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Northern Ireland research spend hits all-time high

Northern Ireland increased its expenditure on research and development to £521 million in 2010, statistics from the NI Department of Finance and Personnel have shown.

The figure is an 8 per cent cash-terms increase on the £483m spent in 2009 and is accounted for by rises in both business and higher education, says the report published on 9 November.

Between 2005 and 2010, business expenditure rose 123 per cent in cash terms. However, investment was in concentrated in 10 companies, the figures show.

The ten biggest spending companies, including aeronautics company Bombardier and pharmaceutical firm Almac, accounted for almost 60 per cent of the region’s total R&D expenditure.

Externally owned companies accounted for some 68 per cent of business R&D.

The figures show a less rosy picture for small and medium-sized enterprises, whose investment fell 8 per cent between 2009 and 2010. They now represent just 10 per cent of companies involved in R&D in Northern Ireland.

Reacting to the figures, the NI Assembly Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment has announced plans for an inquiry into R&D, which will seek to understand what prevents local businesses from investing and identify measures to encourage business R&D.

According to a report published by the UK Treasury in March, Northern Ireland still has one of the lowest spends on R&D compared to other UK regions. Government R&D expenditure is the second lowest of all UK regions, and higher education expenditure on R&D is the lowest of all UK regions by a considerable margin.

“It is absolutely essential that Northern Ireland maximises its potential to access all available opportunities for R&D support for business,” said the committee chairman, Alban Maginness, in a statement.

“The Committee recognises that the current structures within the business and higher education sectors in Northern Ireland make it difficult to access support for R&D. Through our inquiry we hope to understand these issues and identify possible solutions,” said Maginness.

The committee has called for evidence from local businesses and councils about their experience of developing and getting funding for R&D projects. Deadline for writing to the Committee is 16 December.