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Economy Minister Diane Dodds has commented on today’s ‘New Deal for Northern Ireland’ announcement by the UK Government.

The Minister said: “The UK Government today announced its ‘New Deal for Northern Ireland’ to help boost economic growth, increase our competitiveness and invest in infrastructure. As the Minister for the Economy clearly I will always be interested in initiatives that help us grow the economy, drive exports, invest in skills and unlock the potential of high growth sectors.

“There are a range of areas in this announcement that are of significant interest. I will want to engage constructively on these with the UK Government and the Secretary of State in order to better understand the detail of the initiatives and how we can take them forward in coherent way. I made this position clear during a meeting with Robin Walker, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, this afternoon.

“In addition there are a number of aspects of this announcement that are aimed towards the implementation of the NI Protocol, and helping deal with some of the knock-on impacts of the Protocol for businesses and sectors that trade heavily with GB. As details emerge on the Protocol Agreement announced earlier in the week, alongside more information as to what exactly is planned under this initiative by way of mitigations, we hope to better gauge all the practicalities and, in turn, better understand the degree to which our close trading relationship with GB can be maintained for the future. Ultimately the key test will be whether these announcements turn out to be effective in mitigating the costs to businesses.”

Turning to the skills component of today’s announcement, the Minister said: “The investment in relation to skills is very welcome as I see skills as key component of our recovery plans. We have already achieved a competitive advantage in a range of high performing sectors across NI in areas such as digital, advanced manufacturing and green technology. Key to the future growth of these industries will be access to talent and skills. We have already delivered a range of significant skills interventions over the last nine months in collaboration with the business community. The announcement today will allow us to expand and accelerate our skills ambition.”

Finally, on the Protocol, the Minister added: “As I have said, details of what exactly has been agreed and announced around the Protocol earlier in the week have yet to fully emerge. The Joint Committee has yet to meet and see and agree the detail. This UKG initiative seems to be at least partly, if not largely, in the space of helping deal with some of the consequences of the Protocol for businesses and sectors that trade heavily with GB. For example, the detail is not there yet on the systems that UKG will aim to develop to help supermarkets and smaller traders trade under the new arrangements. So there remains a wait-and-see element to this – even though time is short. We await the further detail as to what exactly has been agreed by UKG on the practical arrangements for the NI Protocol, just as we await further detail on the UKG initiatives planned to help business better work those new arrangements.”