Department for the Economy Minister Diane Dodds MLA describes the “key role” of social enterprise in building a stronger Northern Ireland economy.
The Covid pandemic has had a devastating effect on businesses and individuals here in Northern Ireland. The social enterprise sector has been and continues to be absolutely vital in helping our society to get through these difficult times.
Recently I launched my Economic Recovery Action Plan which sets out a range of decisive actions to kick-start economic recovery in Northern Ireland and build a more competitive, inclusive and greener economy. I believe the social enterprise sector has a key role to play within this plan and the longer term building of a stronger Northern Ireland economy.
As referenced within the plan my department is leading a cross-departmental Social Economy Policy Group to deliver an integrated strategic approach to the social economy. The vision of this policy group is:
“To cultivate an environment which supports the development of a more sustainable social economy sector capable of making a significant contribution to the social and economic life of Northern Ireland”. Their priority is to focus on how departmental policies/programmes support sector growth and to contribute to the development of an integrated strategic approach to the social economy.
In addition, my department also funds the social economy sector through the Social Economy Work Programme, the main objective of which is to identify and implement a programme of initiatives to enable the continued growth of a sustainable social economy sector across Northern Ireland. Recently it was confirmed that Social Enterprise NI has been successful in securing the grant to deliver the new work programme for the next three years which enables them to continue and build on the good work they have delivered to date.
“Northern Ireland’s economic recovery will be driven by innovation, investment and a skilled workforce.”
While we move towards recovery and the reopening of the economy, we cannot understate the devastating effect the pandemic has had on our communities and lives. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented financial difficulties for many businesses including social enterprises. In order to help protect jobs, prevent business closures and promote economic recovery the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive have put in place a number of support schemes and initiatives to support local industry and businesses, many of which have been available to social enterprises.
In September of last year, I also announced that the eligibility criteria for the Department for the Economy’s Skills Focus and InnovateUs programmes had been extended to enable social enterprises to apply for support. As I mentioned at the launch of the Economic Recovery Plan, Northern Ireland’s economic recovery will be driven by innovation, investment and a skilled workforce. We need to ensure we have people with the right skills, who can adapt to the changing labour market, to ensure that the local economy can recover and start to grow again.
The Skills Focus and InnovateUs programmes have enabled businesses to access learning, fully funded by my department, from the local further education colleges for upskilling and reskilling of staff with the aim of boosting innovation within the sector.
I hope the aforementioned gives everyone a flavour of the key role that the social economy sector plays in Northern Ireland and the importance my department places on continuing to support the sector. I look forward to continuing to work with Social Enterprise NI and other stakeholders to contribute to the Recovery Plan and to grow the economy for the benefit of all.