BT is proud of our partnership with the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, now in its 15th year and we commend their visionary approach and strong leadership for businesses throughout the uncertainty of the last twelve months.

As we emerge from the pandemic and reflect over the last year, BT remains committed to playing a pivotal role in the economic recovery and growth of Northern Ireland. As one of Northern Ireland’s largest investors and employers, we currently support more than 7,200 jobs locally and have helped to generate £655 million total GVA in Northern Ireland. We are also at the forefront of driving technological change, securing the UK’s digital infrastructure with investments of £632m in innovation.

Over the last year, BT has launched a range of new products, services and programmes that form part of a long-term plan to transform the company and help build a better connected and more competitive Northern Ireland.

We are proud to be the most digitally connected region in the UK and with the expansion of the full fibre network, we’re busy connecting people and businesses to the best possible network – creating a network that’s ready for the future and phasing out old, legacy technologies.

In addition to this, Belfast has been selected as a key location for a range of business growth initiatives. This includes being one of the first five cities in the UK to get 5G, underlining BT’s commitment to Northern Ireland as a strategically important location. At BT, we are continuing to develop our 5G plans with partners and customers and helping to keep our customers connected when they need it most. We are also continuing to support the digital infrastructure of Northern Ireland, with increased reliability and speeds.

Following a successful UK-first trial of 5G technology by BT and Belfast Harbour, a landmark partnership will deliver a series of 5G-led innovations to accelerate Belfast Harbour’s ambition to become the world’s best regional smart port. The partnership is stimulating innovation across transport, logistics, public safety, physical security and sustainability. In a UK and Ireland-first, BT is building and managing a live 5G Private Network designed specifically to achieve the highest levels of ultrafast mobile connectivity, coverage, reliability and security across the Port’s main operational areas.

As part of our continued commitment to Northern Ireland, BT also recently announced a multi-million pound investment in our flagship Belfast office, Riverside Tower, confirming Belfast as a strategic and long-term location for BT in the future. With a capacity for approximately 1,800 colleagues, the new modern building will be completed in the Autumn of this year and will provide colleagues with a future-fit workplace to thrive in as we continue to do the best for our customers. As part of this investment, I am also pleased to confirm that BT is expanding its cyber security presence into Belfast by creating up to forty new jobs in Riverside Tower to support our customers against cyber-attacks through our end-to-end managed service.

As the third largest investor in R&D in the UK, BT is committed to being at the forefront of developing strategic partnerships to benefit the growth of local businesses.

We have officially launched a partnership with Queen’s University’s Northern Ireland Technology Centre (NITC). Along with our partners, Cisco, we are providing the NITC with an investment of over £100,000. The purpose of the partnership is to build an Industry 4.0 Smart Manufacturing testbed within the NITC environment where, working with local manufacturing businesses, we can jointly identify, test and prove real business outcomes. We will use this to help to create smarter technologies which will allow factories to become more efficient, productive and less wasteful.

In addition to this, our Skills for Tomorrow programme has proved to be essential to local businesses over the last twelve months. Our ambitious programme aims to provide free training to 10 million people by 2025, giving them the digital skills they need to understand, use technology and thrive in the digital future.

We’ve also been continuing our major drive to support over 124,000 SME’s here with our Small Business Support Scheme – designed to help businesses get better positioned for recovery and growth as we emerge from the pandemic. BT is a champion of small businesses and this year set up a dedicated new SoHo (Small Office, Home Office) team to cater specifically for the needs of the smallest companies, including start-ups and home-based businesses.

This new team has introduced several new products, services and initiatives aimed at helping these fledgling firms to thrive, including one to one free mentoring sessions in partnership with Google as well as full fibre packages for micro-businesses and access to a digital marketing hub.

As we look towards the next twelve months, BT continues to remain focused on tackling the growing issue of cyber bullying among young people. Northern Ireland is the first place in the UK to kick off roadshows in partnership with the Irish FA and charity Cybersmile to launch a new and free educational platform among young people to educate them in how to tackle online hate and bullying.

In addition to this, we have recently announced BTs Manifesto for the next decade, setting out the company’s vision to create the most sustainable and inclusive business as possible. BT will only back responsible tech in the future as part of our 10 year plan. Customers, and society generally, now rightly expect businesses to act in a responsible, inclusive and sustainable way and at BT we will lead the way in doing so. We are already developing products and services helping reduce climate impact, as well as establishing plans to become more inclusive and diverse as a business.

Looking forward to the year ahead as we emerge from the pandemic, we wish all NI Chamber members continued success and prosperity with the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Tara Pollock, Corporate Affairs Director for BT’s Enterprise business