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Growing our skills base and generating more and better employment opportunities will accelerate the economic recovery for the benefit of all.

That was the message from new Economy Minister Gordon Lyons as he took up the role today.

The Minister said: “The role of Economy Minister in Northern Ireland is always crucial, and never more so than as we emerge from a devastating pandemic.

“I am acutely conscious of the challenges being faced by businesses every day and I am determined to do all I can to help the economy not only recover, but grow to new levels.

“My predecessors over the last 18 months have delivered more than £500million of support to businesses of all kinds and set out the way ahead in the short term through the £287million Economic Recovery Action Plan (ERAP). I thank them for their work during this difficult period and for laying sound foundations for future success. I aim to continue their good work.

“Under the ERAP, I will bring to fruition the £145million High Street Scheme and Holiday at Home Scheme, to support our retail, leisure and tourism sectors, as well as local households.

“But more than that, I will progress my Department’s 10X Economic Vision which details how, through a focus on innovation, we can make Northern Ireland one of the world’s leading small economies.

“And through our 10X skills strategy, I want to make lifelong learning, a culture where people can upskill and reskill so they are equipped for the current and future job market, more accessible than ever. Whether this is through one of the many learning routes at our local further education colleges, or through the universities, my Department is investing, and will invest, so that everyone can access these opportunities.

“Our skills and talent base is a key factor in attracting investors to Northern Ireland, and I will take forward the 10X trade strategy so that we build on recent successes like the investments by PwC, Hinduja and Version 1 to create more than 1,500 high quality jobs here.”

Mr Lyons added: “While we have made good progress in the recovery, I know there is much work still to do. But I believe we can look ahead with optimism. Our business community has shown levels of creativity and resilience that give me great confidence that Northern Ireland is forging a path to a positive economic future.”