Economic rebalancing is essential and we fully support it through our economic pact with the Executive. Creative industries are an essential element worth half a billion pounds annually, and Invest NI and UKTI both strongly promote them. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met HBO—Home Box Office—at Hillsborough and in America to promote Northern Ireland as a destination of choice.
The popular TV series “Game of Thrones” was filmed in my constituency and is watched by more than 2 million people—there is no better place to have a film made than Strangford. The Northern Ireland screen budget has recently been raised by £43 million, which will raise a further £194 million for the local economy. What steps has the Minister taken to ensure that the local South Eastern Regional College, based in Newtownards, will have the skills and training to increase the economy even more?
The skills are best dealt with by the people of Northern Ireland and the college. I visited “Game of Thrones” in Paint Hall in Belfast and was very impressed. Carla Stronge, of Extras NI, is quoted in the Belfast Telegraph today:
“When I started up in 2007 there were just two people working in my company. Since Game of Thrones started, I have had to take on more people and now there are 11 people working for me”.
We fully support that. I saw the castle in Strangford that is used in “Game of Thrones” only last week.
I find myself, oddly enough, in complete agreement with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). That may disturb him more than it disturbs me. The Northern Irish film and television industry now has a global reputation for excellence. He referred to “Game of Thrones”. There is also Ridley Scott’s “Halo”, “The Fall” and many other productions. However, they tend to utilise talent from within the Belfast area. With youth unemployment still far higher outside Belfast than in the rest of Great Britain, what is the Minister doing to work with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and other agencies to extend the benefits throughout the north?
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. At its height, “Game of Thrones” has employed up to 800 people. As we heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), it employs people from around the Province—Antrim, Strangford and elsewhere. The Government have introduced high-end television tax relief that has brought very real benefits to the creative industries in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. We are bringing down unemployment and strengthening the economy. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman would be well advised to remember the state of the economy when he left office in 2010.