The Director of Economic Development outlined to the Members the progress which had been made over the period 1st April – 30th September, against a series of targets under ‘Working and Learning’ and ‘Growing the Economy’ in the Belfast Agenda.
Working and Learning
He advised the Committee that officers had undertaken extensive engagement with employers to extend the Employment Academies into sectors with labour market gaps, namely hospitality, transport, childcare, health and social care and construction.
He explained that work was currently underway to pilot schools-based Employment Academies which aimed to improve outcomes for young people who were at risk of not completing their education or underachieving, by creating a pathway to a job or an apprenticeship.
The Members were advised that a new initiative, ‘Access to Opportunity’, would provide financial support to address practical barriers for those who were out of work and wanted to enter employment, such as assistance for interpretation, sign language and childcare costs.
During discussion, a number of Members stated that assisting with someone’s childcare costs or linguistic needs should not underestimated.
The Director highlighted to the Committee that, as part of the Council’s effort towards supporting the long-term unemployed in entering the labour market, match-funding had been awarded to five European Social Fund (ESF) projects and, since 1st April, 577 participants had achieved accredited qualifications, with 375 people having entered employment as a result of the interventions.
He provided the Members with an overview of a number of other work streams and development activities which officers were engaged in, including work on the City Youth Pledge, development of the Employability and Skills strand of the Belfast Region City Deal, and working with officers in Planning and Building Control to ensure that employability and skills provisions were integrated into the Draft Developers’ Contributions Framework.
Growing the Economy
The Director advised the Committee that, in conjunction with Invest NI, officers had been working to draw down European Regional Development Funding for Belfast in order to support the Council’s activities to encourage more business start-ups and to help existing businesses to grow.
In respect of the Innovation Factory (IF), he pointed out that the target of 145 jobs had already been exceeded, with officers continuing to work with the IF to ensure that the target of 55% occupancy would also be achieved by December 2018.
He stated that an Enterprise Framework for the city was being facilitated by the Council in partnership with the Business Growth and Enterprise Working Group. He explained that the Framework would be discussed at Party Group Briefings later in the year and that it would shape future collaborations and initiatives, in line with the Belfast Agenda commitments.
The Members were advised that the Council would again work with its public and private partners to deliver a programme of activity during Global Entrepreneurship Week, between 12th and 18th November, including a Female Enterprise Challenge.
As well as supporting the regional ‘Go for It’ programme, the Director explained that the Council had also supported students in starting a business, and made specific interventions to encourage the development of new social enterprises, cooperatives and businesses with high growth potential.
He provided the Committee with an overview of the two-year pilot ‘City for Investment’ service which proactively worked with investors, both indigenous and Foreign Direct Investment, to provide connections to help their businesses succeed in Belfast. He outlined that, to date, the service had supported 50 businesses, created 1000 new jobs and attracted £1.25million investment to the city.
After discussion, the Committee noted:
· the Council’s performance and contribution to delivering against the Belfast Agenda ambitions to Grow the Belfast Economy, focusing on the current support for Business Start-up and Growth, as well as Employability and Skills; and
· that, over the six-month period, the Council had directly and indirectly:
¾ supported the creation of 1868 jobs;
¾ 1905 individuals had been supported through employability interventions;
¾ 1554 young people had engaged through career support activities; and
¾ 1243 businesses had been supported to either start, grow or develop their international profile.