LEO staff stunnedby loss of Go for itProgramme contract

LISBURN Enterprise Organisation has called on the Assembly to urgently review a decision by Invest NI to award a £5m contract to a Glasgow-based business to deliver the Go for it programme which has been successfully delivered by members of Enterprise Northern Ireland for the last two decades.

Aisling Owens, Chief Executive of Lisburn Enterprise Organisation, which is one of 32 agencies which make up Enterprise Northern Ireland said she was ‘stunned’ by the decision which, she said, effectively put local economic development in the hands of a Glasgow-based organisation, potentially threatening local jobs.

Ms Owens said an outside organisation “won’t necessarily have the same coverage” as a locally based organisation, such as LEO.

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Invest NI confirmed last week their intention to award the contract for the Business Start Programme to a consortium including the Glasgow-based GO Group and accountancy firm KPMG.

“KPMG wouldn’t necessarily have the offices and network in the local community, such as we would have. They could always get to urban areas but it would be harder to reach rural areas. An outside consortium won’t necessarily have the same loyalty to the local community that they serve,” Ms Owens said.

“Lisburn Enterprise Organisation has been successfully delivering the Go for it programme and its predecessors for almost 18 years. The results across Enterprise Northern Ireland speak for themselves.

“Since April 2009 we have collectively delivered 6,686 start-up business plans, produced 73 growth potential businesses in the Invest NI growth pipeline and been able to directly refer 60 businesses to Invest NI. The decision by Invest NI discounts the years of experience and networks that have been developed by local enterprise agencies across Northern Ireland. As a result we are calling upon the NI Assembly to urgently review this decision.”

The news has created concern for staff at Lisburn Enterprise Organisation. Ms Owens said: “It’s a core contract of ours, no question about it, we will have to address our business model and be more enterprising with our resources.”

In response to the news, Enterprise NI have confirmed they will “mount a robust challenge” to Invest NI’s decision to award their new business start-up scheme to another provider.

Speaking after an emergency board meeting, the Chairman of Enterprise NI Sandy Smith on behalf of the board, said they have taken legal advice.

“On the basis of that advice the board is proceeding to advise Central Procurement Directorate of its intention to mount a robust challenge to the decision.”