Productivity is central to good living standards. Yet Northern Ireland has a notable productivity gap when compared to Great Britain, with the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre identifying it as Northern Ireland’s ‘greatest economic challenge’. The Belfast Region’s productivity level ranks 13% below the UK average. Given its importance to prosperity, productivity has been made a strategic priority in the UK Industrial Strategy.
The Belfast Region’s overall skills level is only slightly lower than that of the UK as a whole, but the region has some particular challenges: the proportion of our citizens with no qualifications is nearly double the UK average, and those with low skills levels are more likely to come from deprived backgrounds. Also, the jobs of the future will require specialist skill sets, and the City Deal is facilitating partnerships with our universities and further education colleges which will address these gaps.
Inclusive Growth means ensuring the success of the city reaches every citizen. While Northern Ireland’s employment levels are at their highest since the 1900s, unemployment remains prevalent across the Belfast Region. Deprivation and economic inactivity amongst citizens of working age is extensive. The City Deal is an opportunity to target these inequalities.
Innovation powers greater prosperity and improved quality of life. Invest NI has highlighted that the Belfast Region is currently too reliant on the small number of regional companies currently engaging in research and development. The R&D output of our universities is strong, but private sector investment in this remains too low. Practical collaborations between government, industry and universities, supported by the City Deal, can enable much greater industry R&D, enhancing the competitiveness of regional companies.
The City Deal aims to increase access to the opportunities created as various sectors within our economy grow. To do this, it will significantly improve the quality of digital and physical infrastructure across the region.
“Almost 40% of NI Research and Development spend is attributed to Belfast-based companies.”