Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Fermanagh & Omagh District Council and Mid Ulster District Council have confirmed their intent to develop a proposition and work towards a Growth Deal to boost economic growth and deliver a step change to the future prospects of the collective area.
The three councils – which together represent over 25% of Northern Ireland’s population – have written to the Chancellor Philip Hammond stating a Growth Deal would address specific economic needs and is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, not just for the region, but for the whole of Northern Ireland.
Speaking in a landmark joint statement of intent, they said they have agreed to work together to develop a strategic economic plan focused on improving productivity; creating more and better jobs; addressing economic infrastructure; growing investment; supporting business innovation and improving skills.
That commitment and the call for a Growth Deal are aligned with the Chancellor’s statement in 2017 which laid out the government’s plan to “work toward a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals” in Northern Ireland.
The three councils said a bespoke deal for the region would sit alongside the propositions being developed for a Belfast Region City Deal and a Derry/Londonderry City Deal to deliver a step change in investment and productivity for Northern Ireland as a whole.
They said a Growth Deal will help grow an already strong economy – the region is home to a third of all NI’s businesses (34%), which collectively provide over 200,000 jobs, and three quarters of the total employment is in the private sector, a higher proportion than the UK average – and offer support to the strong sectors of advanced manufacturing, agri food, engineering, construction and tourism.
Councillor Julie Flaherty, Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, said “Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has a number of key ambitions for our economy and society in the years ahead and we are well aware that we can meet those targets by being more joined up and working collaboratively with our neighbouring councils. By joining up the three council areas, we can hopefully leverage a Growth Deal which allows us all to put in place the structures we need to allow our companies to grow, to encourage entrepreneurialism and to put in place interventions for economic growth.”
Councillor Howard Thornton, Chair of Fermanagh & Omagh District Council, said “We would welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with our partner Councils to engage with government on the detail of developing and successfully delivering an economic plan and a Growth Deal for our three Council areas in partnership with the administrations in Stormont and Westminster.”
Councillor Sean McPeake, Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, said “This Growth Deal will demonstrate the power of collaboration to drive greater opportunities for our companies and citizens, our economy and society. In particular, a Growth Deal gives us a unique opportunity to increase the competitiveness and productivity in advanced manufacturing.
“We believe there is much to be gained from this cohesive joined-up approach which has the common goal of making our collective council areas and the wider region stronger, both economically and socially.”
STATEMENT OF INTENT
This statement of intent has been developed jointly by three Councils: Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council; Fermanagh & Omagh District Council; and Mid Ulster District Council which covers the Mid and South/West of Northern Ireland (NI)
Through this statement of intent, we have committed to working together for the benefit of this vitally important area at the heart of NI’s economy.
Our population is over 470,000 representing 25% of NI’s total population and has a working age population close to 300,000. Since 2001 the population of the region has increased by 15% compared to 9% for NI and is currently forecast to grow by a further 9% by 2027 with our working age population forecast to grow by 5% over the same period .
The region also has a strong migrant population. With some of the highest levels of net inward international migration across NI the region is a magnet for migrant workers due to the strength of the business base.
The employment rate across the region is 69%. Three quarters of all our jobs are in the private sector – a higher proportion than the NI average and closer to the rebalanced economy that an industrial strategy aspires to. Approximately one quarter of NI jobs are located in our region and based on travel to work, we also have a high concentration level with 77% of individuals who were aged 16 or over and in employment living and working in the area.
In 2016, the total Gross Valued Added (GVA) for our area was almost a quarter of NI’s total GVA. The region has over 24,000 VAT registered businesses, over a third of the total VAT registered businesses in NI and accounts for 27% of all NI exports. Total entrepreneurial activity rates are consistently high. Our sectoral strengths are in agri-food, construction, life and health sciences with a particular strength in manufacturing where Mid Ulster accounts for 1 in 4 direct manufacturing jobs (over 15,000 jobs and the highest in NI) with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon 12,200 direct manufacturing jobs. Mid Ulster also has the largest direct manufacturing GVA in NI (£840m) . In agriculture and construction the region’s share of the workforce is significantly higher than for NI.1 We are also home to some of Northern Ireland’s biggest and world leading businesses including Almac; Moy Park; Thompson Aero; Terex; Dunbia; McAleer and Rushe; Balcas; Encirc; and The Kerry Group.
Geographically, the region is located on the strategic corridor between Belfast and Dublin, has the largest land border with the Republic of Ireland, is famed for its spectacular waterways and designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and includes Ireland’s oldest City, Armagh.
The region faces a number of challenges to long term sustained and inclusive growth including deficiencies in economic infrastructure – particularly transport links, digital connectivity; skills availability; and productivity. Around 30% of the working age population are not in employment, either unemployed or economically inactive and the median wage remains below the NI average whilst the percentage of the population with no qualifications, although falling since 2009 remains higher than the NI average.
We recognise that more integrated planning and delivery is key to the future of our communities. We want this region to prosper and grow and a strategic and joined up approach to addressing our challenges and seizing the opportunities is the way forward recognising the realities of the way our residents and businesses operate already.
We have agreed that we will work together to address the major economic and social issues affecting the region and we will develop a strategic economic plan, a growth and reform vision for the region, focused on specific and targeted economic interventions and investment to drive growth in the economy in the longer term, at its core being the shared goal of sustained and inclusive growth of the region. This economic plan will focus on advancing further our competitive and region strengths that have the potential to be world class (manufacturing, agri-food, construction & tourism) to drive growth for our region and positively contribute to wider growth across Northern Ireland. For us this means: improving productivity; more and better jobs; tackling inequalities; greater investment in the area; supporting our businesses to innovate and growth; improving skills, ensuring future skills to meet the needs of our growing economy; and the resilience of our place.
The (draft) Northern Ireland Industrial Strategy (NIIS) recognises that there are significant growth opportunities for the Southern and Western region including sectoral strengths in advanced manufacturing; engineering; agri-food; and tourism. To support the delivery of the Industrial Strategy, for example our intention is to develop a national centre for manufacturing that supports the sector across NI, focussed on innovation, R&D and improving productivity. We will also explore the potential of a centre of excellence in agriculture / agri-food.
The Role of Government in Delivering our Goals
The Chancellor’s statement in 2017 outlined the Government’s “commitment to work towards a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals across Northern Ireland to boost investment and productivity”. This is our initial response to that commitment. We will play our role, developing a proposition for Government including the potential and impact of a growth / city deal for the region. This is a once in a generation opportunity to address economic and social deficiencies and secure the platform factors for increasing competitiveness and productivity leading to long term sustained and inclusive growth as well as making a significant contribution to addressing the east / west economic imbalance that has existed in Northern Ireland for many years. We are determined to seize that opportunity!
We are clear that any deal for our region should not sit in isolation from the wider growth agenda for NI and the propositions being developed for a Belfast Region City Deal and a Derry / Londonderry City Deal so that together the impact and benefit of NI deals deliver a step change in investment and productivity for NI as a whole and fulfils the Government’s commitment to work towards a set of city deals across Northern Ireland.
We would welcome the opportunity to engage with government on the detail of developing and delivering successfully a strategic economic plan and our proposition for a growth deal for the Mid and South/West of Northern Ireland in partnership with the administrations in Stormont and Westminster.