INVEST NI has come in for yet more criticism on its performance in West Belfast after new figures revealed that the area has come bottom of the league tables once again for the amount of financial assistance offered by the body – and total jobs generated by its Inward Investment projects.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster revealed in the Assembly that out of £107.82million in financial assistance provided by Invest NI in the last financial year, just £360,000 went to West Belfast – the lowest of any parliamentary constituency in the North.  East Belfast came top of the table with £28.09m in assistance followed by South Belfast with £15.7million.

Minister Foster also revealed that no jobs were created in West Belfast by Invest NI in the 2010/2011 financial year from Inward Investment projects that the body supported – again, the lowest figure in the North. East Belfast again came top of this league table with 759 jobs created from Inward Investment projects followed by South Belfast with 624.

In the July 16 edition of the Andersonstown News, we detailed how the investment body had only created five jobs in West Belfast as a result of visits from foreign investors in the past financial year in comparison to 925 in the East, 703 in the South and 66 in the North of the city.  We also revealed how Invest NI safeguarded no jobs in West Belfast in the past financial year, despite securing 77 jobs in the East of the city, 13 in the North and two in the South.

The latest damning stats from the investment quango have been described as “absolutely disappointing”.

“The SDLP believes that Invest NI needs to develop a more vigorous partnership with political and community leaders and business champions in West Belfast,” said SDLP Upper Falls Councillor Tim Attwood. “The best people to sell West Belfast are people who are doing the business in West Belfast and the political and community representatives who have a passion for the regeneration of the area.  As part of the economic stimulus package that Belfast City Council is putting together, the SDLP Group on Belfast City Council has been pushing the Council to develop an external relations and international marketing strategy for Belfast. It is important that the Council plays a greater role in supporting and attracting foreign direct investment and commercial investment to the city, especially those most disadvantaged areas.”

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey, said: “The figures are, no doubt, absolutely disappointing. They have been like that for many years in regards to West Belfast and it would seem to me and others that other areas are taken more seriously by organisations such as Invest NI.

“Since June of this year I have held a number of meetings with different individuals and different businesses and Invest NI with regards to making sure that these figures are improved on.  It’s a big issue, and they [Invest NI] are saying all the right things at this stage but it’s doing the right thing that counts and what matters.   I am quite hopeful that in the future there will be better news and results than what we are seeing now as there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to improve this.”

Mr Maskey also called on local banks to “step up to the plate” in providing support for local businesses.

“Banks have told us they have money and want to lend it out, but according to a number of business people, the banks are just not lending or else they are making it near enough impossible for businesses to pay back,” he said.

“I have raised this issue in the Assembly this week in the hope that more accountability mechanisms can be put on the banks.”

Pádraic White, Chair of West Belfast and Greater Shankill Enterprise Council, said the quango “was still not seriously promoting West Belfast”.

“Despite a lot of very serious dialogue and engagement with them over the past year, there’s no evidence yet of a change,” said Mr White.

“Part of that is also down to a failure to develop the former Mackies site and that remains a prime objective for the local community to have that developed with a series of advance  facilities for innovation and incubation centres for indigenous industries as well as foreign and direct investors.

“There has been encouraging dialogue between Invest Northern Ireland and the local community representatives over the past year, but we really have to see that translated into action on the ground and a  sense of a real commitment to include West Belfast as a legitimate and serious area for investment both for indigenous industry and foreign investments.”

Asked by the Andersonstown News why such a small amount of financial assistance was offered to jobs-starved West Belfast in comparison to other areas of the North, a spokesperson for Invest Ni said it could “only offer financial support where companies bring forward growth projects”.

“In 2010/11, 33 companies in West Belfast operating across a range of industries including Manufacturing, Engineering, Food and Drink and Business Services were offered support for such projects,” said the spokesperson.

On the zero total for the amount of jobs created in the West from Invest NI-supported Inward Investment projects in the 2010/11 financial year, the spokesperson said it was “the investor who decides where to locate their investment project, not Invest NI”.

“Their decision is based on a number of factors, including if there is an existing company location, the skills base, access to transport links or infrastructure, such as the availability of property, many of which are outside Invest NI’s control,” said the spokesperson.

“Invest NI is committed to working in partnership with local stakeholders to support and encourage investment in all regions. It is important to note that, regardless of where an investor chooses to locate, they will typically draw their workforce from across a number of parliamentary constituencies, not just the immediate area in which the investment is located. Many of the inward investments which have located in neighbouring areas will provide employment opportunities for West Belfast residents.”