INVEST NI secured just 15 first-time overseas investors last year, a new annual report has shown.
The publicly funded economic support agency had set a target of attracting 20 to 30 new inward investors in the year to March 2022.
In its latest annual report, quietly published on Invest NI’s website last week, it partly blamed the impact of Covid-19 and being tasked with running numerous pandemic-related schemes for missing its targets.
Invest NI was asked by the Executive to run a number of emergency payment schemes as well as the £100 Spend Local card initiative. At its height, around 300 staff from Invest NI were tasked with processing 160,000 applications for the cards.
In a summary of its performance last year, Invest NI said: “We remained on course to deliver against our operational targets until we effectively lost the last quarter to sign up new projects.”
Northern Ireland’s ability to attract new overseas investment was given a boost by the post-Brexit protocol deal, which offers firms access to both the EU Single Market and UK internal market.
But The Irish News revealed in March how Invest NI’s ability to win new foreign direct investment (FDI) has been impacted by the resignation of at least a dozen key staff in London and North America since April 2021.
The resignations included five of Invest NI’s six-strong London-based FDI team, who quit last year and who have not been replaced.
They are among a group of current and former members of staff who have now launched legal proceedings against the organisation.
Invest NI’s North American operation also lost 14 staff in the last two financial years. Seven staff resigned in the 12 months to March 2022.
It’s understood a number of experienced US-based staff have since departed the organisation in the current financial year.
In March, Invest NI’s interim chief executive Mel Chittock told Stormont’s economy committee that the loss of the staff “has not led to a significant impact on our business and in fact it has not been felt at all”.
Invest NI has also been hit by a financial crisis in the year to March 2022, with the loss of millions of pounds in EU funding.
Uncertainty over its budget resulted in the suspension of new offers of financial support to potential investors between December 2021 until March 2022.
It largely centered on new financial commitments beyond March 2022.
In its annual report, Invest NI states that resolving the issues surrounding the NI Protocol could eventually trigger a bigger boost to the economy.
It states: “If these challenges can be overcome and negotiations satisfactorily resolved, the unique tariff access which Northern Ireland could have to both the UK and EU markets would give a compelling competitive advantage for local businesses serving these markets and a significant attractor for potential new inward investors with a manufacturing focus.”