The State of Britain

Northern Ireland carving out a niche in cyber security, the end of the road for Wrightbus and a ‘Boris Bridge’ to Galloway

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In his latest spending round (covering the next year), Chancellor, Sajid Javid, announced £13.8bn of extra revenue spending for public services across the UK. Under the Barnett formula, Northern Ireland’s share will amount to c£400m, a real increase of c2% according to the Northern Ireland Office. With no Stormont government, however, spending decisions regarding this new money will be made largely by civil servants.

The design and build of a new generation of Royal Navy frigates has been won by engineering firm Babcock. The £1.25bn contract for the five Type 31 ‘Lidl’ warships secures hundreds of jobs at yards across the UK. At £250m the Type 31 is a smaller, cheaper frigate than the Type 26 warships currently being built on the Clyde which are c£1bn each. The winning consortium also includes Harland and Wolff. The ships will be assembled in Rosyth, with construction work expected to be spread between the other UK yards like Belfast. Work is to begin by the end of 2019, with the first ships delivered in 2023.

Channel 4 News has seen documents showing that the Treasury and Department for Transport have been asked for advice on the possible costs and risks of a bridge from Northern Ireland to Scotland. Better infrastructure in Galloway suggests a bridge from Larne to Portpatrick is preferable to the shorter Antrim coast to Campbeltown crossing. At 20 miles long though, the Galloway option would cost much more, c£15-£20bn, but the region does have an existing trunk roads network from the Cairnryan ports to the motorway network. Another complication is the Beaufort’s Dyke, a deep trench where millions of tonnes of ordnance has been jettisoned. Where or who will foot the bill for this project is unclear. Last month, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, put the £80bn HS2 project under review.

A US cyber security firm, Contrast Security, is creating up to 120 jobs at a new Belfast office. The Californian company is establishing a development and delivery centre aided by a grant of £786,500 from Invest NI. The new jobs should offer an average salary of more than £30,000, reflecting the impact the cyber-security sector is having in NI where 1,700 professionals are now employed in the industry.

Another cyber security firm, MetaCompliance, is creating 70 jobs in Londonderry. The firm develops software that companies use to minimise risk from cyber attacks. Invest Northern Ireland has offered £695,000 towards the new roles and the £4.5m investment.

US engineering company, Terex Corporation, has opened a new factory near Londonderry, creating 100 jobs over the next four years. The new facility in Campsie is part of a £12m investment by Terex. The firm currently employs 1,500 people across eight sites in Northern Ireland. The factory will manufacture equipment used in waste management, mobile conveying and recycling at the new site.

The last UK-owned bus manufacturer Ballymena based, Wrightbus, has entered administration with the loss of 1200 jobs. Deloitte, the firm’s administrator, has been unable to find a buyer for the business and so just 50 jobs will be retained. Deloitte said the switch from diesel to electric buses caused a sharp decline in demand in the UK resulting in the firm’s cash flow problems. Invest NI has disclosed it loaned the Wrightbus group £2.5m in June 2019 to keep the business afloat. The development agency will need to ensure that these funds are not classified as operating aid under state aid rules.

Antrim-based contractor, Blackbourne, has ceased trading with the loss of c90 jobs. The company worked in mechanical/electrical engineering and contract maintenance. And in west Belfast, Caterpillar financial services is outsourcing its global finance operations to Accenture. Accenture does not have a finance operations in Northern Ireland so 100 jobs are at threat.

The Stats
For the first time, the ONS has published quarterly GDP for all nine English regions plus Wales. GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013. The Northern Ireland figures are compiled by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. The latest available comparable figure, which are for the year ended 2018, showed Northern Ireland’s economy grew by 1.8%. This ranked the ‘region’ fifth of the twelve UK ‘regions.’ The East Midlands topped the table with growth of 3.4% whilst at the bottom the South West economy declined by 1.1%. UK growth over the same period was 1.5%. The quarter to Dec 2018 showed GDP was driven by a 0.5% increase in services but this was partially offset by decreases in production of 0.1% and construction of 0.3%. More recent estimates (six months later) for the year ended June 2019, published by ESCoE last month, ranked Northern Ireland bottom with growth of 1.0%, which suggests the Province’s economy has weakenend this year relative to other parts of the UK.

Unemployment in Northern Ireland decreased by 2,000 to 25,000 between May and July, the drop of 0.3%, took the overall rate to 2.8%, a record low. The South West had the lowest rate at 2.4% with the UK rate at 3.8%. The highest rate was 5.0% which was recorded in the North East. The South West also had the highest employment rate at 80.8% which compared with 72.0% in Northern Ireland . UK employment was estimated at 76.1%.

Northern Ireland’s average property price was £136.767 in June, which meant annually prices had risen by 3.5%. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.5% to £232,710 during July, an annual growth rate of 0.7%.