Minister of Economy – NI Assembly Questions

NOTE: Questions are ordered by date answered – You can search all questions at Questions Search (niassembly.gov.uk)

JULY 2024

ReferenceDate Member Question and Answer
AQW 13859/22-2726.06.2024Mr Daniel McCrossan
(SDLP – West Tyrone)
To ask the Minister for the Economy, pursuant to AQW 11634/22-27, for an update on discussions to extend the Wild Atlantic Way to Northern Ireland.

Answer – 01.07.2024
I met Minister Martin on 24 June and officials were tasked with examining how regional branding, including extending the Wild Atlantic Way to Northern Ireland, could be progressed. Officials have been tasked with examining further how Failte Ireland branding can be extended to include regions in the North.

JUNE 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 13654/22-2720/06/24Miss Michelle McIlveen (DUP – Strangford)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail the opportunities there are available to support plans by Ards and North Down Borough Council to celebrate the centenary of the Ards TT races in 2028.

Answer 25/06/24I recognise the heritage and importance of the Ards TT Races to the area and understand that Ards & North Down Borough Council are working on plans around centenary celebrations of the event for 2028.

Tourism NI is responsible for the administration of tourism events funding within my Department. Events funding from Tourism NI operates on an annual open call basis, with agreed published criteria, and is dependent on budget availability. Tourism NI would be happy to discuss where they might be able to support from a tourism perspective.
AQT 435/22-2725/06/24Liz Kimmins (SF, Newry and Armagh)Ms Kimmins asked the Minister for the Economy for an update on flood payments, particularly to people in Newry and Armagh.

Answer 25/06/24The schemes are administered by the district councils. The enhanced flood support scheme provides support of up to £100,000 to businesses that are directly flooded, and the flooding hardship scheme payment of £5,000 is for occupants who are not eligible for other supports. There is also a flood hardship payment of £2,500 for small and medium-sized enterprises that were not directly flooded but were unable to access their premises or to trade. Click the above link for the full answer.
AQT 436/22-2724/06/24Sorcha Eastwood (APNI, Lagan Valley)Ms Eastwood asked the Minister for the Economy, acknowledging his awareness that hospitality businesses such as Clenaghan’s in Aghalee, Lagan Valley, an otherwise viable business that had to close its doors, are under considerable strain owing to a perfect storm of high rates, energy prices and skills shortages, what he is doing to address that situation. 

Answer 24/06/24
We are supporting businesses in a range of ways. We continue to provide support to Tourism NI for promoting more visitors coming to areas and therefore availing themselves of hospitality. We recognise that getting skilled employees is one of the biggest challenges. We had a presentation this morning at the North/South Ministerial Council on how the view of hospitality as a part-time job for students but not a career is changing. There is a scheme to promote good employee conditions in hospitality to ensure that more people both join and stay and that they consider it to be a career. We have to provide appropriate courses for hospitality work, ensuring that they give people the right skills to meet the needs of the hospitality industry, and we are talking to the industry about that. We are also working through the tourism agencies to promote the idea of working in hospitality as a career choice rather than something that people go into part-time or while they consider moving on to what they intend to be their career.  
AQO 645/22-2713/06/24Ms Paula Bradshaw (APNI – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy to outline how his Department plans to engage with the newly appointed Belfast City Centre Night Czar.

Answer 24/06/24
The Department recognises the importance of a thriving night-time economy in ensuring that our towns and cities are attractive places in which to live, work and invest and to visit. My Department is exploring how it can best support the night-time economy. Engaging with the relevant stakeholders, such as the newly appointed night czar, Michael Stewart, in Belfast, will be an integral part of that process. My Department has contacted Michael to arrange a meeting. Click the above link for the full answer.

The availability of taxis at night time and inclusion of the hospitality sector in the Tourism Partnership Board was discussed within this question.
AQO 644/22-27Mr Alan Robinson (DUP – East Londonderry)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of how the Stendhal Festival, Limavady has contributed to the economy since its inception.

Answer 24/06/24
Tourism NI has provided significant financial support to the Stendhal Festival in recent years, amounting to £58,000 for the past five years in which the festival has taken place. Data in relation to the performance of events supported under the national tourism event sponsorship scheme is provided by event organisers as part of their post-event evaluation. Data on the performance of the event since its inception is not available, as funding has not been provided for every year of the event since its inception. However, I have no doubt that music events such as the Stendhal Festival encourage visitors to explore more of the North by providing authentic and positive cultural experiences in dramatic landscapes. Click the link above for the full answer.
AQW 13279/22-2712/06/24Ms Diane Forsythe (DUP – South Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy, pursuant to AQW 11884/22-27, where the remainder of the £10 million flooding support package, which was not awarded to businesses, will be allocated to.

Answer 24/06/24
My officials are currently exploring options for utilising any remaining funds to assist those local economies impacted by the flooding in October/November 2023.
AQO 647/22-2713/06/2024Ms Claire Sugden
(IND – East Londonderry)
To ask the Minister for the Economy to outline what measures he can take to address staff shortages in hospitality businesses along the North Coast.

Answer 24/06/2024
I met with Hospitality Ulster earlier this month to help launch its guide to recruiting the over 50s, developed in partnership with Tourism NI. We discussed issues around staff recruitment and retention and how my Department can support the hospitality sector to have the right people with the right skills. Tourism NI delivers numerous interventions to support businesses recruit and retain good people. The most visible, the ‘Make It Here’ campaign, highlights the many positives of this sector.
I am delighted to see many businesses sign up to the Wellbeing Promise, a commitment for hospitality employers to create a positive working environment. Furthermore, I have directed Tourism NI to develop an Employers Excellence Programme, supporting tourism & hospitality businesses create excellent workplaces offering good jobs.
My Department is also progressing the creation of bespoke Tourism & Hospitality Academies. Last year, the Skill Up programme delivered “Get into Hospitality”, enabling participants to gain practical experience and an accreditation.
AQW 13051/22-2706/06/24Mr Justin McNulty (SDLP – Newry and Armagh)To ask the Minister for the Economy, pursuant to AQW 10795/22-27, for an update on the establishment of a Tourism Partnership Board.

Answer 19/06/24
I recently met with my officials to discuss membership of the Tourism Partnership Board. Once finalised, letters of invitation will issue and the inaugural meeting of the Partnership Board will be scheduled as soon as possible thereafter.
AQW 13370/22-2713/06/24Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail the number of film or television productions filmed in Northern Ireland in each of the last five years.

Answer 19/06/24 The number of film or television productions filmed here in each of the last five years is detailed in the attached link.
AQW 12863/22-2703/06/24Mr Justin McNulty (SDLP – Newry and Armagh)To ask the Minister for the Economy what recourse is available for businesses with grievances in relation to the administration of flood recovery funding.

Answer 12/06/24
The flood recovery funding is being provided through three council run schemes. Those applicants who have been declined funding will be notified of the appeals process in their rejection letter. Any other grievance in relation to the administration of the schemes should be directed to the relevant local council.
AQW 11884/22-2714/05/24Ms Diane Forsythe (DUP – South Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy for an update on how much of the Enhanced Flood Support Scheme has been awarded to those affected by the flooding in 2023.

Answer 11/06/24
The councils are administering the Enhanced Flood Support Scheme. As of the 10th June Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has advised the Department they have issued letters of offer to 29 businesses to the value of £1.7m. Funding has been transferred from the Department to the council. Payments will be made to businesses once they have submitted a signed letter of offer along with any required documentation. Council have advised they have begun making payments to eligible businesses.
AQW 12734/22-27
AND
AQW 12733/22-27
30/05/24Mr Daniel McCrossan (SDLP – West Tyrone)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail the economic benefit of festivals to the economy in each of the last five years.

AND

To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail the actions his Department is taking to support festivals.

Answer 10/06/24
Tourism NI is responsible for the administration of tourism events funding within my Department.

Events funding from Tourism NI operates on an annual open call basis. The key objectives of Tourism NI’s Tourism Events Funding Programme (TEFP) are to:Enhance the visitor experience.Increase visitor numbers and spend.Develop a positive international profile.Generate increased bednights.Elongate the tourism season.

Tourism NI is not a core funder of events, therefore applications for financial assistance must evidence how the funding will be utilised to generate additional tourism benefits and maximise on the key objectives of the TEFP.
Since 2019, Tourism NI has provided over £1.6m of financial assistance to festivals that contain elements of musical programming, for example the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.Tourism NI has also supported funded event and festival organisers with skills development and capacity building through one-to-one mentoring, and masterclasses on topics such as delivering environmentally sustainable events and developing commercial opportunities.
As music festivals are largely privately held and funded events there is no single source of data on their economic impact in the North over the past five years.

Music festivals are however considerable economic drivers, providing a much-needed boost for our local tourism and hospitality industry and employ thousands of people each year. Recent examples of this are last year’s Belsonic festival in Ormeau Park and Emerge Music Festival, held at Boucher playing fields, which between them attracted 200,000 paid attendees, with substantial numbers of customers travelling to the events, and some coming from as far away as Australia, USA and mainland Europe. These two events also generated additional economic activity amounting to £30.8 million and created almost 6,000 paid employment opportunities, according to an independent report.
AQW 12942/22-2704/06/24Mr Justin McNulty (SDLP – Newry and Armagh)To ask the Minister for the Economy (i) for an update on his engagement with the UK government in relation to the electronic travel authorisation (ETA); and (ii) for his assessment of the ETA’s impact on the tourism sector.

Answer 10/06/24
I am concerned about the impact of the introduction of the British Government’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Scheme on our tourism sector. I see it as a real risk to the huge growth potential for tourism here.

For that reason, I wrote to Tom Pursglove MP, the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border at the British Home Office on 26 April 2024 to seek an urgent meeting to discuss my concerns and to find solutions that would protect our tourism industry such as an exemption for tourists crossing the land border into the north. I have had no response to my letter, and we are now into the pre-election period ahead of the British General Election. I intend to write again to the relevant British Home Office Minister when one is appointed after the election next month.

Tourism is performing extremely well with the number of external overnight visitors quadrupling between 1998 and 2019. Seamless all-island travel is key to this growth. In 2019, international visitors (who will require an ETA when introduced) contributed £220 million to the local economy and it is this expenditure that could be impacted by the introduction of the ETA scheme.
AQW 12960/22-2704/06/24Ms Sorcha Eastwood (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for the Economy what further action will he take, in partnership with the Minister of Finance, to support small hospitality businesses.

Answer 10/06/24
Small hospitality businesses play a vital role in our tourism sector and the economy more broadly. I recognise the importance of small hospitality businesses in delivering a regionally balanced economy, which is one of my Department’s key priorities.

I am aware one of the key current challenges for these businesses is rising energy costs. Hence, my Department is taking steps to support businesses through delivery of the Executive’s ‘Path to Net Zero Energy’ Strategy, a key objective being to ensure that all consumers have access to essential and affordable energy. Tourism NI provides a suite of advisory supports to help tourism and hospitality businesses reduce costs, improve productivity and be more sustainable, including Leaner and Greener, and Innovate Tourism.
The topic of hospitality and VAT has recently been debated in the Assembly and I know that the Department of Finance has repeatedly raised with the Treasury the negative impacts on hospitality of high levels of VAT. I will continue to engage with the Minister for Finance to push for reform of the VAT rate for our hospitality industry.

In March this year, I met with the NI Tourism Alliance to discuss concerns about the introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation Scheme. My Department is also actively working to establish a Tourism Partnership Board, involving Executive Departments, tourism and hospitality representatives and local authorities. The Tourism Partnership Board will develop and oversee an action plan to grow our local tourism sector.
AQW 12876/22-2707/06/24Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy how many meetings he has sought with the Home Secretary, or other UK government ministers, to discuss the effects of the electronic travel authorisation on tourism and the wider Northern Ireland economy.

Answer 07/06/24I am concerned about the impact of the introduction of the British Government’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Scheme on our tourism sector.

For that reason, I wrote to Tom Pursglove MP, the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border at the British Home Office on 26 April 2024 to seek an urgent meeting to discuss my concerns and to find solutions that would protect our tourism industry such as an exemption for tourists crossing the land border into the north. I copied this letter to Chris Heaton-Harris MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Julia Lopez MP, the Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

I have had no response to my letter, and we are now into the pre-election period ahead of the British General Election. I intend to write again to the relevant British Home Office Minister when one is appointed after the election next month.
AQO 500/22-2723/05/24Mr Nick Mathison (APNI – Strangford)To ask the Minister for the Economy, further to the framework Developing a More Strategic Approach to 14-19 Education and Training, when will the agreed measures of success for the 14-19 landscape be published.

Answer 03/06/24
The 14-19 framework is a joint endeavour between my Department and the Department of Education. The Minister of Education and I have met to discuss our approach to the work and our shared priorities, taking account of the current education and skills environment. As a first step, we have prioritised careers as a priority area for delivery and have tasked officials from our Departments to produce a joint programme of work. That indicates our commitment to collaboration in the interests of young people. On the wider framework, the Minister of Education and I will be considering how best to prioritise the other elements of the framework, building on that collaborative approach and using insights from stakeholders on the ground. For the full answer, click the link above.
AQO 503/22-2723/05/24Mr David Brooks (DUP – East Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy to outline the work her Department is carrying out to ensure universities and further education colleges work together to offer qualifications that are not competitive but complementary to each other.

Answer 03/06/24
I agree that our universities and colleges should work
collaboratively to deliver the best outcomes for learners. It is also important to recognise that schools and community-based providers play an important role in ensuring a joined-up and effective education sector. In order to ensure that colleges and universities in particular work together in a complementary and not competitive manner, the tertiary education senior leaders’ forum has been established. It provides a place for senior leaders from my Department, the Department of Education, further education colleges and higher education institutions to come together to consider strategic matters of common interest, including qualifications. The forum’s core purpose is to foster greater collaboration among all those involved in education post compulsory school age and to help move towards a more coherent tertiary education sector.
AQO 501/22-2723/05/24Mrs Diane Dodds (DUP – Upper Bann)To ask the Minister for the Economy to outline what schemes are being made available to assist businesses to meet climate change targets.

Answer 03/06/24
I recognise the need to assist businesses to meet our climate change targets. My Department is working with Invest NI to deliver financial support for businesses through a new scaled phase of its energy and resource efficiency programme. The main part of that programme is the energy efficiency capital grant scheme, which was announced in early May and is open for applications across a wide range of businesses that meet the scheme criteria. I have committed £40 million to the scheme, which will run until 2030, providing essential support for businesses to reduce emissions while also creating economic opportunities in the green economy. For the full answer, click the link above.
AQO 499/22-2723/05/24Ms Liz Kimmins (SF – Newry and Armagh)To ask the Minister for the Economy for an update on the flood compensation payments.

Answer 03/06/24
Local councils are responsible for making payments under the flood relief schemes funded by the Department for the Economy. There were 108 applications to the enhanced flood scheme across two councils. As of 3 June, the councils have issued letters of offer to 27 businesses, with a value of £1·601 million. To date, payments of £310,000 have been made to 22 businesses. Further payments will be made to businesses on receipt of a signed letter of offer and any required documentation to evidence costs. For the full answer, click the link above.

MAY 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 12090/22-2716/05/24Ms Sorcha Eastwood (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether she intends to develop a new lifelong learning project and action plan as outlined in Recommendation 28 of the Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland.

Answer 24/05/24
A culture of Lifelong Learning is critical to the achievement of my economic vision; officials have been engaging with the Alliance for Lifelong Learning to consider how best my department can work with partners in support of this ambition.
AQW 11855/22-2714/05/24Mr John Blair (APNI – South Antrim)To ask the Minister for the Economy what steps her Department is taking to promote tourism in the South Antrim constituency.

Answer 23/05/24
Tourism NI (TNI) has regularly promoted the South Antrim Area through its seasonal marketing campaigns which are targeted to specific market segments based on extensive research. One of the most recent pieces of promotional activity was the launch of a major Spring advertising campaign on 22 January 2024 which ran until 31 March. The campaign featured TV, radio, press, press supplements, outdoor, social and digital advertising, all underpinned by a comprehensive PR strategy. South Antrim featured specifically in Causeway Coastal Route press advertorials as well as a 24-page supplement and bespoke radio stings.

Planning is in train for the next campaign due to take place in autumn, and with regional balance one of my key priorities, TNI will ensure that regions are featured.On the DiscoverNorthernIreland.com website, TNI continually promotes County Antrim related content, with a dedicated landing page, of which Antrim Castle Gardens has featured as the lead image since the Spring’24 campaign. In total there are 215 tourism products in the South Antrim area featured on Discovernorthernireland.com.

TNI also works with its partner Tourism Ireland to host international media, with South Antrim featuring regularly in many media itineraries, including the influencer Jordan Ezra of the Daily Telegraph who has more than 200K followers. Influencers Tom Trotter and Rhiannon Bailey also recently stayed at the Rabbit Hotel as part of their media itinerary.TNI has an ongoing programme of PR activity North and South, with tourism businesses and visitor experiences from South Antrim regularly promoted in PR content, media trips, and Feature profiling. There is a media familiarisation trip to the South with a journalist from the Irish Sun planned to the area in July 2024.

TNI also works closely with the tourism industry in South Antrim and across the North to support the development of engaging and immersive tourism experiences.
AQW 12012/22-2715/05/24Ms Sorcha Eastwood (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether the tourism action plan, which is under development, will be fully costed.

Answer 23/05/23
I intend to publish a Tourism Vision and accompanying 10-Year Action Plan that will be co-designed and co-delivered with the industry. The Tourism Partnership Board will make recommendations to me on the final Vision and Action Plan, to help ensure alignment with my Department’s and the Executive’s broader economic plans. The Action Plan will be subject to the constraints of my Department’s budget allocation.

There is currently only a single year budget. Within that, I have already made allocations to take forward key actions that I envisage being part of my Action Plan. I have allocated over £18.5m to ensure that my Department meets its funding commitment to our delivery partner Tourism Ireland, who is tasked with promoting Ireland as a destination for international visitors. I have also allocated £500k to Tourism NI to allow it to extend the Employer Excellence Programme into the North.
AQW 11723/22-2710/05/24Ms Connie Egan (APNI – North Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy (i) whether funding for the Skill Up Programme will be made available in the 2024-25 financial year; and (ii) for an update on the evaluation the 2023-24 Skill Up Programme.

Answer 22/05/24
Long term strategic investment in our skills system will enable a flourishing economy and I am considering the best means of closing the skills gap, including which associated programmes and funding will best address this.The Post Project Evaluation of the three-year Skill Up programme will be completed by 30th June 2024.
AQW 11407/22-2707/05/24Mr Alan Chambers (UUP – North Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of the current hotel capacity to meet future demands of tourism for bed nights.

Answer 20/05/24
Current hotel accommodation capacity is 143 hotels, with 9,637 bedrooms, offering a combined total of 21,173 bedspaces. Occupancy has come back to pre-pandemic levels, reaching 74.4% in 2023.

In terms of new developments, there are currently nine projects that are on site. Approved projects may get underway in 2024 but are unlikely to start trading before 2025. There are likely to be around 200 rooms coming into the market in 2024, a rise of 2% and the same level as 2023.

Forecasting the future beyond 2024 and giving any meaningful figure on hotel numbers is difficult, particularly as the last number of years have been so unpredictable. The NI Hotels Federation anticipate that the sector will grow and advise that not all projects will come to fruition but there are opportunities and keen interest in investing. Growth will be driven by the Private Sector and will bring more jobs, help transform local communities and produce economic wealth.

As part of my Tourism Vision and Action Plan I will support the development of more hotels outside of Belfast. Following the review of Invest NI, my Department is working with Invest NI and Tourism NI to transfer the responsibility for providing capital support for new tourist accommodation from Invest NI to Tourism NI. As part of this process, I will be reviewing my Department’s policy for this support to ensure that we can meet the future demands of tourism for high quality accommodation across the North.
AQW 12013/22-2715/05/24Ms Sorcha Eastwood (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether the tourism action plan, which is under development, will be cross-departmental.

Answer 20/05/24
Membership of the Tourism Partnership Board will be drawn from relevant Executive Departments as well as representatives of the tourism sector and the hospitality industry, and local government. This will enable cross-departmental engagement on relevant issues as part of the co-design approach to developing the Tourism Action Plan.
AQW 11758/22-2710/05/24Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy for her assessment of the proposed policy of securing United States of America immigration pre-clearance services at Belfast International Airport.

Answer 20/05/24
As civil aviation is a reserved matter, my officials have explored with the Department for Transport (DfT) the possibility of extending pre-clearance services to the North of Ireland. They advised that the decision on whether to operate such facilities at airports overseas ultimately rests with the US authorities.

The British government has committed to entering into exploratory talks with the United States Administration on the options for introducing pre-clearance checks on customs and immigration for passengers travelling on direct flights from Belfast International Airport to destinations in the USA.
AQW 11259/22-2702/05/24Ms Cara Hunter(SDLP – East Londonderry)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail (i) the number of nightclubs that have closed in the last ten years; and (ii) any measures he is putting in place to create a vibrant and thriving night-time economy.

Answer 17/05/24
My department does not hold specific information regarding the number of nightclub closures in the past ten years.

I do understand the importance of a thriving night-time economy to our hospitality sector, our tourism industry and our wider high street economy with approximately 57,000 jobs in the accommodation and food service sectors. Whilst we are constrained by the challenging budget we have available there is still much we can do to assist these vital sectors.

Tourism NI’s destination marketing campaigns support a vibrant night- time economy by bringing in visitors who are likely to visit bars, restaurants etc and provide additional support to this sector throughout the year. This includes a suite of advisory supports to help tourism and hospitality businesses reduce costs, improve productivity and be more sustainable, including Leaner and Greener, and Innovate Tourism.

The level of VAT is also a specific issue for the hospitality sector, and I know that the Finance Minister has repeatedly raised with the Treasury the negative impacts on hospitality of high levels of VAT.
AQW 11273/22-2702/05/24Mr Stephen Dunne (DUP – North Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail any engagement he has had with VisitBritain in relation to his plans to grow Northern Ireland’s tourism industry.

Answer 17/05/24Tourism NI has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in place with VisitBritain covering both consumer and business tourism promotional activities and collaborative corporate workstreams.

Last year the North was featured in 51 pieces of promotional media coverage generated by VisitBritain, as well as hosting specific web pages promoting the North as a tourism destination as part of the relaunched VisitBritain website.

Tourism NI works with VisitBritain to promote local tourism experience providers through the VisitBritain Shop, an online sales platform which features visitor attractions and experiences.

Some local visitor attractions and experiences also partnered with VisitBritain in 2023 on a number of marketing and sales campaigns. Tourism NI also cooperate with VisitBritain through its participation on some regional operational boards and in knowledge sharing across a number of business areas including marketing, business development and data analyticsTourism NI, alongside Visit Belfast and Visit Derry, participated in the VisitBritain Business Events Association Conference in February 2024. This was an opportunity to promote and sell the North as a leading international conference destination.

Both Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland are currently working in collaboration with VisitBritain to produce an Accessibility and Inclusivity Toolkit which will support a consistent approach to presenting accessibility information to consumers across Britain and Ireland.
AQW 11634/22-2709/05/24Mr Daniel McCrossan (SDLP – West Tyrone)To ask the Minister for the Economy for an update on discussions to extend the Wild Atlantic Way to Northern Ireland.

Answer 17/05/24
Discussions are ongoing and it is not yet possible to provide a definitive timeline.
AQW 11663/22-27

AND

AQW 11660/22-27
09/05/24Ms Cheryl Brownlee (DUP – East Antrim)

AND

Mr Matthew O’Toole(SDLP – South Belfast)
To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail any financial support available for the hospitality sector in light of the increasing costs businesses are facing. [Priority Written]

AND

To ask the Minister for the Economy whether his Department is working on an intervention to financially support hospitality businesses. [Priority Written]

Answer 15/05/24 and Answer 15/05/24
I understand the importance of the hospitality sector for both our tourism industry and the high street economy, with approximately 57,000 jobs in the accommodation and food service sector.

Addressing the challenges of rising costs cuts across several areas of government, including the Department for Communities and local councils. My Department is taking steps to support businesses through delivery of the Executive’s ‘Path to Net Zero Energy’ Strategy, a key objective being to ensure that all consumers have access to essential and affordable energy. Tourism NI provides a suite of advisory supports to help tourism and hospitality businesses reduce costs, improve productivity and be more sustainable, including Leaner and Greener, and Innovate Tourism.

The level of VAT is also a specific issue, and I know that the Department of Finance has repeatedly raised with the Treasury the negative impacts on hospitality of high levels of VAT.
AQW 11464/22-2707/05/24Mr Justin McNulty (SDLP – Newry and Armagh)To ask the Minister for the Economy to provide a timeline for the inclusion of the North in (i) Ireland’s Ancient East; and (ii) the Wild Atlantic Way. [Priority Written]

Answer 14/05/24
Discussions are ongoing and it is not yet possible to provide a definitive timeline.
AQW 11260/22-2702/05/24Ms Diane Forsythe(DUP – South Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy, given the frequent announcements of closures of hospitality businesses, what plans he has to support the hospitality sector.

Answer 14/05/24
I understand the importance of the hospitality sector for both our tourism industry and the high street economy.
Addressing these challenges cuts across several areas of government, including the Department for Communities and local councils. My Department is taking steps to support such businesses through delivery of the Executive’s Path to Net Zero Energy Strategy, a key objective being to ensure that all consumers, including small businesses, have access to essential and affordable energy.

The level of VAT is an additional issue for the sector. The Department of Finance has repeatedly raised with the Treasury the negative impact of high levels of VAT on the hospitality sector, and these representations will continue.

While town centre regeneration is a matter for the Department for Communities, the recommendations of the High Street Taskforce are also relevant as successful hospitality businesses are important features of vibrant town centres. I therefore intend to work with Executive colleagues to consider the High Street Task Force recommendations to move this agenda forwards.
AQW 11185/22-2701/05/24Dr Steve Aiken OBE (UUP – South Antrim)To ask the Minister for the Economy what discussions he has had with the Home Office in relation to the implementation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme.

Answer 13/05/24
I refer to my Answer to AQW 10297/22-27 on 30 April 2024.
AQW 11297/22-2702/05/24Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for the Economy for a breakdown of (i) the organisations whose bids were successful to the International Tourism Events Fund 2024-25; and; (ii) the total funding allocated to each organisation.

Answer 13/05/24
Twenty one (21) applications were received to the scheme and have now progressed through a competitive scoring and assessment process. Notifications of the outcome were sent to 13 successful and 8 unsuccessful applicants on 1 May 2024. Funding requests were received totalling £1,430,000, against a projected scheme budget of £650,000.

Tourism NI will not be in a position to confirm awards until all Letters of Offer to successful applicants have been accepted, signed, and returned as per the usual process. Once all Letters of Offer have been finalised, a full list of successful organisations and the funding allocated to each will be published on www.tourismni.com/events.
AQW 11300/22-2702/05/24Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether he will work with other Departments to secure funding for the Foyle Cup 2024. [Priority Written]

Answer 13/05/24
I understand that Tourism NI (TNI) has offered to meet the organisers of the Foyle Cup to discuss the development potential of The Foyle Cup, and how TNI may support it to progress as a tourism experience that motivates international visitors to travel to attend.
AQW 10933/22-2726/04/24Mr Daniel McCrossan (SDLP – West Tyrone)To ask the Minister for the Economy, following the publication of the Budget 2024-25, for an update on the Derry City and Strabane City Deal.

Answer 13/05/24
The Derry and Strabane City Deal will play a key role in supporting regional balance and I want to see delivery of the Deal accelerated. Officials from my Department are supporting the Council and its partners to progress projects with the aim that the final stage of the Deal will be signed this summer.
AQW 10698/22-2723/05/24Mr Stephen Dunne (DUP – North Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail the action his Department is taking to promote golf tourism.

Answer 13/05/24
The value of golf tourism to the North in 2023 was £68.2 million. This has been achieved by promoting golf tourism at trade shows and directly to the consumer through various marketing channels.

Over the past 12 months Tourism NI (TNI), working in partnership with Tourism Ireland (TI), has undertaken consumer marketing including digital, print and in-person promotion in all target markets.

TNI also regularly runs consumer campaigns in partnership with major online golf travel agencies such as YourGolfTravel, GolfNow and GolfBreaks to encourage golfers to take short breaks here.The agencies’ golf teams are regularly present on promotional stands at USPGA and DP World Tour events with a focus on promoting golf in the North directly to golfing audiences in the US, UK, Europe and UAE markets, as well as attending targeted trade shows in the same markets. The agencies are also joined by representatives from local golf clubs, tour operators and accommodation providers.

Golf Influencers with large social followings are also used to promote the destination and golf product directly to golfing audiences in the USA, Britain and Europe.In October 2023, TNI hosted the International Association of Golf Tour Operators “Golf in Ireland” Convention at The Ebrington Hotel in Derry, pairing forty international golf tour operators with forty local golf partners, as part of a 3-day familiarisation trip.

Finally, my Department has provided TNI with the funding necessary to secure the return of the Irish Open to Royal County Down this year and the British Open next year, which will further promote the North as a world class golfing destination to large global audiences.
AQW 10920/22-2726/04/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail any discussions he has had since taking to office aimed at securing direct flights between Northern Ireland and the United States of America.

Answer 13/05/24
An important element of the Air Connectivity Research, commissioned by my Department, was direct engagement with a broad range of stakeholders, including local airports, key airlines, InvestNI and tourism organisations to identify and assess what our strategic objectives and policy levers should be going forward in the current highly constrained budget operating environment. My Department consistently looks for ways we can enhance and support our air connectivity, and in addition Tourism Ireland (TI) continues to provide co-operative marketing support to airlines operating to all three of our local airports.
AQW 10727/22-2723/04/24Miss Michelle McIlveen (DUP – Strangford)To ask the Minister for the Economy for an update on what his Department is doing to support neighbourhood tourism.

Answer 03/05/24
In November 2023, my Department published a draft 10 Year Plan for Tourism in the North. Neighbourhood tourism, sometimes known as community tourism, supports several key themes in this plan and my priority to promote regional balance across the North.

There are a wide range of actions being undertaken by Tourism NI (TNI) to deliver against this theme. For instance, long-term funding has been provided to the Mourne and Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trusts to undertake community tourism activities in their areas.Collaboration with Councils and other tourism partners underpins much of this work. As part of TNI’s Service Level Agreement with Visit Belfast, for example, a series of activities are being delivered to encourage visitors to explore the City’s neighbourhoods more fully, thereby extending stays and spreading the benefits of tourism.

The Strangford Lough tourism cluster is also a notable example of community tourism. Initially funded by Invest NI, the cluster has brought together local community representatives, tourism businesses and other agencies to develop the visitor product and drive additional visits and spend in the area. TNI is working with Councils and other stakeholders to explore how the cluster can continue to help the area flourish as a sustainable destination.

I anticipate that neighbourhood tourism will be a key topic for discussion and joint action at the new Tourism Partnership Board which I announced at TNI’s flagship conference earlier this month.
AQW 10699/22-2723/04/24Mr Stephen Dunne (DUP – North Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy what action his Department is taking to promote the North Down coastal path as part of Northern Ireland’s tourist offering.

Answer 02/05/24
Tourism NI (TNI) has regularly promoted North Down as a region through its seasonal marketing campaigns, targeted at specific market segments based on extensive research. One of the most recent pieces of promotional activity was the launch of a major Spring advertising campaign on 22 January 2024 which ran until 31 March.

The campaign featured TV, radio, press, press supplements, outdoor, social and digital advertising, all underpinned by a comprehensive PR strategy. Planning is in train for the next campaign due to take place in autumn, and with regional balance one of TNI’s key priorities, North Down will again be featured.

TNI also works with its partner Tourism Ireland (TI) to host international media, with North Down featuring regularly in many media itineraries. The North Down Coastal path was featured in the itinerary of a recent media fam trip in February 2024, undertaken by the ‘Curious Pixie’, a GB travel influencer whose website and content are viewed in over 120 countries.

TNI has an ongoing programme of PR activity, with tourism businesses and visitor experiences from North Down regularly featuring in PR content, media trips, and commissioned TV programmes on Virgin Media TV. One recent example an Irish Times article commissioned by TNI, called ‘Leap into a romantic getaway in Northern Ireland’. The North Down Coastal Path was specifically mentioned as a ‘must see’ place to visit.

TNI also works closely with the tourism industry in North Down and across the North to support the development of engaging and immersive tourism experiences.
AQW 10679/22-2723/05/24Ms Claire Sugden(IND – East Londonderry)To ask the Minister for the Economy what steps he is considering to assist hospitality businesses that are struggling due to the significant number of such businesses, particularly on the north coast.

Answer 01/05/24 
I understand the importance of the hospitality sector for our tourism industry, particularly on the north coast, and recognise that rising costs represent a challenge at this time.Addressing these challenges cuts across several areas of government, including the Department for Communities and local councils. My Department is taking steps to support such businesses through delivery of the Executive’s Path to Net Zero Energy Strategy, a key objective being to ensure that all consumers, including small businesses, have access to essential and affordable energy. The level of VAT is an additional issue for the sector. The Department of Finance has repeatedly raised with the Treasury the negative impact of high levels of VAT on the hospitality sector, and these representations will continue.

While town centre regeneration is a matter for the Department for Communities, the recommendations of the High Street Taskforce are also relevant as successful hospitality businesses are important features of vibrant town centres. I therefore intend to work with Executive colleagues to consider the High Street Task Force recommendations to move this agenda forwards.

APRIL 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 10531/22-2719/04/24Ms Sorcha Eastwood (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for the Economy, pursuant to AQW 7199/22-27, why the new Careers Portal is taking so long to be delivered.

Answer 30/04/24
The development of a new Careers Portal is an ambitious and complex IT enabled system transformation project. Successful delivery will help every part of the careers system to work together and improve access to high quality careers information and services.The project commenced with the allocation of resource to establish a project team in December 2023. The projected timescales are in line with industry best practice for a capital project of this complexity.
AQW 10297/22-2717/04/24Dr Steve Aiken OBE (UUP – South Antrim)To ask the Minister for the Economy (i) what discussions he has had with the Home Office over the forthcoming introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA); and (ii) whether his officials have made an assessment of the impact the ETA will have on tourism spend.

Answer 30/04/24
I am concerned about the impact of the introduction of the British Government’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Scheme on our tourism sector. I see it as a real risk to the huge growth potential for tourism here. I have met with the NI Tourism Alliance to discuss this vital issue and to hear at first hand the industry’s concerns.

I have written to Tom Pursglove MP, the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border at the British Home Office to seek an urgent meeting to discuss solutions that would protect our tourism industry.

With the British Government’s intentions to roll-out their ETA Scheme in full by early 2025, my officials alongside those in both Tourism Ireland and Tourism NI are engaged with the British Home Office in its development and roll-out of a targeted and bespoke communication strategy, particular to island of Ireland travel. Communication on the scheme needs to be delivered appropriately in a bid to minimise visitors being discouraged from visiting either here or potentially the island of Ireland as a whole.

My preference however is that the British Government provides an exemption from the ETA for tourists visiting the North.

In 2019, international visitors (who will require an ETA when introduced) contributed £220 million to the local economy and it is this expenditure that could be impacted by the introduction of the ETA scheme.
AQW 10530/22-2719/04/24Ms Sorcha Eastwood (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether he will develop bespoke skills action plans to support Northern Ireland’s key strategic clusters, as set out by Recommendation 24 of the Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland.

Answer 29/04/24
My officials have been working with two business-led sub-groups of the Northern Ireland Skills Council to develop sector specific skills action plans for the digital and green energy sectors. I anticipate the Digital Skills Action Plan will be published in the coming weeks. The Green Energy Skills Group is working with my officials to develop an action plan, based on the findings of the ‘Skills Required to Transition to a Greener Economy’ Report, which was published in June last year and is available on my Department’s website.Scope remains to develop further sectoral skills action plans.
AQW 10060/22-2712/04/24Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether his Department has made an assessment of the economic cost of the new Electronic Travel Authorisation on the tourism sector.

Answer 29/04/24
I am concerned about the impact of the introduction of the British Government’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Scheme on our tourism sector. I have met with the NI Tourism Alliance to discuss this vital issue and to hear at first hand the industry’s concerns.Tourism is performing extremely well with the number of external overnight visitors quadrupling between 1998 and 2019. Seamless all-island travel is key to this growth.

In 2019, international visitors (who will require an ETA when introduced) contributed £220 million to the local economy and it is this expenditure that could be impacted by the introduction of the ETA scheme.I have written to Tom Pursglove MP, the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border at the British Home Office to seek an urgent meeting to discuss solutions that would protect our tourism industry.
AQO 363/22-2729/04/24Ms Emma Sheerin (SF – Mid Ulster)To ask the Minister for the Economy for an update on a tourism action plan.

Answer 29/04/24
Tourism is truly a success story of the Good Friday Agreement. I see my Department’s role as enabling the industry to continue to grow in a way that aligns with my Economic Vision. It is my intention to bring forward a Tourism Vision and Strategic Action Plan in response to my Department’s recent consultation.At last week’s Tourism NI conference, I announced that to help take this work forward I will establish a Tourism Partnership Board made up of representatives from tourism and hospitality, Executive Departments, and local government.It will help develop and oversee an Action Plan that will be co-designed and co-delivered with the industry.
AQT 233/22-2729/04/24Diane Forsythe (DUP, South Down)Ms Forsythe asked the Minister for the Economy, with the tourism industry having huge, untapped potential for the Northern Ireland economy, to outline the steps that he plans to take in its promotion, while highlighting its top attractions such as the Mourne Mountains.

Answer 29/04/24
I agree with the Member that we could do much more. Some 70% of people employed in the tourism industry are outside Belfast, so support for it certainly adds to regional balance. A consultation document was out, and there has been a lot of feedback on that. We are now setting up a tourism implementation group, which will involve people from tourism, hospitality and other sectors to make sure that we target whatever limited resources we have in the most effective way. I have also been in discussion with the various tourism agencies and with Minister Catherine Martin in the South about the tourism brands that have been very successful. A piece of work has been paid for out of the Shared Island Fund in relation to the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway coast. We also had discussions about the Hidden Heartlands brand that could come up into Fermanagh and Omagh. I know that they are very keen in that area about that. Of course, in the area that the Member and I both represent, Ireland’s Ancient East does not stop at Carlingford lough. The attraction and the central theme of that extends very much into counties Armagh and Down and perhaps beyond into Antrim.

The Minister also mentioned Newry, Mourne and Down District Council moving towards a rebranding of its tourism strategy. The full answer can be found on the link above.
AQT 234/22-2729/04/24Deirdre Hargey (SF, South Belfast)Miss Hargey asked the Minister for the Economy to outline the plans he has to extend Failte Ireland’s tourism brands in the North, taking advantage of the global impacts.

Answer 29/04/24
I have already had conversations with officials. A piece of work is already agreed and funded by the Shared Island Fund to consider linkages in relation to the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway coast. There is scope for looking at the other major brands, Ireland’s Ancient East and the Hidden Heartlands. We are in a conversation about those, and I hope to see some movement there. Of course, we also want to make sure that we talk to people on the ground. There has been a clamour for some of those larger brands to be available. In that, then, we lift not only the level of offering but the understanding of the attraction at national and international level.

The Minister also answered a further question within this in relation to plans for political tourism and local social tourism. The full answer can be found on the link above.
AQO 354/22-27 29/04/24Mr David Honeyford (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for the Economy to outline what action he is taking to address the challenges faced by the hospitality sector as a result of rising costs.

Answer 29/04/24
I understand the importance of the hospitality sector for both the tourism industry and the high street economy, with approximately 57,000 jobs in the accommodation and food service sector. Addressing the challenges of rising costs cuts across several areas of government, including the Department for Communities and local councils. My Department is taking steps to support businesses through delivery of the Executive’s path to net zero energy strategy, a key objective being to ensure that all consumers have access to essential and affordable energy. The level of VAT is also a specific issue.

The Department of Finance has repeatedly raised with the Treasury the negative impacts on hospitality of high levels of VAT. 

Within the response to this question, the Minister stated that he was putting together a tourism implementation group to work on issues that will bring support to tourism and hospitality and that the hospitality sector will be represented on that. He also discussed the tourism partnership board that he is intending to set up and ETA – full answer can be found on the link above. 
AQW 10795/22-2724/04/24Mr Justin McNulty (SDLP – Newry and Armagh)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail (i) when his Department’s tourism strategy was scheduled to be published; and (ii) when it will be published. [Priority Written]

Answer 26/04/24
It is my intention to bring forward a Tourism Action Plan in response to my Department’s recent consultation.At the Tourism NI conference on 23 April, I announced that to help take this work forward I will establish a Tourism Partnership Board made up of representatives from tourism and hospitality, Executive Departments, and local government. It will help develop and oversee an Action Plan that will be co-designed and co-delivered with the industry.
AQW 10099/22-2715/04/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of the findings of Ulster University’s tourism summit.

Answer 25/04/24
Findings in relation to the University of Ulster’s tourism summit in June 2023 have not been shared with the Department for the Economy. Therefore no assessment has been undertaken at this stage.
AQW 9738/22-2709/04/24Mr Daniel McCrossan (SDLP – West Tyrone)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of the figures published by the NI Composite Economic Index, which states that the Northern Ireland economy is 5.6 per cent above its pre-pandemic position, whilst the Republic of Ireland’s economy is 20.5 per cent above its pre-pandemic position.

Answer 23/04/24
The NI Statistics and Research Agency, (who publish NICEI) state that these figures should not be considered as precisely like-for-like. They note that the South’s GDP data (which is the basis of the 20.5% figure) has been volatile over recent years, with the Central Statistics Office (CSO) highlighting the impacts that globalisation and the activities of multinational enterprises have had on Ireland’s GDP figures.
AQW 10063/22-2712/04/24Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether his Department holds data on the number of long haul flight routes operating out of Northern Ireland airports.

Answer 23/04/24
I understand that chartered flights to Orlando, Florida operate on a seasonal basis from Belfast International Airport.

No other long haul flights currently operate from our airports, and therefore no data on the number of long haul flight routes is held the Department.
AQW 10095/22-2715/04/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy how many fines have been issued for the unlawful renting of short-term let tourist accommodation, under the Tourism (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 since 2019, broken down by constituency.

Answer 22/04/24
Since 2019, one fine has been issued by Tourism NI for the unlawful renting of short-term let tourist accommodation under the Tourism (Northern Ireland) Order 1992.This property was in the North Down constituency area.
AQW 5580/22-2706/04/24Mr Patrick Brown (APNI – South Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy on what date will the second phase of flood recovery funding open for businesses. [Priority Written]

Answer 15/04/24
On 21 February I announced details of the support package for businesses affected by recent flooding.

As with the previous Flood Scheme these new schemes will be administered by the local councils. The councils plan to open the Enhanced Flood Support Scheme for applications early next week with the two hardship schemes in the following couple of weeks. Further details on scheme administration, including the eligibility criteria and how to apply, will be provided in the forthcoming week.
AQW 9681/22-2709/04/22Mr Alan Chambers (UUP – North Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether any Northern Ireland tourism initiatives were discussed during the ministerial visit to the United States of America in March 2024.

Answer 15/04/24
I addressed a roundtable business breakfast in New York, organised by Tourism Ireland on 12 March 2024, attended by 20 key travel trade partners (including tour operators and airline contacts). Programming and selling the North as a must-see destination as part of a wider island of Ireland vacation package was the key topic of discussion, with trade partners agreeing that there is significant potential to grow their tourism business here. Discussions also involved upcoming signature events which might attract US visitors, including The Open taking place at Royal Portrush in 2025.
AQW 9739/22-2709/04/24Mr Daniel McCrossan (SDLP – West Tyrone)To ask the Minister for the Economy, further to the figures published by the NI Composite Economic Index which states that economic output decreased by 0.2 per cent over the last quarter, what measures he is taking to stop the economy going into recession.

Answer 16/04/23
It is important to note that, while the latest NI Composite Economic Index showed that economic output in the North decreased by 0.2% over the quarter to December 2023, it has increased by 0.3% over the year. I am now taking a range of steps to address the economic challenges I have identified. My focus on productivity will support stronger sustainable economic growth but, crucially, it is aimed at growth that is shared across all our regions and that supports better working conditions.

I will be publishing actions to deliver on my economic objectives as part of the Department’s business plan for 2024/25. I will also work in collaboration with business representatives, trade unions and academia in pursuit of these aims.
AQW 7580/22-2727/02/24Mr Gary Middleton (DUP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for the Economy what support his Department can provide to local businesses who would like to promote tourism conferences.

Answer 09/04/24
Tourism NI (TNI) work with a range of strategic partners and stakeholders to promote the North as a Business Tourism destination. Through this work, a range of opportunities and supports are available to local businesses targeting this sector including:Representation by TNI and our partners at a range of Business Tourism events and trade shows in national and international markets.Support is available from TNI to allow local industry to attend national and international Business Tourism platforms such as IMEX America / IBTM / The Meetings Show.

Inclusion of local businesses on familiarisation programmes toshowcase their offering to a range of international event organisers.Support and training to local businesses targeting the meetings, incentives, conferencing, and events sector to become market ready.

TNI provides funding to Visit Derry:to implement an annual programme of sales and marketing activity supporting local businesses to secure international conferences to the region.to deliver a Conference Support Scheme to help off-set the costs to organisers hosting a conference in the region.

By working with TNI local businesses can access a range of marketing opportunities such as inclusion on business tourism websites, social media and marketing campaigns.
AQW 7163/22-2721/02/24Mr Jonathan Buckley (DUP – Upper Bann)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of whether a reduction in corporation tax has the potential to attract investment into Northern Ireland and to boost the economy. [Priority Written]

Answer 08/04/24
The Independent Fiscal Commission NI in its Final Report of May 2022 observed that a lower corporation tax rate in the North could impact positively on investment decisions. It also noted that there would have to be agreement on how the block grant is adjusted, so that it would be affordable to the Executive in the short-term. This will be taken forward as part of negotiations on a new Fiscal Framework. It should also be noted that various factors influence investment decisions, including skills and access to markets.
AQW 9304/22-2720/03/23Ms Sorcha Eastwood (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for the Economy, pursuant to AQW 5534/22-27, (i) whether he can commit to the extension of the Skill Up initiative; and (ii) whether this is part of a financial bid to the Department of Finance.

Answer 04/04/24
The Skill Up programme has been a successful initiative and I can confirm that a bid has been submitted as part of the current Budget exercise.
AQW 9170/22-2719/03/24Mr Daniel McCrossan (SDLP – West Tyrone)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail the implications of the objectives of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund not being aligned with the objectives of the predecessor EU funds.

Answer 04/04/24
The Executive is best placed to ensure that funding is prioritised in alignment with our agreed policies and strategies.
The agreed Executive position is that the British Government should fully replace EU funding and give full control of that funding to the Executive. Rather than replicate the activities funded by the EU, we could then ensure delivery against the Executive’s economic strategies, including the key priorities underpinning my Economic Vision. Failure to do so risks misalignment, duplication, sub-optimal outcomes and poor value for money. This is of particular concern given the currrent challenging budgetary position.
AQW 8092/22-2704/03/24Mr Jim Allister KC (TUV – North Antrim)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail the expenditure by Tourism Ireland on hospitality in the last three years.

Answer 03/04/24
The amount of expenditure on hospitality by Tourism Ireland in last 3 years is as follows :2023:£31,101 / €36,048 – 0.035% of the overall Tourism Ireland budget that year2022:£36,608 / €42,568 – 0.039% of the overall Tourism Ireland budget that year2021:£15,352 / €17,646 – 0.019% of the overall Tourism Ireland budget that year.

MARCH 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 8140/22-2711/03/24Mr Alan Chambers (UUP – North Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of the impact of the Shared Skills Academy on the economy.

Answer 19/03/24
Assured Skills academies have had a very positive impact on the local economy, providing industry focused training to individuals, equipping them with the skills required to compete for guaranteed job opportunities in growth sectors.
Since 2011 over 2,900 individuals have benefited from the programme, with over 2,500 individuals gaining full-time employment.
AQO 183/22-2707/03/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of the economic impact of reducing corporation tax.

Answer 19/03/24
Tax is one of several factors that companies consider when making investment decisions. However, the way in which Treasury proposed to deduct funding from the Executive’s block grant, at a time of public spending cuts, meant that reducing Corporation Tax was not affordable.

That will remain the case unless the British Government changes its approach to funding public services and to adjusting the block grant for devolved taxes.In the meantime it is my intention to create an attractive investment proposition for firms by improving skills and by ensuring companies can take full advantage of the dual market access opportunities that exist through the Windsor Framework.
AQO 178/22-2707/03/24Ms Carál Ní Chuilín (SF – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of Assured Skills academies.

Answer 19/03/24
Assured Skills academies are very effective in providing a successful pathway for individuals seeking a new career. Since 2011, 183 academies have been delivered, upskilling more than 2,900 individuals. All those trained were guaranteed a job interview with over 2,500 gaining employment – this is a success rate of 86%.

This has been a success for the local economy, with starting salaries totalling £55M generated between 2011 and 2023.  Academies address the skills needs of investment companies and existing local companies by ensuring a pipeline of potential skilled, job ready employees.  

The academy model is agile and responsive to local economic and workforce needs and will continue to adapt.
AQO 176/22-2707/03/24Miss Nuala McAllister (APNI – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of the Business Improvement District process.

Answer 19/03/34
Business Improvement Districts are the responsibility of the Department for the Communities. As Economy Minister my assessment is that they are an excellent example of collaboration and cooperation at a local level. BIDs enable local businesses to take decisions about the issues that matter to them, and about which they know best. They can be drivers for regeneration of our town and city centres, making our towns and cities more attractive for visitors and creating a positive trading environment that helps local businesses to thrive.
AQW 8139/22-2705/03/24Mr Alan Chambers (UUP – North Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy how many applicants have applied for the Shared Skills Academy in each year since its introduction.

Answer 19/03/34
My department holds records for the previous six financial years. The number of applications to Assured Skills academies in each year are:
2017/18 – 1,357
2018/19 – 2,533
2019/20 – 2,063
2020/21 – 4,236
2021/22 – 3,074
2022/23 – 1,678
AQW 8036/22-2704/03/24Mr Patrick Brown (APNI – South Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy, following the further support package of the Enhanced Flood Support Scheme, to detail the specific criteria under which (i) businesses with flood insurance are still eligible to apply; and (ii) businesses without insurance are eligible.

Answer 19/03/34
Businesses with flood insurance are eligible to apply for the Enhanced Flood Support Scheme, subject to the following criteria:
At the time of the flooding, the business held business insurance (that covers contents/fixtures & fitting) which excluded flood damage through no fault of their own or;
At the time of the flooding, the business held business insurance (that covers contents/fixtures & fitting etc.) which included flood damage, but the insurance company has subsequently refused to pay out on some or all of the flood damage.

Where insurance claims have not yet been resolved/finalised, applications will be put on hold until the outcome is known.
It will be the applicant’s responsibility to demonstrate eligibility for the Enhanced Flood Support Scheme. The following supporting evidence should be provided to demonstrate eligibility:
Where available, evidence that the business sought, but was not able to obtain insurance cover for flooding for their premises. In the absence of supporting evidence, an explanation as to why flood insurance was not in place and why this was not the fault of the applicant should be provided.
A copy of business insurance (that covers contents/fixtures & fitting). Where applicable, a copy of the Buildings Insurance Policy. Where available, evidence that the business sought, but was not able to obtain insurance cover for flooding of their premises. In the absence of supporting evidence, an explanation as to why flood insurance was not in place and why this was not the fault of the applicant should be provided.
The Enhanced Flood Support Scheme is being administered by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and all applications will be assessed by the Council against these criteria.
AQW 8094/22-2704/03/24Mr Jim Allister KC (TUV – North Antrim)To ask the Minister for the Economy how many staff are employed by Tourism Ireland in (i) Northern Ireland; and (ii) the Republic of Ireland.

Answer 14/03/24
Tourism Ireland employs 20.5 FTE (full-time equivalent) staff in its Coleraine Office and 51.8 FTE staff in its Dublin Office.
AQW 7843/22-2729/02/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy when he will publish his Department’s research into air connectivity and flight routes for Northern Ireland.

Answer 13/03/24
In October 2023, my Department commissioned research into Air Connectivity to support tourism and business growth. This research will be completed by end March 2024. The research will then be circulated for review before it is published.
AQW 7719/22-2728/02/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail the work he will undertake to secure regular passenger transatlantic flights between Northern Ireland and the United States of America.

Answer 12/03/24
My Department consistently looks for ways we can enhance and support our air connectivity. In October 2023, my officials commissioned aviation consultants to update research previously published by the Department in July 2019. This research is focusing on innovative ways to identify a set of strategic routes which will help drive inbound tourism and business growth and identify policy levers available to the Department to enhance our air connectivity. This research will be completed by end March 2024, and will inform the development of policy and work required to secure new routes, including the potential for transatlantic flights between here and the United States of America.Tourism Ireland (TI) continues to provide co-operative marketing support to airlines operating to all three of our local airports.
AQW 7511/22-2711/03/24Mr Stephen Dunne(DUP – North Down)To ask the Minister for the Economy what plans his Department has to help high street hospitality businesses.

Answer 11/03/24
Tourism NI, Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland are working in partnership to deliver a €7.6m programme to improve synergies and experiences for visitors to the Causeway Coastal Route (CCR) and Wild Atlantic Way (WAW).

This programme will deliver increased connectivity and improved visitor experience across the WAW and the CCR, providing an opportunity to bring together two of the most internationally renowned experiences that the island of Ireland has to offer. By demonstrating to the international visitor, the connectivity of the two routes and showcasing the Northwest of the island as a gateway to these two iconic experiences, it will create a dynamic proposition encouraging international visitors to explore more widely, stay longer, and spend more.
One strand of the programme will be to undertake an audit of the CCR to assess the current visitor experience and develop appropriate discovery points along the route in line with the current WAW experience. This will include concepting of signage along the route. This work will be carried out in 2024 and all key stakeholders will be engaged before recommendations are implemented. 

A second strand of the programme aims to launch a small capital grants scheme for public and private businesses on both sides of the border. This will allow businesses aligned with the brands to apply for grant funding to improve interpretation, visitor experience etc. The scheme is being developed in partnership with the three agencies with the aim to launch by summer 2024.
A programme of consumer research is currently live in four overseas market (Britain, USA, France & Germany). Findings from the research will inform a market campaign to be launched later in 2024 in one overseas market. The initial phase of the marketing campaign will be to highlight the accessibility of the two routes on one visit for international holidaymakers, building on the appeal of these two iconic tourism products.
AQW 7627/22-2727/02/24Mr Phillip Brett(DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy to detail the spend by Tourism NI in North Belfast during this current financial year.
Answer 11/03/24Tourism NI (TNI) has undertaken spend in the North Belfast area in the current 2023-24 financial year, summarised as follows: –
International Tourism Events Fund 2023-24Of the 11 applications received under the International Tourism Events Fund 2023-24, Tourism NI received two applications relating to events that would take place within the Belfast North constituency. Both applications progressed to Letter of Offer and received the following grant awards:Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival£40,000Belfast City Marathon (4 x Belfast constituencies)£50,000Experience Development Programme 2021-23 capital funding scheme
A total of £8,945.29 has been spent in the North Belfast constituency, in the current 2023-24 financial year, towards a capital development tourism project at Crumlin Road Gaol through the TNI Experience Development Programme 2021-23. This remaining expenditure was part of an overall £450,000 capital grant administered by TNI to Crumlin Road Gaol, most of which was issued in the previous financial year.
Embrace a Giant Spirit Portfolio Development Programme 2021-23 capital funding scheme.
Four businesses from the constituency participate in the Embrace a Giant Spirit Portfolio programme and have access to a range of dedicated supports and training interventions to maximise their tourism potential, driving growth and productivity.
AQW 7624/22-2727/02/24Ms Claire Sugden(Ind – East Londonderry)To ask the Minister for the Economy (i) what discussions he has had with Tourism NI and Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council regarding proposals for a new world-class golf course being developed at Magilligan and a museum of US presidents with local links; (ii) how his Department can be involved in the creation of these; and (iii) for his assessment of how this could positively impact the tourism in the north coast.
Answer 12/03/24To date there have been no formal discussions with Tourism NI (TNI) and the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council on these specific proposals. The proposals which have been presented at this stage are still in the exploratory stage and no detailed assessment has been carried out on either project.
It should be noted that whilst there was a golf course on Magilligan Point a little over 100 years ago, the land is a protected nature reserve today and the development of the site into a golf course will need to be include an investigation into the environmental protections currently in place to determine whether any development is possible.
TNI will be happy to work with the Council and other stakeholders to establish the viability of these proposals as they develop.No formal feasibility study has been conducted into the economic value of a new championship links course, however due to the continued demand for links golf in the North the economic value has the potential to be substantial.
It would be advisable that careful thought is given to any museum development as very few museums operate without substantial public sector subvention and the project sponsors would want to be assured that such a proposal is commercially viable in the longer term before any commitment is made to such a development.
AQW 7723/22-2711/03/24Mr Phillip Brett(DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for the Economy what financial support his Department can provide to community-based tourism providers in North Belfast.
Answer 11/03/24Tourism NI has in the past operated capital programmes to create new or enhance existing visitor attractions and amenities. There are no capital programmes open at present, however Tourism NI is exploring options and investment opportunities for future years, budget permitting.
Tourism NI can add contact details of any community-based tourism provider in North Belfast to its mailing list if the named contact provides an email to tds@tourismni.com. When a new funding programme is being launched, they will then be notified automatically.
Tourism NI’s Industry Development department supports businesses across the sector, including the community sector, to be more innovative, sustainable and inclusive. It monitors and evaluates industry performance and provides tailored support based on identified areas for improvement and growth. This team also leads on industry-wide issues including skills and career development and runs in-person and online seminars and webinars. In February 2024, Tourism NI launched MyTourismNI, a dedicated innovative E-Learning platform specially developed to support the local Tourism Industry to build expertise, knowledge, competence and confidence. It is free to access, and the tourism industry can choose from a range of learning modules, covering business-critical topics such as Sales and Marketing, Digital Sustainability, People and Operational Effectiveness. Businesses and community based tourism providers, including those located in North Belfast, can sign-up to www.tourismni.com to receive regular and targeted events, news and updates.
Tourism NI is providing input and advice to Belfast City Council on a new council-led £350k Neighbourhood Tourism Investment Programme which will run over the next 18 months and will be of particular interest to community-based tourism providers in North Belfast.
AQW 7734/22-2728/02/24Ms Sinéad McLaughlin(SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for the Economy for an update on the work of his Department in linking the Wild Atlantic Way with the Causeway Coastal Route in order to promote the tourism offering of the North West City Region.
Answer 11/03/24Tourism NI, Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland are working in partnership to deliver a €7.6m programme to improve synergies and experiences for visitors to the Causeway Coastal Route (CCR) and Wild Atlantic Way (WAW).
This programme will deliver increased connectivity and improved visitor experience across the WAW and the CCR, providing an opportunity to bring together two of the most internationally renowned experiences that the island of Ireland has to offer. By demonstrating to the international visitor, the connectivity of the two routes and showcasing the Northwest of the island as a gateway to these two iconic experiences, it will create a dynamic proposition encouraging international visitors to explore more widely, stay longer, and spend more.
One strand of the programme will be to undertake an audit of the CCR to assess the current visitor experience and develop appropriate discovery points along the route in line with the current WAW experience. This will include concepting of signage along the route. This work will be carried out in 2024 and all key stakeholders will be engaged before recommendations are implemented. 
A second strand of the programme aims to launch a small capital grants scheme for public and private businesses on both sides of the border. This will allow businesses aligned with the brands to apply for grant funding to improve interpretation, visitor experience etc. The scheme is being developed in partnership with the three agencies with the aim to launch by summer 2024.
A programme of consumer research is currently live in four overseas market (Britain, USA, France & Germany). Findings from the research will inform a market campaign to be launched later in 2024 in one overseas market. The initial phase of the marketing campaign will be to highlight the accessibility of the two routes on one visit for international holidaymakers, building on the appeal of these two iconic tourism products.
AQW 7743/22-2728/02/24Mr Jonathan Buckley(DUP – Upper Bann)To ask the Minister for the Economy what practical measures he is taking to support hospitality businesses with rising energy costs.
Answer 11/03/24The large fluctuations in energy prices over the past number of years, driven by our continued reliance on importing fossil fuels, highlights the importance of our local Energy Strategy ‘The Path to Net Zero Energy’. One of the key objectives of the strategy is to ensure that all businesses have access to essential and affordable energy to enable an adequate standard of competitiveness. The focus is now on priorities for delivery to ensure that we maximise the benefits for our society and economy as soon as possible.
In addition, Invest NI delivers a suite of support, including specialist advice and investment capital, to enable NI businesses to become more efficient and resilient through green efficiencies. This includes fully funded Technical Consultancy and a Resource Matching Service. This support helps businesses to optimise and futureproof their operations by implementing green efficiencies to achieve carbon savings and cost savings to mitigate the impact of rising energy costs.
AQW 6864/22-2719/02/24Ms Sinéad McLaughlin(SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of the effectiveness of the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda in Northern Ireland, including the impact of the Levelling Up & Regeneration Act 2023.
Answer 05/03/24The Levelling Up Agenda, to date, has been delivered directly here from Whitehall. It has largely bypassed Executive Departments, is not aligned to our priorities, and does not recognise our unique equality legislation.The Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), which is included within the Levelling Up Agenda, and described by the British Government as full replacement for past EU Structural Funds has fallen short of providing the funding we would have received had we remained in the EU.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Act is an expansive piece of legislation which is largely focused on planning, housing and the powers of local authorities in Britain. Only Part 1 relating to the setting of Levelling Up Missions and their measurement is of relevance to my Department. Officials from my Department continue to engage with Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on this.
AQO 7503/22-2726/02/24Ms Sinéad McLaughlin (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for the Economy for a breakdown of the organisations affected by the loss of European Social Funding, broken down by (i) Assembly constituency; and (ii) amount of funding lost.
Answer 03/03/24Details of ESF Priority 1 & 2 projects for whom ESF funding ceased on 31 March 2023 can be accessed on a constituency-by-constituency basis on-line as follows: 65 ESF Call 3 Projects by constituency and council area.
The total amount of funding awarded (EU and Programme match was £26.8m for the 2022-23 period).
I understand that 18 bidders secured £57.5m from the British Government under Shared Prosperity (SPF) Economic Inactivity funding for 2023-25 (£26.75m per annum). Emergence of new, consortia or amended groupings bidding for SPF means that a direct comparison with previous ESF funding is not possible.
It should also be noted that ESF funding of c£12m pa for Level 2 & 3 apprenticeships has not been replaced, leaving my Department with a funding pressure for the NI Apprenticeships Programme.

FEBRUARY 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQO 60/22-2726/02/24Mr Jonathan Buckley (DUP – Upper Bann)To ask the Minister for the Economy to provide an update on the progress of Northern Ireland’s City and Growth Deals.

Answer 26/02/24
The City and Growth Deals Programme will see over £1.3bn of public funding invested in the economic infrastructure of the North and will play an important role in delivering regional balance by enhancing sub-regional strengths and capabilities.

Positive progress has been made. Funding of more than £300m, across thirteen projects, has already been approved by my Department. However, I want to see delivery accelerated.
I have instructed officials to play a much greater role, through co-design and partnership working, to bring forward proposals that can be approved and delivered as soon as possible.
AQO 49/22-2715/02/24Mr Mike Nesbitt (UUP – Strangford)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of his Department’s strategy A 10X Economy.

Answer 26/02/24
I am not that parochial, I have to say.

I agree with the Member. We are looking at a separate tourism strategy, which has been out for consultation and which will no doubt come back to us for a further look. I have received many views on that, and I think that it can be improved.

The ETA is already causing very serious concerns. I have no doubt that, for some of the projects that we are talking about, including the big competitions and other events that we bring here, it is a factor in the minds of the organisers, because they depend on international tourism. About 70% of international visitors to the North come through the South. Over a quarter of a million day visits every year are made by people who come up from the South, where they have been holidaying. That is a growing trade, and it is enormously important to not only our tourism but our broader economy.

We intend to consult the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, because it has particularly strong views on the damage that the ETA can do. Our intention is to build up the evidence on the concerns on the ETA and to bring that to the Home Office in London in order to make a particular case for a relaxation of it for tourism. From what we have been speaking about in both the previous question and this one, tourism potential could be seriously undermined if we have a significant restriction on travel across the border.
AQO 48/22-2715/02/24Mr Mike Nesbitt (UUP – Strangford)To ask the Minister for the Economy for his assessment of his Department’s strategy A 10X Economy.

Answer 26/02/24
The 10X economic vision has many positive elements, and I intend to build upon those strengths in taking forward my own economic vision. The vision that I outlined to the Assembly last week provides a clear strategic focus on good jobs, regional balance, productivity and decarbonisation. It takes account of the recommendations of the independent review of Invest Northern Ireland. It also factors in greater certainty in our trading conditions, which creates opportunities to boost trade on a North/South and east-west basis.
AQO 47/22-2715/02/24Mr Philip McGuigan (SF – North Antrim)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether there are plans to submit an all-island bid to host the Tour De France.

Answer 26/02/24
In July 2023, discussions on a potential all-Ireland bid to host the Tour de France Grand Départ were suspended, largely due to the absence of an Executive. Since coming into post, I have instructed my officials to reopen that dialogue. As part of those deliberations, the cost of the bid would have to be weighed against the benefits. I note that, when the Giro d’Italia Grande Partenza was hosted in Ireland in 2014, it generated around £2·5 million in economic activity, £12·7 million in tourism impact and attracted around 227,000 visitors.
AQW 5532/22-27Ms Sorcha Eastwood (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for the Economy whether he will introduce a ring-fenced skills fund as recommended in the Skills Strategy.

Answer 17/02/24
As identified by the OECD, long term strategic investment in our skills system is essential to achieving our social and economic objectives. I look forward to working with my Executive colleagues to agree how we can best achieve this and ensure that we have a skills system that meets the needs of the economy and enables everyone to reach their full potential.