisation, potentially threatening local jobs.
Causeway Enterprise Agency has been successfully supporting new and growing businesses for 27 years and has been delivering the Go For It Programme since April 2009.
The results across Enterprise Northern Ireland speak for themselves and since April 2009 the enterprise agencies have collectively delivered 6,686 start-up business plans, produced 73 growth potential businesses in the Invest NI growth pipeline and been able to directly refer 60 businesses to Invest NI.
Since 2009 Causeway Enterprise Agency have provided support to 266 start-up businesses in Coleraine, creating around 426 jobs and contributing £16 million to the local economy.
In addition CEA has worked with and mentored 12 growth businesses to secure them support from Invest NI and have directly referred a further nine businesses to Invest NI. These businesses collectively have the potential to create over 67 new full time jobs and contribute over £9m to the local economy.
According to CEA, the decision by Invest NI discounts the years of experience and networks that have been developed by local enterprise agencies across Northern Ireland. As a result the agencies are calling upon the NI Assembly to urgently review this decision.
Invest NI confirmed last week its intention to award the contract for the Business Start programme to a consortium including the Glasgow-based GO Group and accountancy firm KPMG.
In response, Enterprise NI has confirmed it will “mount a robust challenge” to Invest NI’s decision to award their new business start-up scheme to another provider. Speaking after an emergency board meeting Chairman of Enterprise NI Sandy Smith on behalf of the board issued the following statement: “Having reviewed the procurement procedure and the evaluation process the board has taken legal advice. On the basis of that advice the board is proceeding to advise Central Procurement Directorate of its intention to mount a robust challenge to the decision announced on Tuesday, September 6.”
REFLECTING upon the impact for Coleraine Dr Mark McKinney, Chairperson of Causeway Enterprise Agency commented: “I am both stunned and saddened by Invest NI’s decision to award the contract to a business outside of Northern Ireland.
“ Collectively the enterprise agencies are very successful, leading, key drivers of economic development committed to promoting and supporting strong, sustainable and balanced growth and have been successfully helping individuals and businesses to access support and fulfil their potential for many years.
“In Coleraine CEA achieves this through the provision of a wide range of support programmes targeted at education, the economically inactive, Social Enterprises, start-up businesses and established businesses. Without the funding available through the “Go For It” Programme the support that we provide to start-up businesses will be seriously hampered.
“Causeway Enterprise Agency is a fully independent business support organisation, providing the means by which our local community can respond to opportunities and challenges and do so; on the basis of payment only for results, therefore incur no burden on the ratepayer or taxpayer.
“As a registered charity we provide all training, mentoring and advice at absolutely no cost to the rate payer or indeed the business or individual accessing support. Our board and staff are determined to continue to provide support to local people who want to start a business and will seek to find the means to continue to do so.
“The loss of the Go For It Programme means we will have to seek other income streams in order to provide this support and indeed we will also have the additional challenge of having to compete with a Glasgow based business in order to continue to service our customer base.”
JAYNE Taggart, Chief Executive of Causeway Enterprise Agency is deeply worried about the wider knock on effect in the local Coleraine area:
“We are very concerned about the long term impact that this decision will have on our local economy in Coleraine. The loss of a local delivery is paramount. How will another provider who has no connections with the local community, particularly the hard to reach areas such as our Neighborhood Renewal Areas, the rural community and the long term unemployed succeed in engaging such people?
“Many of the individuals who avail of the support through the Start Up Programme are vulnerable and lack confidence as a result of lifestyle changes but already have a relationship with the staff of their local LEA and are more willing to come along and participate in programmes and ask for advice with the added benefit of continuing that relationship and receiving on going advice and support free of charge post completion of training.
“Consultants who are not local to the area and have no vested interest with the community will struggle to engage the same numbers that the LEAs would achieve and this will ultimately impact negatively in terms of new businesses created, job created and the wealth contribution to the area. Causeway Enterprise Agency is a major local asset and an integral part of Coleraine’s social economy.
“Supporting new start-up companies constitutes the core of why it exists as an organisation and being faced with the situation of no longer being the first point of contact in Coleraine for Business Start Support has major implications, not only in terms of loss of jobs and income but the roll on effect in terms of no longer having a source of referrals for other pre-start and business development initiatives and the workspace provision is of great concern.
“This decision has the potential to threaten the sustainability of services the organisation offers in promoting economic development for the area and will certainly impact on the social capital investment the agency contributes to the borough.”
Not to be defeated by the loss of the programme Jayne and her team are determined to continue to provide support to the local area. Jayne offers some reassurance.
“The majority of our clients come to us through recommendation or because they know that the enterprise agencies are here to support them. I have no doubt that we will continue to receive enquiries from our local community and we will most certainly not be turning them away.
“We employ seven specialist front-end delivery staff with years of experience who will continue to provide help and support for local people who want to start up or grow their business. Our results over the last 27 years and most recently in the last 30 months prove that Causeway Enterprise Agency can and have made a real difference to both our local economy and the NI economy as a whole and we are committed to continuing to provide this support for years to come.”
SPEAKING on behalf of Causeway Chamber of Commerce, President James Smyth expressed concern over the decision stating: “Causeway Chamber of Commerce is deeply concerned to learn that Invest NI proposes to award the delivery of their very successful ‘Go For It’ business start-up programme to an organisation based in Scotland.
“Ironically, the consequence of this decision would be that Invest NI will abandon their current providers, the Enterprise Agency network in Northern Ireland who by their professionalism have contributed in no small measure to developing the programme to the high level of excellence which it enjoys today. Chamber supports the principle of open competition and free enterprise but is, however, apprehensive that the award of this contract to an agency based outside Northern Ireland would mean that, as far as this territory is concerned, this organisation would be a start-up organisation themselves!
“Locally we would be very concerned first of all about the impact this decision would have on Causeway Enterprise Agency, particularly in relation to a loss of local jobs at a very difficult time for the local economy. Secondly, we are very concerned that any new provision may be carried out by ‘parachuting’ providers in for the delivery of the necessary programmes, thus losing the constant presence and on-going hand-holding capacity which is currently available and which we consider to be essential at critical times in the early life of a fledgling business.”
Emma Gunes, who recently lifted the Chamber Business Award for Best New Business, set up her recruitment business “Epitome” with the support of the team at CEA and the Go for it programme, said:
Emma said: “I am horrified that Invest NI whose logo says “Building Locally” have awarded this contract to a business outside of Northern Ireland, surely that goes completely against their own strategy and branding, it’s hypocrisy.
CAUSEWAY Enterprise Agency met with MLA’s at Stormont last Monday and has called upon their support to engage DETI to urgently review a decision by Invest NI to award the £5m contract to a Glasgow-based business to deliver the Go for it programme..
Independent MLA, David McClarty, said: “This is an absolutely disgraceful decision where no account whatsoever was taken of the tremendous track record of Causeway Enterprise in creating jobs in the area. Causeway Enterprise is indigenous to the area and committed both professionally and emotionally to the well-being of this region.”
DUP Assemblyman, Adrian McQuillan, said: “The decision by Invest NI to award the ‘Go For It’ Programme to a Scottish base company, to me seems quite ridiculous as Invest NI should be doing exactly what it says on the tin – investing in Northern Ireland base companies. The Causeway Enterprise Agency has all the necessary community network in place and also a proven track record when it comes to helping new businesses set up in the Coleraine Borough.” Council.
“I’m particularly worried about the rural and disadvantaged wards within the borough where the Causeway Enterprise Agency have built up strong links over the years by sitting on various boards and community organisations. I can’t see the Scottish firm getting involved to this extent and if they do it will take years to build up the equivalent type of relationships.”