NMEA win battle to reinstate business start up programme

September 25, 2012

By Christine Keighery

The Examiner has learned that a year long legal challenge by Enterpise NI to have their business start-up programme reinstated by Invest NI, has come to an end, with the result that Newry and Mourne Enterprise Agency (NMEA) will once again deliver the programme.

NMEA lost the £3.5million Go For It programme last September when it was awarded to KPMG and Scottish company, The GO Group, amid a storm of controversy.

At the time, Chairman of Enterprise NI, Sandy Smith said the company were astounded at the outcome of the competition tender and felt obliged to lodge the legal appeal as the documentation relating to the process revealed what Enterprise NI considered as “significant and serious flaws” in the decision-making process by Invest NI.

NMEA, based at WIN Industrial Estate is one of 31 agencies that comprise Enterprise NI.  As Newry’s local enterprise agency, they have helped to create thousands of jobs in the area, and, up until last year’s decision, had delivered the business start–up programme for almost 10 years.

Speaking to The Examiner last September, Dr Conor Patterson, Chief Executive of NMEA said the changeover to The GO Group would negatively impact on NMEA’s mission as a whole.  Dr Patterson said the agency remained committed however to serving the local community, who had benefited from its services for four decades.

The legal wrangle meant that the programme was effectively stalled, until an Assembly announcement by Minister for Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster last Monday.

Mrs Foster said that, as a consequence to the legal challenge, a further tender competition was held, the outcome of which was being relayed to tenderers that day.

She continued,

“As with all such procurement exercises, a 10 day period will follow before the contract becomes operational and the successful tenderer can begin to deliver the contract.  That means that, after over a year of being unable to provide a full support service to individuals interested in starting their own business, Invest NI will shortly be in apposition to reintroduce a new business start programme.”

It is believed that Enterprise Northern Ireland is the selected tenderer having secured the contract in all five regions of the revised proposal which involved splitting the programme into five regional packages. The long awaited business start-up programme is expected to be rolled out from October onwards.