Seizing the economic opportunity in Northern Ireland

Posted By:
PricewaterhouseCoopers Llp (PwC)

10th Feb 2022

A new report from PwC identifies four areas where immediate action is required to develop the foundations for sustainable improvements in the Northern Ireland economy. These are:

  • Education and skills
  • Climate and energy
  • Inward investment
  • Partnership working

The report, part of the firm’s UK Economic Outlook, identifies a need to create a simple, concise narrative for Northern Ireland that promotes the opportunity and the key strengths of the region. It draws upon surveys from key organisations, evidence of successful programmes and the strengths of the region’s most successful sectors.

Education and skills

The most urgent recommendation is fixing problems in the region’s education system. The region has a significantly higher proportion of workers with low or no qualifications, compared to the rest of the UK. Although the Independent Review of Education is ongoing, the report states: “What NI stakeholders must not do is hold back on substantive action until this and other reports from the Review team are published. Many of the issues are understood well enough to ensure that focused remedial action can begin now”.

The report also argues that such is the success of apprenticeships and other business-led re-skilling initiatives, that they demand “parity of esteem”. It highlights the example of PwC’s Assured Skills Academies where 94% of participants successfully secured a job after completing the programme.

Trade and investment

The central theme in this section is the need to create a simple and concise narrative that is “positive, forward-looking and unerringly focused on seizing the economic opportunities that clearly exist.”

While acknowledging the political sensitivities regarding the current trading arrangements, the authors, in line with other business bodies, encourage NI firms and other stakeholders to capture the opportunities from the region’s unique trading position.

Climate and energy

As with education, the message is clear – stakeholders are urged to focus on “action, delivery and implementation”.

Research from PwC’s Green Jobs Barometer, which assessed the region’s readiness to benefit from the UK’s transition to a net zero economy, placed Northern Ireland 11th out of 12 regions in the UK. To address this, the report’s authors back the recommendations in the Northern Ireland Green Growth draft strategy and urge government, business and other stakeholders to “work together to take action.”

The report highlights Northern Ireland’s position as a global leader in renewable energy production. It suggests that key areas to focus on include sustainable transport, hydrogen, and ‘green’ jobs and ‘green’ skills.

Partnership working

PwC NI Partner Dr David Armstrong, who co-authored the report, commented:

“The golden thread that runs through these recommendations is a spirit of partnership. No one organisation can address these challenges on their own. We can each have our own goals but, with so many parts depending on another, the fact remains that we’ll only achieve successful, sustainable change through meaningful collaboration.

“We saw during the pandemic how quickly we could adapt and how innovative we could be. We need to now take this learning and apply it to Northern Ireland plc. We must refocus energies, redouble efforts and reframe our story.”