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Contents 06 News

32 Interview

65 Outsourcing

All the latest news and exclusives from across the Northern Ireland business landscape

Mark Crimmins, Ulster Bank’s new head in NI, on his role and the wider economy

Ulster Business looks at the firms which are thinking outside the box

14 Cover Story

39 STEM

77 Motoring

KPMG’s new partner in charge, Johnny Hanna, on taking the next steps forward

How do we perform in one of the fastest growing sectors? John Simpson takes a look

Pat Burns has been out on the road in a host of top new motors

18 In Focus

47 Cross-border Trade

86 Photocall

John Mulgrew speaks to Connaire McGreevy about a £20m business, brewing and bars

Pavel Barter examines the Prime Minister’s proposed EU exit deal and its effect on firms

We take a look at what’s been happening across Northern Ireland in the last few weeks

21 IT & Technology

55 Public Sector

92 The Chairman

We look at what’s out there to help young and burgeoning IT firms to get off the ground

We look at what continues to be overlooked due to the lack of a working Executive

The autumn black tie and soirée season has begun, and the Chairman is on the list

Ulster Business is a part of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). If you believe you have been unfairly treated, you can contact IPSO in writing via its website for guidance on what to do. The service is free. IPSO can then advise on whether it’s likely you have grounds for a complaint and what to do about it. The normal procedure is for the complainant to then contact the publication’s editor directly. If no agreement is reached, the complainant can go back to IPSO to look for an adjudication, or for it to take over the complaint. Full details are available at www.ipso.co.uk. Alternatively, email complaints@ipso.co.uk, or inquiries@ipso.co.uk, or telephone 0300 123 2220, or the out-of-hours emergency number: 07659 152 656. Or write to: IPSO, c/o Halton House, 20-23 Holborn, London EC1N 2JD

DECEMBER 2019

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EDITOR’S COMMENTS

A big year gone and another ahead

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month is a long time in politics, to butcher a well-known saying.

This time last month we were on the brink, again – with arguably a less favourable EU deal than that previously on the cards. Now, we are days from the first Christmas General Election in a century. You can read more in this edition about what many cross-border and export businesses think about the Prime Minister’s current deal. Divergence and bureaucracy are words which continue to raise their heads. In all honesty, that could all be out the window in the days that follow December 12. Welcome to December’s edition of Ulster

Business. It brings an end to a year filled with some superb business success stories and triumphs, as well as those from across the sectors continuing to operate in a bubble of uncertainty. While we are still handed out meaningless platitudes and soundbites from across the political spectrum about how the problems with Brexit will be addressed, we’ll keep on speaking to the businesses at the centre of this – those who are in the know and are directly, and acutely aware of what the changes will mean for their companies and customers. We’ve a lot planned for Ulster Business next year, including boosting and growing our digital presence, as well as making our magazine better and better.

Publisher Ulster Business c/o Independent News & Media Ltd Belfast Telegraph House 33 Clarendon Road, Clarendon Dock, Belfast BT1 3BG

I’d like to thank everyone involved in the magazine this year, and in years gone by. Ulster Business is a magazine for businesses and remains a strong, leading publication thanks to the support we receive, the expertise we rely on, the insight offered and the reach we enjoy across the Northern Ireland business landscape. Regardless of what the make-up of Westminster will look like in December, Ulster Business will be here to ensure business has a strong and clear voice, and showcase the host of hugely successful companies, organisations and individuals which we boast here. And with that, I hope you enjoy the issue and we’ll pick things up in 2020. ■ John Mulgrew

Editor John Mulgrew Senior advertising manager Jackie Reid Sales executive Sarah-Ann Gamble Sales executive Judith Martin Production manager Irene Fitzsimmons

Printer W&G Baird Greystone Press, Caulside Drive, Antrim BT41 2RS www.wgbaird.com

Graphic design Susan McClean, INM Design Studio Contact: 028 9026 4262/028 9026 4260 Cover photo: Elaine Hill www.ulsterbusiness.com

@ulsterbusiness

Ulster Business Magazine

Independent News & Media Ltd © 2019. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission of Independent News & Media Ltd.

DECEMBER 2019

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NEWS

month IN numbers

Sprucefield Retail Park

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2.5%

The current unemployment rate in Northern Ireland. It has now fallen to a record low, however economic inactivity here remains higher than other regions.

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The number of seats politicians in Northern Ireland will be vying for in the upcoming General Election on December 12. It’s the first Christmas election in the UK for almost a century.

6,200

The number of businesses across NI which are facing difficulties. That’s according to Enterprise Northern Ireland, which has said one in 20 companies here is in difficulty.

£2bn

The new ambitious tourism spend target for Northern Ireland. Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland have launched a new strategy which is aimed at doubling visitor spending here.

Sprucefield Retail Park sold By John Mulgrew

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major Co Antrim retail property – on the market for £46.5m – has been sold, Ulster Business can

reveal.

Shopping centre owner Intu put Sprucefield Retail Park on the market for in September. The park outside Lisburn, includes grocery giant Sainsbury’s and DIY chain B&Q. It’s now understood that a sale has been agreed for the huge retail site, close to the asking price. Sprucefield Retail Park is a separate development to Sprucefield Shopping Centre, which is home to retailers including Next, Marks and Spencer and Boots. Speaking as the property was placed on the market earlier this year, a spokesman for Intu, which also owns the Trafford Centre in Manchester, said: “We said at our interim results in July that part of our strategy is to fix the balance sheet. “One way that we are doing this is through disposal and part-disposal of assets in the UK and Spain. In line with this, we are considering the sale of Sprucefield Park but all of those discussions are still at an early stage. We have not agreed terms with anybody at this point.” In 2018 the company said a proposed £50m revamp of Sprucefield Centre would be going

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ahead despite the prospect of the firm being taken over by Hammerson. However, takeover talks fell through and the revamp plans were abandoned. A brochure previously prepared by the selling agents, Cushman Wakefield, describes Sprucefield Park as “one of the strongest out of centre retailing locations in Northern Ireland”. The majority of the income for the centre is generated from Sainsbury’s and B&Q. It describes Sprucefield as serving a significant catchment area given its location off the motorway. In April 2018, Ulster Business revealed early plans were under way to develop the Sprucefield site outside Lisburn, which could attract a major retail giant. The site has long been linked to John Lewis, but has undergone years of hold-ups and legal challenges. A pre-application discussion (PAD) took place between planners and Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council. It’s understood early discussions first took place at the end of 2017. The scheme has been mired in a range of issues for more than a decade. That included a legal challenge and issues around developing such large-scale outof-town parks instead of drawing footfall to urban areas.


NEWS

Business investment ‘still being put off due to Brexit’

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ontinued Brexit uncertainty and a lack of confidence is continuing to put off investment and business decisions here, one bank chief has said.

He’s taking over in the role as Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK head towards another Brexit deadline at the end of January, with some form of a deal to avoid a hard border appearing a more likely outcome.

Mark Crimmins has now taken over the role in charge of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland. He says while generally, the bank is at “stability point now” and “facing normal banking challenges” that the wider economy continues to face challenges.

“It’s going to be the best/worst deal,” he says. “There is no question that there is a lack of confidence around business and investment decisions. That goes from our small farmers, right through to our multi-nationals.

“Overall, in terms of economic performance, it’s a tricky time,” he said. “If you look at the various data sets, such as our PMI or others, the indicators are that we are facing a lack of confidence and arguably looking at the early stages of recession.”

“When we see what the outcome of a deal looks like, that will give businesses certainty from top to bottom as to what the impact will be. There is hope that there may be some latent investment demand going in to 2020 and 2021.”

DECEMBER 2019

Mark Crimmins

Read the full interview with Mark Crimmins on page 32-33

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NEWS

Quotes OF THE month “This is not a decision the family has taken lightly, especially given our 93-year trading history and follows significant and emotional consideration over a prolonged period.” A statement from the Trufelli family, owners of Barry’s Amusements, Portrush, who are selling the centre.

“Northern Ireland’s private sector has started the fourth quarter the way it ended the third, with business conditions deteriorating. However, the pace of decline in output, new orders, employment, exports and future output expectations all eased in October relative to September.” Ulster Bank’s chief economist Richard Ramsey speaking about the latest PMI survey for October.

“(This) announcement is great news for our sites in Northern Ireland, Morocco and the United States. Through this agreement with Bombardier, we are delighted that Spirit, a global, tierone aerostructure manufacturer and supplier, has recognised our unique offering and growth potential.” Bombardier’s Michael Ryan speaking as the company announced it is selling its Northern Ireland operations to US firm Spirit AeroSystems.

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Hazel Ahern-Flynn, Alan Bridle, Loretta O’Sullivan, Dale Guest, Angela McGowan and Anna Leach

All-island economy ‘could kickstart’ NI private sector

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strong all-island economy could kickstart Northern Ireland’s private sector, the director of the CBI in Northern Ireland has claimed. Angela McGowan was speaking at an economic briefing in Belfast on how the UK and Irish economies are performing against an international outlook. “Partnership with government is essential and that means restoring power-sharing institutions, but so is capitalising on vital eastwest trade links and making the best use of our all-island economy,” she said. “North-south partnership on areas like energy, healthcare and infrastructure isn’t just convenient; it can deliver higher growth, less deprivation and more people and communities included and sharing in this island’s prosperity.” She was speaking at an event, hosted in partnership with the Bank of Ireland, focusing on how the UK and Irish economies are performing against an international outlook. Guest speakers included the CBI’s deputy chief economist, Anna Leach, and group chief economist at the Bank of Ireland, Dr Loretta O’Sullivan.

Ms McGowan said that improvements in the Northern Ireland economy had plateaued and that business needed help to ensure recovery. “The economy has come on leaps and bounds since the dark days of doubledigit unemployment in the 1980s, but recently that success has stalled,” she said. “Business has shown that it can be an engine of growth – one that brings jobs, innovation and improved living standards across Northern Ireland – but it can’t do it alone.” She said business had a long list of demands for assistance but that action could be taken in the short-term. “We know that the shopping list from businesses is a lengthy one, from securing a Brexit deal to unblocking Belfast congestion and enhancing our digital skills offer,” Ms McGowan said. “However, there are investments we can make right now. It’s time for a clear vision for the local economy, one that focuses on economic fundamentals to keep Northern Ireland competitive and unlocks growth across the island of Ireland and between the British-Irish isles.”


NEWS

Responsible Business awards get under way

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ome of Northern Ireland’s leading companies will have a chance to showcase their social responsibility and contribution to society with the launch of this year’s Responsible Business Awards.

Business in the Community is calling on responsible businesses across Northern Ireland to enter the 2020 Responsible Business Awards in Northern Ireland. The awards, in association with media partners Ulster Business and U105 and in partnership with JP Corry and SPAR, seek to recognise and celebrate firms in Northern Ireland that are making a difference by taking action to address pressing social and environmental issues. They are free to enter and open to firms here of all sizes and from all sectors, with 11 categories up for grabs in 2020.

DECEMBER 2019

Responsible Business Awards sponsors and media partners along with Kieran Harding, Business in the Community (centre)

Business in the Community NI managing director, Kieran Harding, said: “The Responsible Business Awards recognise and reward firms in Northern Ireland that at embracing the journey to build better workforces, create a sustainable economy and healthy communities.” Applications can be made at www.bitcni.org.uk/awards. Entries close on February 28, 2020 at 5pm, and the winners will be revealed at a gala dinner at the ICC Belfast on May 28.

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NEWS

Investors ‘holding on to property amid Brexit’

Richard McCaig

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here is a strong pipeline of commercial property investors here but there remains a lack of market supply as owners sit on assets amid Brexit uncertainty, it’s been claimed.

Richard McCaig of Osborne King was speaking about the current property landscape here, with the Brexit deadline now pushed back to the end of January. “I think a lot of people are waiting to see what happens with the election and with Brexit to see what the fallout is,” he said. “There are lots of private individuals who are there and want to invest money in property. I would say we have had at least 20 to 25 private individuals who have in excess of £1m and who are prepared to buy. But the problem is the investors who are holding those assets don’t want to sell them because they are getting a good return on their money – it’s a catch 22.” “I think there is an apprehension for people to sell because they are unsure if they sell, get their cash in, what do they do with it then?”

Meanwhile, Belfast has been described as the prime UK location for commercial property investment at an event in London. Investors and public sector leaders, including Belfast City Council chief executive Suzanne Wylie, were in London to make the case for further investment in the city, including highlighting its “unique” position as a bridge between the UK and the EU following Brexit. Read the Business Breakfast interview on page 72-73

Water park boss launching new centre

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etail and leisure park boss Pete Boyle is planning a multi-million pound expansion of his water sports business into the Republic of Ireland, it can be revealed. Mr Boyle, who also owns the 29-store Argento chain of jewellers, opened up activity centre Let’s Go Hydro in Knockbracken close to Carryduff last year. Now he said he’s looking for locations around Dublin for another potential water park, in an investment of up to €5m (£4.3m). He said he had hoped to open a site at a reservoir at Stillorgan in Co Dublin but could not secure the agreement of Irish Water.

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Pete Boyle (right) and Stephen Cassidy at the launch of its Carryduff park

Mr Boyle said any prospective site could be no further than 30 minutes from a major city in order to draw maximum visitors. “We’re

looking into an aqua park in Dublin. It’s logical to put them as close to cities as possible,” he said.


NEWS

Multi-million pound holiday park for north coast

Shane Lowry after winning The Open in Portrush

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new multi-million pound 33 acre holiday home park is being developed for the north coast as the area’s tourism sector continues to boom, Ulster Business can be reveal.

Just months after Portrush hosted the world’s top golf tournament, The Open, a new static home and lodge holiday park is being planned for nearby Portstewart. Ballyleese Town and Country Park plans to expand its existing site on the Agherton Road with a new development which will include 126 static buildings, 27 lodges, 12 pitches as well as other buildings, including recreation, and children’s play areas. Those behind the scheme, of which planning is being led by Clyde Shanks, say they are building the new development “to provide additional capacity for the expanding tourism industry in the north coast area”.

DECEMBER 2019

The development would sit close to the existing site, and covers an area of around 33 acres. Ballyleese sits on the edge of Portstewart town, and is close to a number of attractions, including the nearby golf courses and beaches. The expansion is considered a ‘major development’, in accordance with planning regulations in Northern Ireland.

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ANALYSIS

Bombardier: the next step in the journey for an industry giant As Bombardier’s Northern Ireland business is sold off to Spirit AeroSystems in a deal worth more than $1bn, and is continuing to land sales for its partBelfast made aircraft, John Mulgrew looks at the state of play for the plane-making giant

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t’s been quite a journey for one of Northern Ireland’s largest manufacturers, and an industry giant which still appears to be looking ahead as it’s being sold off for around $1.1bn (£880m). Bombardier’s Northern Ireland operations – which include around 3,600 staff – will soon be in the hands of US-based Spirit AeroSystems, as the Canadian-owned manufacturer continues to shed many of its wider aerospace operations. The parent firm is hoping that the disposal will give it more liquidity as it attempts to reduce debt. Spirit is also buying a Bombardier factory in Morocco – a location which some of the Belfast operation’s work was outsourced to a few years back. But what for Bombardier here? It’s already been something of a page-turner for the firm, formerly Short Brothers – from huge swathes of job cuts, to struggling with its passenger aircraft gamble, ending up in a trade war with US rival Boeing, and then Airbus acquiring a majority stake in the former C Series jets (now A220), of which the wings and part of the fuselage are made here. What it means for its new owners is further bolstering that relationship with Airbus. Any

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Bombardier’s Belfast base

form of takeover should raise at least some concern among a workforce, but the Spirit deal should see its work develop further with France’s largest aircraft maker. When the company’s Northern Ireland operations were placed on the market, there was concern among both workers and the unions. But there was certainly some sigh of relief from the industry and workforce when the buyer was one intrinsically involved in the sector, and not private equity. Paul Everitt, who heads up industry group ADS, said it was “welcome news for the highly skilled workforce in Belfast, the successful aerospace sector in Northern Ireland and the whole UK aerospace industry… while also opening up new opportunities for the Belfast facility to grow its business with the US and elsewhere”. “With the future of the operations assured, the exceptional workforce at the Belfast facility will now be able to continue to use their world-class expertise and skills as an integral part of the aerospace industry. We look forward to working closely with Spirit as

they continue to grow their UK footprint.” Michael Ryan, chief operations officer for aerostructures at Bombardier Aviation, said: “Through this agreement with Bombardier, we are delighted that Spirit, a global, tier-one aerostructure manufacturer and supplier, has recognised our unique offering and growth potential. We look forward to an exciting future ahead.” For the flagship A220 aircraft, securing new orders will be a key part of improving the balance sheet, and ensuring the NI workforce’s security. Since the sale was agreed, Air Senegal has confirmed it is to buy eight Airbus A220300 aircraft. The airline said the efficiency of the A220 would help cut operating costs. We won’t know if any changes will take place at the company here until the deal completes, likely at the beginning of next year, but there remains hope that, with cost and job-cutting having already been part of the Bombardier story in recent years, that the current workforce and presence can continue to build on the success of what remains one of the stalwarts of manufacturing here. ■


COVER STORY

Leading from the front: KPMG’s Johnny Hanna Fresh from a three month sabbatical travelling with his family, KPMG’s new partner in charge, Johnny Hanna, sits down with Ulster Business to discuss growing an already-strong local professional services firm with global reach, developing the next generation and what’s needed to set Northern Ireland apart on the world stage

J

ohnny Hanna’s new role as partner in charge at KPMG in Northern Ireland sees him take the helm of an organisation already in a strong position, but also one which is very much in growth mode. And with more than 20 years under his belt working across KPMG, he’s now been tasked with taking the next leap forward – building on its strong client base, tackling the new business landscape which lies around the corner, and growing the next generation of top talent.

While a global firm, KPMG works with a host of Northern Ireland businesses of all shapes and sizes – having life-long relationships with indigenous success stories such as First Derivatives and Norbrook – while also working with global businesses with connections to the UK and Ireland. TALENT KPMG now boasts a Belfast workforce of nearly 300 staff. But as the intake of top new graduates and experienced hires grows, that number looks set to expand and develop further still. Johnny’s confident that the company will continue to grow at its offices at the Soloist building in Belfast city centre. He points to the benefits for KPMG staff of significant collaboration and shared working

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opportunities with Dublin as part a successful all-island business now employing over 3000 people. The firm’s Corporate Finance team, for example, led by Russell Smyth are the go-to advisors in the renewables sector when it comes to fundraising for new assets north and south. “It’s an exciting time for the firm,” Johnny says. “We have done a lot in the last few years, working with many new clients, investing in our new office and increasing our graduate numbers. In addition there has been a record number of promotions. I’ve been working closely with our previous partner in charge John Hansen on all of that as well as continuing to grow and drive our large tax team, an area of expertise which we’ve always been renowned for. “My focus will be about maintaining this momentum and ensuring we continue to offer the expertise and solutions which our clients need, which will drive our growth. That means being alive to changing trading conditions, increased regulation and a business environment increasingly uncertain, disruptive and complex”. A law graduate from Queen’s University Belfast, Johnny’s also a fellow of Chartered Accountants Ireland, and a Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) – starting his career in Dublin

with the former Arthur Andersen, which was later merged with KPMG. The Newry man became a partner with KPMG in 2006 and has been head of tax in Northern Ireland since 2016. The tax practice boasts around 90 tax professionals, most of which are dual qualified in tax and accountancy. “It’s a key differentiator for us,” he says. “And while tax and audit represent the more traditional strands of business, KPMG has invested significantly in new skills, specialisms and services arising from technological advances such as articifical intelligence and cyber-security.” Johnny takes over his role at a time when Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the UK and Ireland, is undergoing arguably its biggest business and economic shift in a generation. “Brexit is just one part of it. We have been working closely with companies to prepare for Brexit, whether there is a ‘no deal’ or some sort of deal here. “We have had a lot of engagement with business groups and other stakeholders over the last three years to highlight our concerns and those of our clients. Wherever we end up on Brexit will definitely dictate the future trading conditions. Our role will be to help >


COVER STORY

DECEMBER 2019

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COVER STORY

Holly Dorrian, Stephen Smyth, Johnny Hanna, Ciara Maguire and Thomas Reynolds

clients navigate their way around any new barriers they could face, as well as examining the potential opportunities which may arise from the UK’s exit from the EU.” ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is something which cannot be ignored here, and a differentiator for Northern Ireland could help bolster that – whether it’s a deal which moulds Northern Ireland as a unique business destination in the UK and Ireland, finally introducing a lower devolved rate of corporation tax or ideally a package of measures. “Not long after I took over the head of Tax role in 2016 we co-hosted a breakfast in our KPMG New York office with various international businesses. At that time there was a lot of talk around the reduced corporation tax rate. There was a lot of positivity and enthusiasm in the room that morning around the opportunity for Northern Ireland, and I’m looking forward to getting back to those types of discussions.

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“Northern Ireland requires a range of tools to help drive economic success in the postBrexit era. It’s investment in infrastructure and skills, initiatives on export-led growth, delivering a 12.5% tax rate and some sort of devolution of income tax powers – we need step change initiatives which can really turbocharge the private sector.”

to know about our commitment to the local community and on environmental issues and be proud to work for KPMG”.

COMMUNITY Getting the right talent is also key for KPMG, building and developing a workforce which is increasingly diverse, as well as giving back to the community. That includes a range of initiatives, including the recent launch of a skills-based scheme which has seen KPMG staff volunteering to help children, from a wide variety of backgrounds, with their literacy and numeracy skills.

“Ensuring we maintain the right culture within the firm for our people to reach their full potential and achieve their career aspirations is incredibly important. I was delighted we were able to add to our already strong team with the recent addition of four new partners in Ashleen Feeney, Paddy Doherty, Neil O’Hare and Dominic Mudge within our Deal Advisory, Tax and Audit teams.

“Our graduates want to do more than get their qualifications and service clients. They want to know that what they are doing has a broader purpose and objective. They want

“We are ambitious to keep growing the practice and have a fantastic pool of talent in Belfast at all levels to help us realise those ambitions.

“My role is to ensure that when I hand over to the next partner in charge, we are in an even stronger position than we are today. That’s the challenge and the goal but given the strong team and our market position, I know that I will relish the opportunity”. ■


IN FOCUS

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IN FOCUS

Brewing a burgeoning £20m business “I

t’s good for the environment, businesses and people,” Connaire McGreevy tells me.

He’s speaking of course about EU membership, and he’s one of Northern Ireland’s business leaders not concerned with remaining partisan on the matter, as we head into a Christmas General Election and sit with a deal on the table which would likely lead to increased costs and bureaucracy between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Connaire founded CTS Projects back in 2006, and has developed it into a diverse facilities management business, recently expanding further into the Republic – giving him reach from Donegal to Waterford, and “everything in between”. “We are an all-island facilities management company with significant growth in the last number of years, particularly in the Republic of Ireland,” he told Ulster Business. “It has had significant growth in the last number of years, particularly in the Republic of Ireland. We made moves after the Brexit referendum – we needed to diversify with a subsidiary. “There has been significant growth in the Republic of Ireland, with 50% year-on-year. In business, it’s easy to grow from a base of nothing so we will see that normalise.”

DECEMBER 2019

In the last 13 years Co Down man Connaire McGreevy has built his facilities management business CTS Projects into a £20m firm, started a brewery, bought a bar and chaired a football club. He speaks to John Mulgrew about further growth, holding back on GB expansion due to Brexit, and why staying in the EU is the best deal we have CTS began life refurbishing rundown properties, such as old social housing stock, to get them prepared to accept new tenants. That then grew and developed to include a focus on renewable heating, such as biomass boilers and solar panels – focusing on energy efficiency. Around 80% of its work is with public sector clients, and the remainder with private companies.

– core maintenance, as opposed to new infrastructure development,” he says. “With private, there has been a downturn.”

Those private sector clients include private office schemes in Belfast, looking after all of the main facilities management.

Speaking about which areas the company has grown in to, he said it has developed further into a more diverse building management business.

CTS has grown into a 150-strong full-time workforce, with around 100 additional full-time sub-contractors also working for the business. And it’s on track to hit £20m turnover this year. But CTS, like many other firms, has actively held back investing in new operations in GB, until there is a clear Brexit outcome. “Unfortunately we have noticed NI business opportunities have started to stagnate or decline,” he said. “A lack of an Assembly is having an impact on public sector (work)

But he says since the summer “people seem to have found a new sense of confidence”. He says some of those who were holding back post-referendum appear to have now pushed forward with some investment.

“We also expanded into fire and security in 2019 – areas such as fire extinguishers, alarms and panels. We have found that energy efficiency and the environmental (focus) is coming to the fore.” That includes areas such as battery energy storage and solar panels for homes. “We have a lot of public sector clients in housing, education and healthcare. We have had local government in the past, and are actively targeting that area with new innovation.” >

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IN FOCUS

Connaire McGreevy with Aisling Lavery from Ulster Bank after winning an award at the Greater Newry Area Business Awards

Connaire’s own interest in decent beer drew out his entrepreneurship five years ago when he set up Mourne Mountains Brewery in Warrenpoint. On a separate note, he’s also the current chairman of Warrenpoint Town FC. “(The brewery) was a passion turned into a business,” he says. “It’s exciting stuff, in terms of creating beer and marking five years. It’s still in its infancy and has been impacted by a mushroom of craft breweries. “I am still optimistic in the market, but I don’t see it growing as fast anymore. Looking at the market across the island, some may close their doors. The scale might not be there, and there are lots of larger breweries and imported beers – the consumer has so much choice. People know what they are looking for.” An opportunity also came knocking recently which saw Connaire taking on a bar in Warrenpoint, the Ye Old Ship Inn, which he says has a very personal connection. Connaire’s sister Ciara, who worked with him in CTS Projects and was a former gaelic footballer, passed away suddenly in 2017.

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Connaire says she had worked in bars over the years, and the idea of taking one on was a conversation which they had. “There is vertical integration with the bar, as it’s an outlet there for us, with pop-up bars with the brewery.” But he, like many others in the brewing and distilling industry, says Northern Ireland’s licensing laws “are in the dark ages”. The main concern is that beer producers cannot sell their products to the public during a tour of the brewery, and require a drinks licence to do so.

“It’s an administrative border – paperwork, time and a cost to business,” he says. “Our plans would be going into GB to set up new company, with a small acquisition and some back office administration support. “All-island, under the deal it looks like we can have easy access, which is welcome. It’s so connected and any divergence is going to have an impact.” He said that could have an impact on foreign direct investment (FDI) as companies from outside the UK and Ireland. And Connaire says there is still no clarity of what a potential deal with the EU could look like on the outside.

“We have a number of tourists who arrive at the doors, asking about tours and beer… it’s embarrassing for Northern Ireland. We don’t have the legislation in place. I am passionate about tourism in the area, and we have tourism projects in the mix.”

“It’s a waypoint in that journey and we have to be very cautious,” he said. “I personally feel we get the best deal possible being in the EU. Looking across the world, there are now trading blocs everywhere.

With Brexit, Connaire believes the current deal from Prime Minister Boris Johnson would create a divergence down the Irish Sea, making all-island business a more attractive and palatable affair for companies here.

“At this stage, in business circles, a lot of people are holding back investment to see what the trading environment is like. It’s the most uncertain period in my business journey.” ■


IT

Sponsored by


IT & TECHNOLOGY

How to get tech off the ground Northern Ireland’s IT sector is continuing to grow, with around 23,000 in the wider sector here. And according to research, that number is predicted to expand by a further 4,000 in the next decade. John Mulgrew examines what assistance is out there for our new and established companies in terms of R&D and exploring new markets

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B

ack when I was deciding which educational avenue to pursue while still at school, despite already studying and having an acute interest in IT, the dot com bubble had just burst and the message from those apparently in the know, was that there was no strong future, career wise. Cut to 2019. Aside from the fact that not only has technology become intrinsically part of our daily lives – a requirement – but our own indigenous IT and digital sector has grown exponentially, while we’ve attracted arms of huge global businesses, foreign direct investment (FDI), and emerging new Northern Ireland companies.

The latest outlook from Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre is eyeing up yet more growth – around 4,000 extra jobs being added here over the next decade. The sector has a bright cluster of businesses, with around 1,200 firms, including more than 100 global technology leaders. And with that, the attraction builds among existing or budding entrepreneurs to get their own businesses off the ground. But what’s out there to help companies, and young people to get started? Kicking off at school level, an IT apprenticeship scheme originally created by nine businesses in Mid Ulster, North West and North Antrim is


IT & TECHNOLOGY

now being rolled out across Northern Ireland in 2020.

portfolio which provides loan and equity funding to SMEs.

Career Encode aims to fill a skills gap in the IT sector, allowing school leavers and those wishing to change careers to embark on a career in IT without the financial pressure of paying college fees. Those successful applicants will obtain an internationally recognised foundation degree qualification, accredited by Ulster University and receive a full salary.

“The Techstart II and Crescent IV funds will build on the success of prior funds in providing equity finance to start-up and early stage innovative high growth potential SMEs,” William McCulla, director of corporate finance at Invest NI, said.

As far as starting a business, Invest NI provides a host of different assistance schemes for companies of all sizes, across the sectors, and including IT. It has also just launched two new equity funds, offering investments to innovative high growth potential SMEs. The TechStart II Seed Fund and Crescent Capital IV Development Fund have been created as part of Invest NI’s Access to Finance

DECEMBER 2019

More than 60 companies managed to raise equity investment through the scheme – creating jobs and bringing new products to market. Techstart Ventures will manage the £30m TechStart II fund and will offer initial investment rounds averaging around £300,000 and up to £2m in any one company over a series of rounds. Just last month, Northern Ireland tech firm Cloudsmith also secured £2.1m in funding in one of the biggest early stage rounds for a start-up.

As for building a workforce, when a company is interested in creating jobs, the Department for the Economy’s Assured Skills is one avenue to help support to deliver a skilled workforce through the delivery of pre-employment training programmes. It seeks to assure potential investors, and existing employers considering expansion, that the skills they need to support a growing business can be found in Northern Ireland. Ormeau Baths is another hub of tech and IT forward-thinking. Within it, the Ignite scheme seeks early-stage startup founders for the preaccelerator programme. Ignite NI’s Propel 2020 is an intensive sixmonth pre-accelerator supporting early-stage companies stress test their ideas and helping them successfully launch a product to market. Run by Ignite NI and supported by Invest NI, the programme is seeking idea stage prelaunch companies and people working in >

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IT & TECHNOLOGY

Camilla Long, Jonny Crooks, Catherine McNaughton and Connor Hamilton launching the Career Encode scheme

existing tech jobs looking to make their side project a reality. And within six months, the 2019 programme saw teams go from a basic concept to over 350 customers in more than 40 countries. One of those utilising the scheme, Phil McElnay, chief executive of MedAll, said the programme helped the firm “focus on our mission and our users rather than our product”. “No longer were we just building an app, we were forming a community of healthcare professionals who wanted to collaborate to radically improve healthcare. The support I received from Propel pushed me to launch MedAll. “It’s like adding a set of super experienced founders to your team overnight who care very deeply about your success. Within three

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weeks, we grew to 1,000 customers helping medics across the UK collaborate on ground breaking research.” And when the business does get up on its feet, there’s also Northern Ireland’s next generation science park – Catalyst – which is home to 220 innovative knowledge based companies, who are employing more than 3,000 engineers, researchers, entrepreneurs and executives, across four locations. A recent edition to Belfast is Google Digital Garage. Aimed at inexperienced users who need basic training, it also offers companies a host of short and longer-term courses aimed at boosting their digital prowess. Ryan Owens, who is originally from Northern Ireland and is now director of Google Shopping, told Ulster Business: “With the location in Belfast at Cornmarket, you can

just come in, but you can also go on to the Google Digital Garage website for Belfast and there is a list of courses and workshops on that website – some are multiple weeks and some are one-offs.” And he’s optimistic about the future of the IT sector here, and believes Northern Ireland could attract an industry giant such as Google or Facebook in the future as the burgeoning tech scene here continues to expand. Speaking of Google, growth agency Grofuse is warning organisations not to ignore Google’s indication that it will ‘shame’ slowloading websites. The agency, which creates digital solutions to fuel business growth, is telling organisations to act now to improve website loading speeds in order to avoid damage to Google rankings. ■


IT & TECHNOLOGY

The future of fintech is bright By Andrew Jenkins, HM Treasury appointed Fintech Envoy for Northern Ireland

Andrew Jenkins

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ith 2020 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to take stock and plan for the year ahead. With uncertainty in the political landscape, my assessment of the local fintech sector, and what lies ahead, has been a welcome distraction. Since taking up my role in September, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to describe fintech. Financial technology, often shortened to fintech, is an emerging industry that at its core, uses technology to improve how we access financial services. As consumers, while we may not instantly recognise the term ‘fintech’, we experience it daily through mobile apps, computer program and other technologies that support and improve how we bank and access finance. Fintech also encompasses the technologies that make it easy for us to purchase and pay for Christmas presents online. In Northern Ireland, fintech is a success story we should feel very good about. The fintech sector is estimated to be worth £2.4bn to the Northern Ireland economy and almost 40,000 jobs are sustained across the financial and professional services, making it a key economic driver. As Fintech Envoy for Northern Ireland, I am immensely proud of what the sector is accomplishing, and I am privileged to be

DECEMBER 2019

working with people, passionate about how we can maximise our potential right across the region.

in an ever-changing digital world. Across Northern Ireland the start-up and scale-up ecosystem is burgeoning.

As we move towards 2020, I have made it my mission to develop and promote a sustainable, diverse and collaborative world-class fintech sector in Northern Ireland for the benefit of society.

The Catalyst Fintech Hub at Danske Bank is focused on growing local early stage technology companies who are ambitious to scale and expand into new markets.

Gone are the days of my Christmas wish list. This year though, I have a set of fintech priorities that are firmly rooted in reality. Talent and skills are important in every aspect of business and fintech is no different. To advance investment and growth we must create an environment which will inspire the current and future generation of innovators and creators; an environment which places inclusion and diversity at its core and which recognises the doers and rewards the risktakers. With almost a third of students taking up university places outside of Northern Ireland, we must be imaginative about developing initiatives that encourage our young people to stay, as well as promoting Northern Ireland as an amazing place to come back to live and to work. Together with business leaders, schools and colleges, I am committed to building on recent progress and working to ensure we have people with the skills and ambition to thrive

Barclays Eagle labs working space in Ormeau Baths is brimming with indigenous start-up and scale-up companies who are being supported as they accelerate their growth locally and further afield. And these are just two examples. In the North West, Allstate, Alchemy and FinTrU are major employers and their success on a global scale is testament to the potential, across Northern Ireland. Our vibrant and dynamic fintech sector here allows me to be ambitious and rightly so. Belfast is the world’s number one destination for fintech development investment projects and the top city in Europe for new FDI (foreign direct investment) software development projects. We have so much to be proud of and yet, we can achieve even more. As Fintech Envoy for Northern Ireland, I am excited for the opportunities which lay ahead. In 2020, we must seize and harness the potential of fintech right across Northern Ireland. I’m confident we will. ■

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IT

NI ‘could attract tech giant like Google or Facebook’

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orthern Ireland’s could attract an industry giant such as Google or Facebook in the future as the burgeoning tech scene here continues to expand, a top Google executive has said. Ryan Owens, who is originally from Northern Ireland and is now director of Google Shopping, said the region could see one of the world’s big tech firms setting up a base in Belfast “definitely in the future”. “At this point in time, where Google is situated, we cover all of Ireland, but I could see in the future where we look at expanding beyond that,” he said. “At the moment it’s well established in Dublin, London and elsewhere… that’s not to say we can’t attract firms like Google, Facebook.” Mr Owens was speaking at the launch of

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The launch of Google Digital Garage in Belfast

Google’s Digital Garage in Belfast city centre. It’s a new hub which allows the public, and businesses, to undertake courses and workshops to develop and build their digital skills. “Looking at the growth in Northern Ireland, the tech industry and jobs in the industry are starting to grow, but there is still a large portion – 20% – of adults in Northern Ireland that don’t have digital skills, to use for their careers or jobs,” he said. “Google Digital Garage is about building that capability for people, to build that skillset. “With the location in Belfast at Cornmarket, you can just come in, but you can also go on to the Google Digital Garage website for Belfast and there is a list of courses and workshops on that website – some are multiple weeks and some are one offs.” Mr Owens, who is based at Google’s Irish base in Dublin, says the company works with many of Northern Ireland’s tech businesses, and has grown its headcount to around 6,000 in the last decade. “When I started in Dublin in 2004, we had

about 60 employees. We now have close to 6,000 employees, both full-time and contracted. The growth in Dublin has been significant. We are having these Digital Garage events in Belfast over the next six months, but we are also looking to do more in other parts in Ireland as well. “We have a lot of businesses from Northern Ireland that we work with so I’m very keen to bring more of Google’s presence.” Asked whether Belfast could eventually become a tech hub in a similar, but smaller, vein as Dublin, Mr Owens said: “I would say so. When you look at the tech capabilities in Belfast, it has grown massively in the last 10 years and we have seen lots of tech businesses come from overseas. The foreign investment for tech firms has been significant. “Around 20% of the jobs being advertised are tech related, so the tech scene is significant. The technology scene is definitely on the rise in Northern Ireland and Google is trying to support that, where possible, through Digital Garage, but thinking about how we deal with our customers here, both SMEs and large businesses, and working with some of the larger tech firms.” ■


Dr Andrew Woods, chief executive of Catagen, Michael Black, chairman of Titan IC and Deloitte partner Peter Allen

DELOITTE TECHNOLOGY FAST 50 AWARDS

Thirteen NI firms make Deloitte Fast 50 list

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hirteen of Northern Ireland’s fastest growing companies have made it on to this year’s Deloitte Technology Fast 50 list. Now in its 20th year, the Fast 50 awards showcase the fastest growing tech firms across the island based on revenue growth. Over the past 20 years, some of Northern Ireland’s best-known technology firms have featured on the Fast 50 listing. The Northern Ireland-based companies who made it on to this year’s list were: AquaQ Analytics; Catagen; Datactics; Decision Time; IRP Commerce; First Derivatives; Flint Studios; Learning Pool; Lucid Interactive; Made to Engage; Repstor; Sixteen South and Titan IC Systems. Belfast-based data firm Catagen was the highest ranked Northern Ireland company – coming in at number two. Repstor, Sixteen South and IRP Commence were the other northern companies to make it into the top 25. Nine of the businesses represented are from

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Peter Allen, Caroline Greer, finance director of IRP Commerce and Stuart Harvey, chief executive of Datactics

Belfast, with Derry represented by Learning Pool and Lucid Interactive, Decision Time from Antrim and First Derivatives from Newry. The rankings were revealed at a gala dinner on the 25th October in Dublin. Limerick’s Electricity Exchange secured the number one ranking. Peter Allen, partner at Deloitte, said: “Since 2000, the awards have showcased an innovative and diverse range of technology

companies from across the island of Ireland, and this year is no different. “It is fantastic to see so many new entrants perform so strongly in the ranking, and it is encouraging to see these companies use technology innovation to address some of society’s most important issues, from energy solutions to supporting the development of tech talent. The technology sector is already an important


DELOITTE TECHNOLOGY FAST 50 AWARDS

The AquaQ team pictured at the Deloitte Fast 50 Awards

Deborah McCloskey, Learning Pool and Peter Allen

The 2019 Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards which took place at the Clayton Hotel in Dublin

David Shanahan, Deloitte, Regina Moran, Vodafone, Catherine Harrison, First Derivatives and Louise Kelly, Deloitte

Queen’s University and developed into an industry-leading solution by our team. It’s also a validation of our focus on innovation and the power and potential of the search technology we have developed. “Our company has been steadily working on accelerated search technology for several years now but the recent explosion in the volumes of data everywhere – in networks, the cloud and in storage – has really brought the need for our accelerated search to the forefront.”

David Shanahan, Deloitte, Koushik Chandrashekar of Google, Gareth Douglas, Titan IC and Louise Kelly, Deloitte

contributor to the Northern Ireland economy and Deloitte believes it has a big role to play in driving the economy forward in the years ahead.”

As well as being a first-time entrant to the Fast 50, Titan IC was awarded the Deloitte Fast 50 Cyber Security Award and the Innovative New Technology Award, in association with Google.

The Fast 50 is open to companies from across the technology spectrum, including software, hardware, communications, media, clean-tech and life sciences. Deloitte ranks the companies based on their revenue growth over the previous four years.

Noel McKenna, chief executive of Titan IC, said: “The Deloitte Fast 50 Awards are important because they are respected, not only throughout Ireland but also globally. It is a tremendous recognition of the cutting-edge search technology that was pioneered at

DECEMBER 2019

First Derivatives made the list 20 years after appearing in the first Fast 50 and Catherine Harrison, senior vice president of human resources and training, was also recognised with the Women in Technology Advocate Award, in association with Vodafone. She said: “Everyone in First Derivatives is making a contribution, regardless of gender, but we want to recognise and celebrate the success of women at the company. Women are involved in every aspect of our business, and across all divisions, from sales and business development to software engineers and consultants to our non-executive board members.” ■

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DELOITTE TECHNOLOGY FAST 50 AWARDS

Catagen: the NI firm topping this year’s list

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atagen came in as the top Northern Ireland-based company on this year’s Fast 50 list. A spin-out from Queen’s University, Catagen specialises in solutions for testing automotive emissions. In 2004, its chief executive Dr Andrew Woods graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a masters in mechanical engineering. When studying emissions for his PhD, Andrew teamed up with Professor Roy Douglas to begin solving future problems in emissions. The PhD research led to a large body of work that culminated in the creation and development of the business, which describes itself as an independent technology based,

Deloitte’s Dave Shanahan and Catagen’s Andrew Woods on stage at the awards

clean air – emissions data company. The business achieved the number two ranking on the Fast 50 as a result of its four-year growth rate of 1,162%. Catagen is still at the early stage of its growth journey and continues to develop ‘clean air partnerships’ across the global vehicle industry. The automotive industry is undergoing a huge transformation with the rise of hybrid vehicles and that is driving significant growth for Catagen, which provides some of the leading car and motorcycle companies with test repeatability, data resolution and first-time certainty of results.

Following years of R&D investment, Catagen uses its proprietary toolset to deliver repeatability, accuracy and control for optimised vehicle emissions to customers around the globe. Catagen’s Dr Andrew Woods said: “I believe society is now facing significant, serious problems. The air that we breathe is one of the most fundamental things on the planet. “I’m a father of three and I look down at my children and wonder what is the air that they’re going to breathe – going to be like in the future. So, I’ve dedicated myself to doing everything in my power to improve that air.”

The 2019 Deloitte Fast 50 ranking Ranking 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

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Company name

County

Electricity Exchange Catagen Code Institute LogoGrab &Open Gifts Limited eleven mAdme xSellco Glofox Xtremepush OxyMem Repstor Zartis Homesecure Welltel LearnUpon Wolfgang Digital i3PT Certification SilverCloud Health Global Shares Sixteen South Spearline Asystec Trilogy Technologies IRP Commerce TransferMate Global Payments

Limerick Antrim Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin Westmeath Antrim Cork Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin Cork Antrim Cork Limerick Dublin Antrim Kilkenny

Ranking 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49= 49= 50

Company name

County

Travelwin Titan IC Made to Engage Datactics Paradyn Aspira Arkphire Phorest Anam Technologies Granite Digital Learning Pool Intact Decision Time AquaQ Analytics Data Solutions SL Controls Intellicom eCOMM Merchant Solutions TEKenable Cora Systems Lucid Interactive Novi ChannelSight Flint Studios First Derivatives

Dublin Antrim Antrim Antrim Cork Cork Dublin Dublin Dublin Cork Derry Louth Antrim Antrim Dublin Sligo Offaly Meath Dublin Leitrim Derry Kildare Dublin Antrim Down


INTERVIEW

Ready for the road ahead

Mark Crimmins

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INTERVIEW

Ulster Business speaks to the new head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, Mark Crimmins, about the bank’s central role in local communities, its digital offering and dealing with wider economic and political uncertainty from a strong footing

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ark Crimmins has taken over the helm of an Ulster Bank which is in a stable position in the market, but faces wider economic challenges amid the largest political upheaval in a generation.

The Newry man, who replaces Richard Donnan as head of the bank here, had been regional managing director for business banking in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and assumes the responsibilities here for corporate, commercial and business, as well as engaging with external stakeholders. And he’s keen to strengthen the bank’s relationship with the community, continuing to improve its reputation, as well as trying to lead the way digitally. The bank’s recent announcement that it is introducing Apple Pay here for business customers is evidence of that. He’s been with Ulster Bank since 1998, working across different arms of the business, including corporate and SME banking, before running a business centre in his native Newry. “I experienced all the boom times and manic activity around then. And then the world started falling apart around 2008 and 2009,” he said. “We were constantly adjusting and reorganising ourselves during that time, but I always stayed on the business and mainstream side of the bank. “Since 2013 I have been involved in business banking – the small business segment – and for the last two years I have been running business banking in Northern Ireland and in RBS in Scotland.” Mark, who is a member of Chartered Accountants Ireland and a former vice president of the Newry Chamber of Commerce, is now responsible for corporate

DECEMBER 2019

and commercial within the bank, along with his new figurehead responsibilities.

people that still value that longevity and that trust,” he said.

“I’ve worked across a lot of the segments of the business and dealt with a lot of the customers in the past, which are still here,” he says.

“I want to be visible in our communities, both in terms of our core banking services and trying to enable, promote and encourage our economy, and the wellbeing of our community.”

Ulster Bank has returned to a healthy balance sheet over the last few years – including posting a pre-tax profit of £51m in 2018. Mark says it’s in a strong and stable position, heading in to a further period of Brexitrelated uncertainty as firms of all sizes from across Northern Ireland determine what life will look like for them outside the EU. “In terms of our own position, having come through the cycle of boom and bust – we are probably at a stability point now, and are facing normal banking challenges,” he said. “There are lots of challenges, but we are in a position where we are doing it off a stable platform. Overall, in terms of economic performance, it’s a tricky time. If you look at the various data sets, such as our PMI or others, the indicators are that we are facing a lack of confidence and arguably looking at the early stages of recession.” Overall, Mark says the bank is where it wants to be and expects to be, but doesn’t expect “anything earth shattering” in terms of growing the already stable performance. Ulster Bank now boasts a workforce of around 2,000 in Northern Ireland and still has a strong network of 44 branches – the largest here. And in his new role at the top, Mark says being digitally minded is key, along with ensuring the bank’s long history and reputation here is developed. “Personally, I am very alive to the fact that Ulster Bank has been around in Northern Ireland for more than 180 years. There are

That includes its backing of young business ideas with its Entrepreneur Accelerator. That’s worked with around 400 individuals through a fast-track development programme, and helped create more than 1,000 jobs and secure £23m of investment. “It’s all about a sense of purpose,” Mark says. “There is a healthy banking landscape in NI and it’s a strong and competitive place. From our perspective, it’s a combination of things. It’s about getting the best digital innovation and capability that the RBS Group can build, but at the same time having Ulster Bank people on the ground in communities.” He’s taking over in the role as Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK head towards another Brexit deadline at the end of January, with some form of a deal to avoid a hard border appearing a more likely outcome. “It’s going to be the best/worst deal,” he says. “There is no question that there is a lack of confidence around business and investment decisions. That goes from our small farmers, right through to our multi-nationals. “When we see what the outcome of a deal looks like, that will give businesses certainty from top to bottom as to what the impact will be. There is hope that there may be some latent investment demand going in to 2020 and 2021.” Mark says for FDI (foreign direct investment) the lack of an Assembly is still being felt, and getting clarity and certainty around that is key. ■

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LEGAL

A legal giant with NI growth on the horizon International law firm Allen & Overy has expanded its Belfast office to a huge team of around 600, including the development of its Legal Services Centre. Partner Angela Clist, who heads up the centre, looks at the journey so far and what’s next

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llen & Overy has undergone a stellar growth trajectory in Northern Ireland, since setting up in Belfast back in 2011. The international law firm now boasts a workforce of around 600, with around 120 working at the core of its Legal Services Centre (LSC) in the city. Now, the team here is being led by Angela Clist – a partner with the global giant for almost 20 years. Originally from New Zealand, Angela has worked with Allen & Overy since 1996, joining the securitisation team. In 2000 she became a partner, before becoming co-head of the organisation’s global financial institution group, in 2012 and a director on the firm’s board from 2014 to 2018. “I have been in my role since May, and a partner with Allen & Overy since 2000,” she said. “I’m based in Belfast and London, and come to Belfast every week. I really love it. I think it reminds me of home. People have been so friendly and welcoming, and I feel very happy to be here.” She took over the role from her predecessor

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Jane Townsend, who formerly led the office in Northern Ireland. Allen & Overy has been operating in Belfast since 2011 and has grown in to a team of around 600, including around 115 legal professionals and associates, alongside 15 legal technology specialists as well as six PhD level scientists who provide expert advice in areas such as litigation, intellectual property, patents and arbitration. In addition to those working in the legal end of the firm, there are around 460 staff involved in back office support, HR, business development and IT support. So, why Belfast and what has Angela learned about the operation here since taking over her role in Northern Ireland earlier this year? “Firstly, Belfast offers a more competitive pricing point for services we provide to our clients. Our clients require us to be more flexible.” Allen & Overy is continuing to grow its Belfast headcount and bring in a new generation of top young talent, with around 25 graduates joining the organisation this year, as well as continuing to examine additional hiring in the near future.

“We are continually impressed by the quality of graduates we get in Northern Ireland,” Angela says. “We hire directly from universities and also from the market. The standard is the same as if we were hiring in London and the quality is excellent.” Legal technology is something the firm is continuing to develop, with some 50 professionals in the UK, 15 of which are based in Belfast. “That means that the LSC is a super user of technology and helps test new products and software development. “It really feels like an exciting time to take Belfast to the next level. We are looking to expand in Belfast, and overseas, but also to really look at providing new ways of supporting clients with more sophisticated solutions.” That focus on technology and pushing boundaries is what led Allen & Overy to create Fuse. Opening its doors around three years ago, the tech incubator – based in London but with a global outlook – offers companies within the legal technology sector to join the centre, develop and collaborate. “The idea is that people who are working on legal technology solutions can put forward an


LEGAL

Angela Clist

application to join. We have new cohorts come in on a regular basis – when someone leaves, someone new comes in. “It is a free space, and we don’t charge anyone to be there or provide equity. One of the reasons we are doing it is that it gives us an opportunity to see how the legal technology market is developing, seeing what is out there and if it’s something we can help to develop.” Fuse also gives Allen & Overy something new to

DECEMBER 2019

engage with clients, many of which visit their offices each day. And Allen & Overy’s own particular selling point, and strength, is its global network. With offices right across the globe, it has the ability to support local firms, which utilise its extensive international reach when required. That’s an equally strong selling point for the firm’s burgeoning Belfast workforce, Angela says. “It’s a huge opportunity for people to

work elsewhere, and it’s interesting and fun for people, working somewhere different with a different culture.” As for Brexit, Allen & Overy’s strength is boasting offices across 40 jurisdictions. “We have offices across Europe, so we feel well hedged,” Angela says. “The key is that we remain committed to Northern Ireland. I am looking forward to growing the business.” ■

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CHARITY

Creating Christmas for people with no home Simon Community NI’s chief executive Jim Dennison speaks about the organisation’s charity partnerships, homeless deaths and welfare mitigation

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or many, Christmas is a time for festivities, gifts and quality time with loved ones as supermarket chains flood our televisions with adverts of warm homes and stocked fridges. However, for those with no home or at risk of homelessness, the period comes with a bitter sting as they race to find a temporary bed or hide the stresses of rent, heating and food costs from their friends and family. While Brexit has consumed the news headlines and, admit it or not, the thoughts of most people in Northern Ireland, it must be remembered that 2019 was when it was announced that 205 homeless people died in Northern Ireland over an 18-month period – a worrying 11 people each month on average.

Commenting on the future strains on the charity sector, Simon Community NI’s chief executive said: “Moving speedily in to 2020, we face the very real prospect of no functioning Stormont, MPs distracted by Leave versus Remain arguments and no decisions being made on the continuation of welfare mitigation – a vital safety net for vulnerable people living on the breadline. “On the horizon, we are predicting a rise in poverty with more people spiralling into homelessness, addictions and worsened mental health. These conditions are the perfect recipe for an increase in homelessness deaths. This simply should not be an option let alone a reality.”

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Providing shelter and support to over 3,000 people each year, Northern Ireland’s leading homelessness charity, Simon Community NI knows first-hand the realities of homelessness right across the country. “A few weeks back I met a Simon client aged just 22 years old,” Jim said. “He had lost his job because of an injury and within six months developed a dependency on the strong painkillers prescribed by his doctor. Unable to pay rent and spending a short time sleeping rough, he eventually found himself in the hostel cycle. Living on just £85 a fortnight and too ill to find and maintain employment, it is likely the client will remain with us for some time. “Through support from businesses, the charity can better work with this client, and those just like him, during his homelessness and especially at Christmas. Providing emergency payments for things such as winter fuel, helping cover the cost of warmer clothing and supplying vital support hours with our specialist addictions team are just some of the actions corporate donations allow us to facilitate for clients. The goal is to end homelessness and it couldn’t be done without the wrap around support made possible by corporate kindness.”

He has also shared further stories of the charity being able to provide clients with housing deposits, gifting individuals with costly home items such as beds and ovens or covering the weekly bus fare for those who have found employment but are awaiting their first pay cheque. “I really do mean it when I say ‘thank you’ to everyone who has supported the charity at Christmas and throughout 2019. You’ve played a big part of our successes and have helped end homelessness, or made the experience a little less dehumanising, for those who need our support most. From everyone at Simon Community, Happy Christmas to you and your staff.” Jim added by summarising some exciting upcoming plans for the charity and encourages businesses across Northern Ireland to partner with Simon Community in 2020 to help end homelessness. ■

To organise a workplace presentation or discuss Charity of the Year opportunities, please contact Joanne McCallister on 028 90232 882 or email joannemccallister@simoncommunity.org


RECRUITMENT

Employers must be transparent about pay gaps to retain staff in 2020 By John Moore, managing director of Hays NI

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ne of the many interesting insights to come out of this year’s Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends report was the strong view that employees are no longer happy to just accept seemingly arbitrary decisions from their employers about pay rises.

Our survey found that salaries in Northern Ireland are generally increasing at a faster rate than the UK average (2.4% vs 1.8%) due to competition for talent, though salary rates for most roles in NI remain lower than in other parts of the country. In Northern Ireland, 76% of employers said they had increased salaries in the past year and 79% said they expect to hire more staff in the year ahead. But four out of five of the organisations we surveyed said they had experienced some sort of skills shortage in the past year and were finding it hard to recruit people of the right quality. While that should be good news for those employees with those in demand skills, the survey shows that among people who are looking for jobs or considering a career move, the issue of transparency is really important. Nearly 80% of employees said they want their organisation to be more transparent about pay levels and how pay rises or bonuses are awarded. Demonstrating the disconnect, more than 40% of all organisations acknowledged they weren’t consistently transparent with all employees about how salaries are set. It’s a situation that can lead to suspicion and damage morale in a workforce and could in turn have an impact on both retention and hiring. Of those we surveyed in NI 40% were dissatisfied with their salary, mostly because they felt it didn’t reflect their individual performance. Just 20% of employees received a performance related bonus and only 11% of those who asked for a pay rise were successful in getting one. Employees can’t always expect a pay rise or bonus, but if there is no clarity over why some people are receiving them and others are not, then it’s likely to create discord. Perceived gender pay gaps in particular are very much in the spotlight and have the potential to impact retention if employers aren’t up front about them and able to demonstrate that they are addressing the imbalances, which unfortunately still persist in many industries. Of course, as I’ve said in this column before, it’s not all about money. While 57% of those surveyed would be tempted to change jobs due to the salary and benefits package on offer, candidates again reported it’s a complex decision. Career progression is the second most common reason people would move and a third of employees said work life balance was the most important factor in choosing new roles.

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John Moore

This confirms regular reports from employers that more candidates are choosing not to move beyond initial enquiries or withdrawing from recruitment processes when they don’t feel a role fully meets their expectations. Younger candidates in particular are confident they have options and want to know an organisation lines up with their own values. This has all led to skills gaps that are affecting productivity and project delivery. Four out of five employers we spoke to said they’d experienced a skills shortage and almost the same amount said they’d found it hard to recruit permanent staff in the last year The survey clearly shows there is competition for the best talent in a number of sectors, especially for some specific roles in technology and finance. That has driven up overall salary levels and in 2020 employers will need to better articulate what differentiates them from their competition to have a chance of recruiting these in demand people. In a competitive market, being clear on pay and showing that you are addressing pay gaps will be an important factor in the success of your recruitment plans. ■


STEM


STEM

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STEM

STEM: a concoction of key skills Economist John Simpson looks at how far Northern Ireland has come in attracting young people towards working in STEM sectors, moving away from traditional industry and catching up with our international neighbours

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major theme in the advice about strengthening the Northern Ireland economy is the need to take steps to ensure that younger people entering the labour market have acquired the skills and knowledge that will be needed during their working career.

The updating of qualifications and routes for further study are continuous experiences which individuals ignore at their peril. The nature of that updating and wider experience is not easily prescribed in a pre-set programme. It is likely to be tailored to the experience and skills challenges of each occupation that is open to an individual.

As a form of shorthand, the drive is on to develop more people with STEM-type skills: scientific, technical, engineering and mathematics abilities. This development will complement and strengthen action against the bias in the present school curricula which leans heavily towards academic subjects.

Northern Ireland’s inherited labour force preparation record is inadequate. The deficiencies can be found in different aspects of the experience of young people born in the last 50 years. To help to explain the thesis underlying the STEM initiatives, the deficiencies can usefully be codified.

To be realistic, the skills and knowledge agenda must be wider than just targeting younger new entrants to the world of work. The agenda must make provision for older employees, already in the workforce, who can benefit from extra training, or retraining, as their jobs adopt new technologies. It must also be designed to allow people to cope with continuous learning. Skill sets and their knowledge base are dynamic issues. No 25 year-old, or 45-year-old, can safely assume that their learning processes can be rested.

First, and most critical, despite frequent assertions to the contrary, the basic numeracy and literacy competence of too many school leavers is weak. Every school leaver has had several years to gain competence in the ‘three Rs’ alongside an appreciation of the basics of IT (information technology), as demonstrated by the near universal use of mobile communications, but the outcome when compared with other developed countries leaves us well behind countries such as Singapore and Finland.

DECEMBER 2019

Northern Ireland can claim that there are many competent and well educated school leavers. That is true and a positive feature which can be demonstrated. However, the proportion of ill equipped school leavers is too high. Second, and distinct from the former problem, Northern Ireland has a well-established tradition of high achievement for a significant proportion of those seeking academic success. The number of local students gaining academic grades good enough for university entrance compares favourably with other regions. There are positive achievements in academic studies linked to some of the third level professions (legal, medical, engineering, IT and social sciences). The imbalance lies in the gap between those with basic three Rs education and those with university degrees. Too many people are either not motivated or not able to access technical and vocational qualifications in the range of apprenticeships or advanced modern apprenticeships. This imbalance points to the need for options other than going to university, such as modern apprenticeships. Universities do offer technical skills in their undergraduate courses but the range of technical qualifications available in >

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STEM

John Simpson

universities and further education colleges in technical subjects is currently insufficient to meet the wider and changing skill sets sought by modern employers. It is this broader and more diverse skills agenda that is the focus for the provision of STEM related subjects and qualifications. These challenges are gaining acknowledgement in the wider setting of building programmes to re-enforce the co-ordinated efforts of the emerging City Deals. To date, planning concepts have already been prepared for the Belfast Region City Deal and also for the Derry and Strabane plans. In the Belfast planning document there is a ‘strong, complementary employability and skills package, to ensure that the right skills are available within the region to support the economic growth created by the capital programmes set out across the investment pillars of the deal.’ In the Belfast Region the employability and skills agenda is a well-defined programme which will be led by a dedicated crossdisciplinary team which is expected to provide a transformative employability and

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skills programme delivering the skills needed for the success of the City Deal. The Belfast Region City Deal proposes to invest £30m in programmes linked to education, skills and employability. The education strand will seek to ‘develop more innovative approaches to nurture the STEM agenda.’ STEM careers will emerge from defined action plans ‘based on directly involving employers in offering animation and engagement opportunities to create individual role models and case studies across the broad STEM agenda.’ Two particular aspects of the Belfast deal can be emphasised. First, an earmarked ‘digital skills programme’ is being designed to help to address an acknowledged shortage of people with adequate digital skills. The programme is expected to offer different skill levels depending on the starting point of entrants. The phasing will involve entry level access, under ‘digital engage’, or an upgrading or enhancement programme termed ‘digital boost’. These would be followed by provision to develop graduates to higher levels with provision termed Digital Advance. Second, in a provision to remedy, in part at

least, under provision in the public sector, plans for public sector apprenticeships, shared SME apprenticeships and a supplementary range of adult apprenticeships are being considered. The concept of giving priority to STEM-type skills is now widely acknowledged and gains repeated support in general discussion. The risk, and challenge, is that by frequent repetition as an abstract concept, the delivery at the bench, workplace or classroom is lagging behind the expressed ambition at a policy level. Unfortunately, across Northern Ireland, the logic of a more focused delivery of a widening range of STEM skills has only too slowly begun to be successfully delivered and not enough of the up-coming younger generation are being offered the advantages that should be available to open the way to more productive careers and to make Northern Ireland a successful modern economy. Support for STEM related skills must be more than an ambitious concept. The delivery of STEM skills is critical for today’s generation. Waiting until tomorrow is an easy but damaging option. ■


NEWS IN BRIEF

Novosco creates 12 new jobs Novosco has created 12 jobs with the opening of a new security operations centre in Belfast. The company will provide specialist security services to organisations across the UK and Ireland from the new location at Catalyst Inc.

Novosco’s John Lennon pictured with Peter Moorhead

Trust, with which Novosco has a £107m contract.

Novosco, which became part of the multinational CANCOM group after it was sold in October, has invested £500,000 in the development.

The company’s former managing director Patrick McAliskey, who stood down following the £70m sale of Novosco to CANCOM, was named IT Professional of the Year at the Belfast Telegraph IT Awards.

The centre will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, carrying out work for clients including the Cambridge University Hospitals

John Lennon, his successor in the role, said the centre was an important project for the business’s future.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary

Aodh Hannon

Hannon sees sales rise to £42m A Co Armagh haulage and transport giant which has grown profits to almost £1m and sales to £42m has warned a no-deal Brexit would have “significant impact” on operations. Hannon Transport, based in Aghalee, saw business grow significantly according to the latest accounts ending January 2019.

Ryanair reviewing two summer routes Ryanair has cast doubt over the future of additional routes from Belfast International Airport next year. Revenues have risen by more than a quarter in the last year, according to the latest accounts, while pre-tax profits are now at £933,000. Ryanair has cast doubt over the future of more routes from Belfast International Airport next year. The airline’s Barcelona and Faro flights have not yet been included in its 2020 summer schedule from Northern Ireland.

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Ryanair slashed its 2019 winter offering from Aldergrove when they dropped seven routes last year, having previously run 14 routes.

However, reporting on the accounts, it said: “The uncertainties, especially around the Irish border, and the lack of customs clearance resources and skills within Ireland, have made planning challenging.”

The airline said its planned schedule, which has yet to be finalised, will include summer flights to Alicante, Bergamo, Gdansk, Krakow, London Stansted, Malaga, Malta, Manchester, and Warsaw Modlin.

The company transports fruit and vegetables into Ireland from Europe and dairy and meat out of Ireland. Hannon believes that its operations will be gravely impacted should free movement be restricted while using the UK as a land bridge.

The late delivery of up to 30 Boeing 737 Max aircraft was blamed for recent cuts to services, with the airline claiming it was forced to cut a number of loss-making routes.

The company, run by Aodh Hannon, said part of its growth was down to its burgeoning coach business, through the addition of “coach hire and fleet sales businesses”.


NEWS IN BRIEF Brendan Mooney of Kainos

NI housing market sees uplift Northern Ireland’s housing market is showing resilience despite economic uncertainty with lack of supply expected to push up prices, according to an industry survey.

Kainos takes on two new businesses IT giant Kainos has said it’s “pushing out” a move into new offices on the site of the Movie House on Belfast’s Dublin Road until late 2021. The listed company also revealed two major acquisitions as it reported a rise of revenue to £86.9m in its interim report. Kainos, led by chief executive Brendan Mooney, has bought over Formulate (Adaptive) Ltd and Implexa GmbH in Germany. The two firms employ 21 people in total. It’s believed the businesses were acquired for less than £1m each though exact prices have not been disclosed.

The monthly survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said prices are continuing to rise – and at a stronger rate than any other UK region. Meanwhile, a separate report showed detached homes in Northern Ireland have seen the steepest rise in price of all house types over the last year to hit an average of around £210,000, according to a report. But the RICS survey, which is published with Ulster Bank, warned that sales activity is

tepid, even though there had been a slight increase in inquiries from would-be buyers. RICS warned that new instructions to sell have not risen for eight out of the past nine months due to caution from homeowners – posing a challenge for the market in future. Samuel Dickey, RICS residential property spokesman in Northern Ireland, said: “New homes and first-time buyers continue to be strong contributing factors to the resilience of the NI housing market as a whole.”

McDonald’s creating 65 new jobs Fast food giant McDonald’s has created 65 jobs in east Belfast with the opening of the first two-storey, dual lane drive thru restaurant in Northern Ireland. The restaurant at Knocknagoney can seat 156 customers and offers mobile ordering so that customers can browse a menu to make an order – and even save their preferences for future use so that they can order again at the tap of a button.

Mr Mooney admitted the purchases were a departure from the company’s usual practice of organic growth. But he said: “We know the leaders and like and respect them and their team.

It will operate daily from 6am to midnight and offer a host of “innovations that deliver not only an even quicker service, but an enhanced customer experience”.

Kainos employs around 1,500 people including at its headquarters in Lower Crescent in Belfast. It provides digital transformation services and products to the public and private sector.

The restaurant also has table service and digital features such as touch screen kiosks. Franchisee Des Lamph, said: “The Knocknagoney restaurant is in a prime position close to the airport offering an

DECEMBER 2019

Samuel Dickey

Des Lamph and Sarah Carter

accessible meeting point for both business and leisure visitors to Northern Ireland. “Digital innovation is at the heart of the new restaurant featuring a host of customer facing technology including eight touch screen kiosks allowing customers to browse the menu, order their food and pay by card or contactless.”

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SUCCESSION

By Andrew Jennings, corporate partner at UK law firm TLT

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uccession plans are often only considered when the director or shareholders are approaching retirement, or in reaction to a particular event, such as illness or the potential exit of a key employee or family member.

Regardless of the stage your business is at, succession really is best considered sooner rather than later in order that you can be prepared for the next stage. In a family business context, any such analysis and planning can be complex due to the various factors to be considered. Planning ahead with a clear strategy can help balance family and business interests. Succession does not simply have to be a choice between passing on to the next generation and selling out completely. Alternatives can include the bringing on of a management team or partnering with a private equity investor, which is becoming more prevalent particularly as the deal market in Northern Ireland continues to grow and attract investors from outside the province. The next generation In the context of a family run business, it may be that there are family members well placed to step in to effect a smooth succession plan. However, consideration needs to be given as to roles going forward in order that all parties are clear as to where their responsibilities lie and who is to make decisions. It can be worthwhile to consider measures to assist the next generation as they step up to take control, whether through mentorship, clear decision making powers, or increasing the role of the wider management team to support them. Sale solution Should the decision be made to cash out completely, a sale may be the best solution. With a trade sale the business is passed on to a new owner often with no ongoing involvement or connection; most likely to give you a clean, orderly exit and end financial associations. One disadvantage may be the loss of control over how the brand may evolve, particularly if the family name is a key element in a family business context.

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Succession: planning ahead for a smooth transition Management buy-out A sizeable family business may have senior management who are not members of the family and who may be interested in purchasing the business to run themselves. This may give you peace of mind around continuity, if a concern is about legacy and how the business will be taken forward post completion. Private equity investment By bringing in an investor you may be able to realise some of the value you have built and take some money out, whilst still continuing to have a financial and/or operational interest in a business funded for growth and increased scale. Not only can additional funding help the business continue to grow, but the expertise and network of contacts a private equity investor can bring may prove transformative. Structuring the next chapter Whichever route is chosen, how any change is structured can make all the difference.

It may be possible to minimise risk going forward, for example by structuring a group in such a way so as to separate out aspects which are not core to the business to make it more attractive to investors, or indeed make it easier to take on finance to continue growing. Prior to making a final decision for your succession plans, expert advice should be sought, for example in conjunction with a tax advisor, in order that it is carried out correctly to achieve the goals of the parties. Successful succession However distant in the future it may be, planning ahead for succession can help an owner managed business prepare for a smooth transition. Careful evaluation of the alternatives alongside professional advice around structure is key to achieving the best outcome for all involved. â– Andrew Jennings, partner at TLT LLP, can be contacted at andrew.jennings@tltsolicitors.com or on 0333 006 1217


Cross-border trade MARCH 2019


CROSS-BORDER TRADE

What’s the deal? Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement might appear to have solved the problem of the Irish border – at least on paper and in the short-term – but has it added paperwork, bureaucracy and costs for businesses which trade across the Irish Sea, asks Pavel Barter

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hen it comes to transport and shipping, Alan Lowry knows the high price behind the slightest delay. The managing director of Environmental Street Furniture, a business based in Newtownabbey, was recently shipping products to the US for an exhibition when he encountered a problem with the paperwork. Customs refused to load it onto the boat.

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CROSS-BORDER TRADE

“We ended up having to air freight the goods at the cost of a couple of thousand pounds, rather than a couple of hundred pounds,” Alan said. “I could see that happening between Belfast and Liverpool, with this new Brexit deal, just because the paperwork isn’t in place.” It started so well. Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar had struck a deal that finally made everyone happy, including Northern Irish businesses. There was going to be “unfettered access” between Belfast and Britain, and the 310-mile Irish border would remain open and unrestricted for frictionless cross border trade. Alan is content that frictionless cross-border trade will continue under the current proposed deal. “I think the deal for business north-south is good,” he said. “It’s certainly better than a no deal situation, which could end up with checks.” Patrick Derry is in agreement. As the boss of Portadown-based Derry Transport, he runs a fleet of 82 lorries and 242 staff, shipping products for companies such as Avondale Foods and Kerry Foods across the border on a daily basis. Patrick was one of 50 business representatives who travelled to Downing Street to

meet Theresa May during her tenure, when the PM was trying to solicit goodwill for her withdrawal bill. “The first deal was better for trade,” he said. “The backstop was better than what we have at the moment. But the deal we have now is better than no deal.” Eamonn Connolly, business improvement district manager for the Newry area, represents hundreds of businesses engaging in crossborder trade. He describes the region as ground zero for Brexit. “We have a massive dependence on cross-border shoppers. “There’s a huge movement of white van men who cross over to the south. Thirty years ago, when we had a closed border due to different circumstances, we had 30% unemployment. Now we have an open border, and inward investment from our returning immigrants and graduates, we have less than 2% unemployment. A large element of our market and spend comes cross border.” But when businesses read between the lines, the new deal may not be the golden chalice it was sold as, according to Aodhán Connolly director of the NI Retail Consortium. “The deal gives some amount of certainty and prevents a disastrous ‘no deal’,” he said. “It also gives us unfettered access north and south.

DECEMBER 2019

“But, the business community in Northern Ireland was clear it wanted unfettered access east and west, as well as north and south. Unfortunately, this deal puts in place barriers that were not there before.” Aodhán Connolly uses the analogy of a cottage pie when describing trade between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. Around 40% of Northern Irish milk goes south to make cheese for the pie. As for the minced beef, a cow can originate from the Republic, be reared in NI, slaughtered in the south, then travel to England for second cuts. The beef returns through the Republic, and ends up north where a foodservice business puts it into the pie. “Even the olive oil comes in through the EU, travel across the land-bridge in GB, then goes through the Republic into the north, to be used in that cooking,” Aodhán said. “That one simple cottage pie can have eight or nine border movements.” Shortly after the 110-page withdrawal agreement was published, an impact assessment discovered that firms will have to complete at least two customs forms for goods traded across the Irish Sea: not welcome news for Alan Lowry. “We currently export goods to a lot of countries outside the EU,” he said. “The paperwork that goes along with that is onerous. The current deal implements a lot of that into what should be a more simple transaction.” >

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CROSS-BORDER TRADE

Aodhán Connolly

Studies into the agreement suggest there may be additional costs on goods moving from east to west – estimated at around £15 to £56 per customs declaration. NI businesses fear this could make them uncompetitive. “We don’t wish to see any encumbrance or imposition on business,” Eamonn Connolly said. “Brexit ultimately impacts negatively on our nearest markets.” The Newry business representative has hosted overseas diplomats and politicians who were surprised by Warrenpoint’s proximity, of a few hundred feet, to the border. “There’s all sorts of issues there. Particularly, as a large element of goods passing through the port come and go to the Republic of Ireland. All these things are intertwined. We’re a small economy – heavily dependent on small business.” Delays could be an inevitable repercussion of increased paperwork for businesses exporting product back and forth across the Irish Sea, says Aodhán Connolly. “Take the journey of one lorry. It would leave a depot in Great Britain, heading to Northern Ireland. It will have hundreds of different products, each with tariff codes that require (individual) declarations. If there are different products of animal origin, they will need an

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export health certificate. Filling in those forms will take time and man hours. When it gets to the port, everything needs to be exact. If there is one thing wrong on the export declaration, or export health certificate, then that whole load has to be checked.”

benefits of the UK’s departure from the EU. “I think the UK could be more competitive outside the EU and outside some of those regulations that are imposed on us,” he said.

So, a product might literally miss the boat? “Exactly. So it’s not a case of being 20 minutes late, it could be six hours and 20 minutes late,” Aodhán says. “We already have 12 hours less shelf life than Birmingham or Bolton because of the travel. This will add to it.”

For now, everything is up in the air. Approval for Mr Johnson’s deal is subject to the passing of his withdrawal agreement bill through parliament. There is a General Election on the way, and an EU deadline of January 31. Businesses now wonder if the UK can strike a free-trade agreement signed by December 31, 2020, the end of the transition period.

Northern Ireland’s Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) initially pursued the notion of an enhanced economic zone that would have seen Northern Ireland operate like a Hong Kong, or Singapore, of the west, where goods could move in and out freely without taxation.

No deal, and the imposition of border control on the island of Ireland, is still a risk. “There’s still a possibility, even with the best will in the world, that it could happen,” Patrick Derry said. “Things have a habit of falling off the table at times.”

“That would have given us the best of both worlds,” Alan Lowry says. “We got a lot of favourable response from politicians locally and nationally, and from businesses as well. I think it would have been hard to sell to Scotland and Wales, who might have seen Northern Ireland getting a very unfair advantage, and taking a lot of their business away, though.”

The priority for Northern Irish businesses must be frictionless trade within the island of Ireland and GB, according to Aodhán Connolly.

Alan, who recently completed an order worth £100,000 with one of Dubai’s leading tourist attractions, is also aware of the potential

“We always said we need frictionless trade north, south, east west,” he said. “It’s not good enough to have it only on one of those routes, due to the integrated nature of our supply chains across these islands. Some people talk about an all-island economy. It’s all-islands.” ■


CROSS-BORDER TRADE

Mary Meehan, Manufacturing NI, and Dr Trevor Cadden, Ulster University

Major Brexit manufacturing campaign launched

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orthern Ireland’s huge manufacturing sector cannot be unprepared for Brexit given its importance to the economy here, it’s been claimed.

“This campaign with Ulster University will ensure manufacturers have all the information they need to mitigate against the impacts of Brexit and to help keep their businesses running as smoothly as possible.

Mary Meehan of Manufacturing NI was speaking as the organisation launched a major new campaign with Ulster University to ensure businesses are prepared for Brexit.

“Given our importance to the regional economy, we cannot allow ourselves to be unprepared for Brexit. This campaign and the sectoral guides provide support and guidance to manufacturing firms across Northern Ireland and will provide clarity in an otherwise uncertain landscape.”

She said: “The manufacturing sector is the bedrock of the Northern Irish economy, directly and indirectly supporting over 214,000 jobs, accounting for almost two-thirds of all Northern Irish exports and making up one-third of the entire Northern Irish economy. “Leaving the EU, deal or ‘no deal’, will have a massive impact on our local manufacturing industry. Firms here need to be confident that they are prepared for every eventuality which may crop up.

DECEMBER 2019

The campaign has produced 10 sectoral guides and a new e-learning series, ‘Get Supply Chain Ready for Brexit’ for firms. The campaign will have information on everything from workforce issues and importing and exporting goods, to UK and EU regulations and supply chain issues. Dr Trevor Cadden, senior lecturer in operations

management from Ulster University, said: “Ulster University Business School is delighted to be working in partnership with Manufacturing NI to help deliver this important suite of supply chain resources to ensure manufacturing companies in Northern Ireland are not only aware of supply chain implications under Brexit, but have the tools and strategies to manage. “Many companies are hugely concerned about the current Brexit uncertainty and how difficult it will be to navigate a changing landscape. A lot of businesses in Northern Ireland lack the skills and resources to prepare for Brexit, so we trust that this unique set of easy accessible online supply chain resources will help guide them in the right direction.” Manufacturing companies across Northern Ireland will also receive campaign packs through email which will contain sector-specific information to help them prepare. ■

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GARETH MACKLIN, OBBI SOLUTIONS How is business? I am really pleased with where we are on our journey. This time last year it was our goal to enter and become a finalist in the Invent awards, so to win the highly coveted title of Invent Enterprise Software Company of the Year is a credit to the Obbi team’s hard work. We work tirelessly to support our customers in maximising the benefits of the platform, while the 18-month development pipeline ensures that Obbi can make use of new and emerging technology. How did you get started in the industry? The Macklin Group incorporates six care homes across Northern Ireland, a hotel and a construction company. An industry report highlighting worrying trends in health and safety and the continuing increase in administration that companies are under for their people and processes made me realise that modern, forward-thinking companies such as ourselves need to do more than simply meet the baseline in health and safety, compliance and staff engagement; we need to be ahead of the curve. The team and I searched the UK, Europe and eventually worldwide for a single solution to improve training, compliance and health and safety visibility but we were unable to find one solution that ticked all the boxes. Frustrated, yet seeing a gap in the market, I decided we would build it ourselves – by operators, for operators – and Obbi was born. Typically, who are your clients or customers? Our typical customers have 100 to 3,500 staff,

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with most in manual labour roles, rather than at desks using computers. We have clients in manufacturing, hospitality, retail, construction and healthcare, with over 3,000 active users across 23 sites, many of them remote workers. Obbi Solutions is an innovative, cloud-based, software platform that revolutionises an organisation’s business processes, helping their people, their productivity and delivering peace of mind by integrating HR, operations, health and safety, compliance and facility management. Obbi drives tangible efficiencies for companies, reducing admin time by up to 75% and staff turnover by up to 22%, through the automation and digitisation of traditionally manual processes, across any industry. The simplicity of the system removes barriers to delivery of training and development of staff – training activities are consistent and timely, leading to an excellence-focussed, safer environment, however should an accident occur, Obbi’s integrated accident reporting and management system increases defensibility. Do you enjoy what you do, and what in particular? I love what I do. It has been challenging to enter a completely new industry but the rewards are undeniable; Obbi is delivering 100% compliance visibility to our customers, engaging with staff, saving them time on

admin and delivering information exactly when it’s needed – put simply, delivering peace of mind. What is the most difficult part of your job? Switching off. I know Obbi can help businesses by digitising and simplifying what they are already doing. We’re not aiming to radically change business processes, we’re helping all the critical teams in the business to communicate better through one, cloud-based, intuitive platform. What are the challenges facing your sector, and the economy in general? Our greatest challengers are our own staff, who push us to keep improving, and our greatest advocates are our customers, who now see the improvements we have made to their business and are keen to achieve even more. Companies of all sizes are facing regulatory and compliance requirements which puts a huge strain on HR, training and operations. The challenge for us is communicating to decision-makers that Obbi relieves that strain by combining auditing and compliance, incident and accident reporting, training and e-learning, all in one place. The economy in general has uncertain times ahead but we’re confident that no matter what happens, every business wants a good return on investment and Obbi can deliver it. ■


Public sector

MARCH 2019


PUBLIC SECTOR

The great Stormont strategy chasm In the last three years of Government stasis a host of areas have fallen through the cracks, and our policy makers and senior civil servants have taken on more of the load. John Mulgrew assesses the landscape, what’s being addressed and what isn’t

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asual pub or office-based bashing of our lack of devolved political representation is easy – it’s hard to believe we’ve been doing it (this time around) for almost three years.

But while the electorate prepares to go to the polls in the first Christmas General Election in almost a century – with many of the 18 seats up for grabs here expected to see considerable flux – we continue to lack representation On the Hill. It’s something which continues to trump Brexit for many businesses as their greatest concern, with stability a key element of attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). In that three-year chasm, phrases such as corporation tax, energy and industrial

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strategies and Programme for Government (which remains in its draft status) appear to have largely left the lexicon, with Brexit taking centre stage. The worry for many, in particular businesses, is that there remains a prolonged lack of an Executive, further pushing these key policy decisions into the long grass. However, if we were up-and-running tomorrow, the list of areas needing addressed could also push further key future strategies and drivers down that list.

“Northern Ireland is craving strategic direction but more than that it requires brave decisions – something our previous Executive wasn’t stepping up to do,” Andrew Webb, chief economist at Grant Thornton NI, says. “We have the myth of a world class education system, a health service that receives ample funding, just not for the system we deliver, an economy that delivers low productivity and high economic activity, infrastructure that isn’t fit for purpose, for example. These issues arguably weren’t being tackled before the


PUBLIC SECTOR

Executive collapsed. If it comes back, it has to come back different.”

innovation, have stalled – we’re also due a new energy strategy.

That brings us to the City Deals – huge funding packages to boost both the greater Belfast area, as well as Derry and Strabane. However, Derry City and Strabane District Council chief executive John Kelpie has said a release of funding is dependent on having an Executive.

However in some cases, our top civil servants have been handed powers which have allowed them to proceed with a few key areas which have been left stagnant with no ministers in place.

As far as sector plans and strategies, Northern Ireland’s Industrial Strategy is in draft form, while others, including life sciences and

DECEMBER 2019

That includes giving them the ability to approve regionally significant planning applications, which would previously have needed ministerial sign off.

This year, Belfast Power’s £300m station on the Harbour estate was green lit, along with Belfast Harbour’s own City Quays 3 office development. Next up, and most recently, Sue Gray, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Finance, announced a long-awaited review into Northern Ireland’s business rates. “In May this year I announced a fundamental review of business rates in Northern Ireland. Why? Because time and time again when >

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PUBLIC SECTOR

I am out and about across Northern Ireland business rates is one issue that is regularly raised with me,” Sue Gray said.

accept rates are a major expense for businesses large and small. However, they are also an essential source of funding for public services.”

“Businesses and organisations across all sectors have told me in their experience there is an unfairness about our business rating system.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, she said each year rates generate over £1.3bn “which helps fund vital public services like health, education and infrastructure, as well providing on average 77% of district councils’ income to provide many council services”.

“The reality is the multiplier used to calculate our business rates is now higher than anywhere else in the UK. I appreciate and

“It is no secret our public services are under extreme financial pressure. We are operating in significantly financially challenging times. This review isn’t necessarily about reducing the overall amount of revenue available, but instead it’s about looking at how this money might be raised more fairly. “If we can find ways of reducing the demands on funding from rates we will absolutely do so. I want a rates system which is pro-business. We must enable and encourage businesses to start up, grow and flourish across all sectors. “This review is about coming up with solutions which will help create a rating system which is fit for purpose. “The problems with our rating system are well

documented. Now is the time for innovation, to generate ideas and solutions. It was within this context I announced a public consultation in September to get a wide range of views and perspectives of all those with an interest in business rates.” Of course, corporation tax – once a behemoth which it was claimed would help attract FDI and give Northern Ireland a leg up on our neighbours – is now increasingly becoming a fairytale business bosses and journalists pass on the next generation. It was over the line, although it wasn’t quite, and now, with reduced UK-wide rates and no sign of returning to a stable local government with a balanced budget – two elements which were stipulated as requirements of its being brought in – it joins the already lengthy waiting list of major issues awaiting the restoration of devolution. Economist and Ulster Business contributor John Simpson was also speaking to Invest NI’s new chairwoman, Rose Mary Stalker, and corporation tax came up. It’s still something the organisation wants to see implemented. “We are in a period of unprecedented uncertainty. We need to keep delivering our support and reassuring our customers and the economic community in Northern Ireland,” she said. “Invest is continually looking at the tools and services which it provides. As soon as the Brexit referendum result was known we considered our response, including whether it becomes a Brexit deal or a no-deal Brexit. “Invest NI is still very keen to see Northern Ireland introduce the proposed lower rate of corporation tax. As Alastair Hamilton recently said, failing to implement the proposal was one of his disappointments when he looks back on his career with Invest NI. We are still going to try to get this benefit introduced. It will be difficult until the NI Executive is restored. We should all be encouraging our politicians to go back to Stormont.” ■

Andrew Webb

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Roisin Byrne, Hays Recruitment presents Patrick McAliskey from Novosco with the award for IT Professional of the Year

AWARDS

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he head of homegrown IT firm Novosco, which has now been sold to a multi-national business, has been named IT Professional of the Year in the first Belfast Telegraph IT Awards. And it was Rapid7 which walked away with the award for Overall IT Company of the Year. Patrick McAliskey was one of the big winners in the inaugural Belfast Telegraph IT awards, proudly supported by law firm Carson McDowell. Dr Liz O’Sullivan, senior manager for security, innovation, strategy and analytics at Allstate, was IT Woman of the Year, while Darren Broderick of Liberty IT was Young IT Professional of the Year. The judging panel said Dr O’Sullivan “stood out as a technical and innovative leader who has an international reputation for excellence across cyber security, strategy and analytics.” And they praised Mr McAliskey, saying: “Patrick has been the driving force behind Novosco and his outstanding leadership skills have enabled Novosco to develop into a world-class organisation, employing almost 300 people. “Patrick’s focus on innovation across all areas of the business, including developing and motivating his people, has been instrumental to the success of the business, and he is a worthy winner of IT Professional of the Year.” Novosco was sold to German firm CANCOM

Novosco takes top gong at Belfast Telegraph IT Awards for £70m earlier this year. The Belfast IT services provider was founded by Mr McAliskey and John Lennon. Speaking at the awards event, Sarah Little, publishing director at Belfast Telegraph publisher INM NI, said: “The IT sector in Northern Ireland has grown exponentially in the last few years. At the moment one in nine of all advertised vacancies is in the IT sector.

“Around 28,000 people in Northern Ireland are already employed in an IT role. We have over 1,200 IT companies here including 100 global technology leaders. “As a result, we felt it was time that the sector – its companies and its people – were celebrated. Our faith in the initiative has been rewarded with a huge number of entries and a sell-out crowd.” Neasa Quigley, senior partner at sponsor Carson McDowell, said: “The fact that these awards are taking place at all is testament to the reputation of NI as a hub for technology talent and innovation, a reputation that you have all helped to establish. “It is your hard work and cutting edge expertise that has helped to ensure that Northern Ireland is recognised as one of the best places in the UK to work in technology.”

Neasa Quigley, senior partner, Carson McDowell and Sarah Little, INM NI publishing director (right) present Chris Wallace from Rapid 7 with the Overall IT Company of the Year award

DECEMBER 2019

Medical testing firm Randox Laboratories in Crumlin was one of many non-IT companies to be honoured for its use of IT, and won IT Project of the Year. ■

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EMPLOYMENT

NI unemployment hits record low N

orthern Ireland’s unemployment rate has fallen to a record low of 2.5%, with weekly wages also increasing over the year. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency’s (NISRA) labour market survey for July

to September showed a record high in the employment rate, coming in at 72.3%. Economic inactivity — a measure covering those neither in work nor looking for work — was down by 1.9% over the year to 25.8%, one of the lowest levels record here. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell by 0.6% over the quarter and by 1.3 percentage points over the year, to hit 2.5%. That compares with a rate of 3.8% across the UK as a whole. Elsewhere, the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings said that median gross weekly earnings for full-time employees in Northern Ireland in April was £535 — an increase of £16.80 or 3.3% over the year. However, it was £50 lower than the UK median pay packet of £585 a week. At 72.3%, Northern Ireland’s employment rate is still well below the UK average of 76%. Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said that while there were record lows in the report, there were nonetheless signs that the labour market cycle had turned from growth to contraction. Mr Ramsey also predicted that a deterioration in business conditions highlighted in other surveys would soon begin to have a more marked effect on the jobs market.

Richard Ramsey

“A surge in self-employment has been accompanied by a reduction in the number of employees working,” he said. “Meanwhile, the total number of hours worked and the average hours worked have eased back from highs recorded earlier in the year.

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“Given the marked deterioration in business conditions in quarter three and quarter four, it is expected that this will increasingly become evident within the labour market in the coming quarters.” Mr Ramsey said that while the employment rate had reached a record high, there had been a fall in the number of employees. He stressed the rise in the employment rate could possibly be explained by growth in selfemployment. “Having peaked at 734,000 in quarter two, the number of employees declined by 1.2% quarter-on-quarter in quarter three to 725,000,” Mr Ramsey said. “This is largely a male phenomenon, with male employees decreasing by 2.5%, or 9,000, in quarter three.” Self-employment rose to a new record high of 139,000 in the third quarter, up by 13.9% over the year. Mr Ramsey said: “The surge in selfemployment is even more staggering when looking at men. Male self-employment jumped by 7.3% quarter-on-quarter and by 22.6% year-on-year.” But he added that rather than signalling a rise in entrepreneurship, the figure was likely to reflect men feeling forced to turn to selfemployment. The report said there had been 84 proposed redundancies and 82 confirmed redundancies notified to the Department for the Economy during October. But at 3,096, the number of confirmed redundancies in the most recent 12 months was higher than the previous 12 months at 2,742. ■


John McGrillen, Julie Wakley and artist Colin Davidson

TOURISM

New tourism brand to grow sector to £2bn Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland have unveiled a new brand and campaign, alongside help from renowned artist Colin Davidson, to double spend here. John Mulgrew was at the international WTM London travel show to find out more

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ourism spending in Northern Ireland could double to £2bn a year and create up to 25,000 new jobs with the help of major new campaign created alongside the talents of top Belfast artist Colin Davidson – most famous for his portrait of The Queen. Around £15m a year is set to go in to Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland’s new decade-long marketing push, Northern Ireland – Embrace a Giant Spirit. The new logo has been designed by artist Colin Davidson, best known for painting a host of famous faces such as former US President Bill Clinton, Martin McGuinness and Ed Sheeran. It’s putting its weight behind 23 tourism events and attractions. That includes wellknown hotspots such as Titanic Belfast and Hillsborough Castle, but focuses on a host of new experiences.

That includes the Belfast Traditional Music Trail, Hands-on Beleek – based at Beleek pottery in Co Fermanagh – Men of the Mournes, Unlocking the Walled City in Londonderry and Whiskey on the Rocks in Co Antrim. It’s hoped the scheme – which was unveiled at one of the world’s largest travel trade shows, WTM London – will help to double tourism

DECEMBER 2019

spending in Northern Ireland to £2bn, and help create thousands of jobs. The consumer campaign will launch early next year. Artist Colin Davidson told Ulster Business that he “jumped at the chance” to work on the new logo and campaign, and says, like painting a portrait of The Queen, the job was totally different to his previous works. The logo brings in three main colours; blue to represent the sea and lakes, green for the countryside and magenta for the “passion and energy of our people”. “A lot of things I think I’m not best suited for. But with this I was really looking forward to getting stuck in to it,” he said. “I was encouraged not to go back with my design hat on and they wanted me to stick to this as a painter… this was a painting commission. “It’s part of the lovely sequences that have happened in my career. Painting The Queen was totally different from what I have done before, in fact any new portrait is almost like starting again. And with this, it was tackling something where the solution was found through paint.” Asked if the ambitious £2bn tourism target is achievable with this new marketing campaign,

Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen said it would be a “contributing factor” alongside the growth in other areas, such as the booming golf tourism sector. “There are a number of things that will contribute to those targets. Golf, business tourism, conferences, but in terms of leisure we are trying to communicate to people the breadth of what we have got.” He said initial research showed a 30% uplift in interest from potential visitors to Northern Ireland, compared to Tourism NI’s current campaigns. Mr McGrillen said it’s about creating “more reasons to come and more reasons to say”. The campaign will target a host of markets, including domestic. Tourism NI has also worked with Pulitzer prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. Julie Wakley, who heads up Great Britain for Tourism Ireland, said: “It’s 23 brand experiences, and (it’s about) encouraging our travel trade partners to go and speak to them, find out more, and how they can use them. It’s about how they can inspire new things for them to do that are unique and special to Northern Ireland.” ■

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COMMERCIAL PROPERTY

The right to light Kevin Francis, managing partner and head of Belfast at GIA, takes a closer look at ‘right to light’ when constructing a property and the challenges faced by both residents and developers

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COMMERCIAL PROPERTY

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‘right to light’ is an easement in law and in its most basic description constitutes a right to receive a certain level of illumination to rooms within a building. Put simply, without the consent of the owner, a developer cannot lawfully build anything which will materially diminish the light received to rooms within longstanding buildings that enjoy a right to light. The commentary within this article attempts to shine some light on the broader principles which govern rights of light and to assist local developers in avoiding potentially costly and litigious pitfalls. To their detriment and despite their commonality, holders of such easements are often unaware of the rights they possess. A consequence to the individual homeowner is that the ingress of natural light can be impeded by a development without any remedial action on the part of the developer. This in turn could reduce the overall quality of daylight amenity within the building, as well as the capital value of the property. For the developer, developing in ignorance of an established easement of light would be to develop unlawfully and would put the development at serious risk. How are rights of light acquired? Rights of light exist in favour of a defined aperture within a building (irrespective of the building’s planning use), and are typically acquired through continuous long enjoyment, 20 years to be exact (section three of the Prescription Act 1832). Such rights are considered ‘absolute and indefeasible’ in the eyes of the law. Rights of light can also be granted expressly within the wording of a deed, written agreement or lease and can also be acquired through implication, where no express wording is needed. Such rights do not only benefit freeholders but can also pass to leaseholders (and potentially even statutory tenants who cannot claim any legal interest in land).

DECEMBER 2019

How are they impacted? Once a right to light has been established, the method of determining whether an interference with an easement of light has been caused is done through use of the Waldram Methodology, which dates back to the early 20th century. This relatively simple and arbitrary assessment attempts to quantify the amount of visible sky reaching a room, which translates into a degree of internal illuminance. If more than 50% of the room can receive the equivalent of one foot-candle (or approximately 10 lux) post development, then in theory, there should be “sufficient light according to the ordinary notions of mankind” and therefore no infringement will have been caused – in theory. In reality, the application of the Waldram methodology in not without its limitations and change would appear imminent. The industry will await the decision in the High Court case of Beaumont Business Centres Limited v Florala Properties Ltd, which is about to finish, and which casts doubt over the Waldram methodology, signalling a shift towards more modern methods of calculating light. What remedy is available to neighbours? If an infringement to an existing easement of light has been established, an adjoining owner will be entitled to seek an equitable remedy from the court, either in the form of an injunction or damages. Injunctions may be mandatory, forcing the removal of a constructed building; prohibitory, forbidding a developer from implementing their proposed plans irrespective of whether planning permission has been secured; or interlocutory, which would compel a developer to halt works until the matter is properly heard in court. Such measures would inevitably lead to significant delay costs where contracts have already been awarded. The courts may resolve to award damages in lieu of an injunction at their discretion. Such damages can be calculated on the basis of loss of amenity or diminution in property value, but perhaps more agonising to a developer is the ability for an adjoining owner to seek damages based on a share of the profits that will be

generated by the portion of the scheme which causes the interference with the easement. The potential share of profit is not fixed, but it is accepted that the amount should not be so much as to put the developer off the development in the first place. In the leading case of Tamares (Vincent Square) Ltd v Fairpoint Properties (Vincent Square) Ltd (2007), the judge deemed that a payment equivalent to one third of the anticipated profits would represent a fair settlement. Whether an Injunction or damages is an appropriate remedy to a dispute is subjective to each case. Courts have been consistent in their willingness to award injunctions where Rights of Light disputes have arisen, which puts potentially impacted neighbours in powerful bargaining position. The decision to award an injunction or damages in lieu will be at the judge’s discretion, making it extremely difficult for a rights of light surveyor or lawyer to advise either way. The court’s position and the ambiguity surrounding the debate is perhaps best demonstrated in the relatively recent Supreme Court case of Coventry v Lawrence (2014). The learned judge said: “When a judge is called on to decide whether to award damages in lieu of an injunction, I do not think that there should be any inclination either way and the outcome should depend on all the evidence and arguments.” What is clear is the court’s affirmation that they will not tolerate a wrongdoer attempting to compulsorily purchase the right of the dominant owner and the preservation of historic rights will take priority. A neighbourly and transparent approach to rights of light disputes is clearly preferred by the court and is potentially the most useful weapon in the developer’s arsenal in avoiding injunction scenarios. ■

For more information, contact Kevin Francis, partner and head of Belfast, GIA at kevin.francis@gia.uk.com

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HOTELS

Delayed George Best Hotel ‘could open in February’ It’s been delayed for more than a year, has pushed back opening dates and let staff go and been under investigation by Belfast City Council for ‘unauthorised works’. John Mulgrew asks Lawrence Kenwright whether Belfast will ever see his George Best Hotel

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long-delayed George Best-themed hotel in Belfast – which has already let staff go amid setbacks – could open in February next year but planning issues still remain, its owner has said. Liverpool developer Lawrence Kenwright has spent a total of £10.5m so far on turning the Scottish Mutual Building on Bedford Street into the George Best Hotel. But work stopped on the scheme last year amid a probe over concerns over “unauthorised works” at the listed building. He told Ulster Business he “hopes” it could open by February as final planning issues are resolved, and says he may hold on to the Crumlin Road courthouse – currently up for sale – to develop into a new hotel, while his War Memorial Building – also the site of a proposed hotel – is now under offer, he says. Mr Kenwright says there remain two planning issues between him and the council. He says that includes issues with mouldings between walls and ceilings and a technical disagreement over fire burn time between floors. Last summer, Mr Kenwright let a team of staff

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Lawrence Kenwright

go at the hotel after the opening date had been pushed back further and further. In November last year, Belfast City Council revealed that it has opened an enforcement investigation in relation to the building.

As for hiring staff, he said: “We will go back and try and take them back on again. I have a cluster of staff who came over from Liverpool, including a manager and booking teams.”

It came after the Department for Communities’ Historic Environment Division (HED) raised concerns over “unauthorised works” at the high-profile development.

Speaking about the council, he said: “They are the bosses. They have the end say. I can have disagreement, and deal with that, but it’s their end say. We are now just down to two points and I don’t see them as showstoppers.”

Asked, will it ever open, he said: “I hope so… we have invested £6.5m (in the building) and £4m so far – we are £10.5m in. We have to get this building open. I believe the council wants us to get this building open.

While both the Crumlin Road courthouse and War Memorial Building were put on sale – originally due to be two new hotels by his firm Signature Living – Mr Kenwright says he may keep the former, and proceed with work.

“We had a slight disagreement with the council planning process. We had to stop work and that is what we have done. There were a couple of things we wanted to rectify,” he said.

On keeping ownership of the Crumlin Road courthouse, he said: “We are probably going to keep it. I’m hoping we deal with the situation, and move out in a positive light.

“(When) that is done, back on site, and hope (to open) in February 2020. The furniture is ready to go, but we need full sign off before we can get a licence.”

“The idea is, get the George Best open and don’t give ourselves more issues to deal with. Once open, concentrate solely on the Crum – it’s four or five times harder than the George Best.” ■


Outsourcing

Sponsored by

MARCH 2019


OUTSOURCING

Thinking outside the box There are many reasons why outsourcing different elements of a business makes sense. And with a host of services and facility providers here waiting to take a load off, Ulster Business explores the reasons why firms of all shapes and sizes must look outside their four walls for the right kind of expertise

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hen any area of your business takes away from your core operations and compromises the main function of your company, it can pay to pay someone externally to take care of things. And in a world where IT is continually evolving and regulations are mounting, highly skilled professionals who can step up to the maturing needs of any sector are worth consideration. From IT to HR, cleaning, accounts and PR there are many firms in NI specialising in outsourced services and facilities.

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OUTSOURCING

Reducing costs, enhancing services, gaining access to intellectual capital and the ability to focus on core business are among the top reasons a company outsources. Invest NI’s business advisory arm states that “outsourcing can also help to make your business more flexible and agile, able to adapt to changing market conditions and challenges, while providing cost savings and service level improvements”. Its adds that keeping outsourcing closer to

home reduces complications that could arise from looking further afield including language and cultural differences and time zone challenges and it says outsourcing is becoming the norm for many companies. “In the past, businesses typically outsourced their non-strategic activities or back-office operations, usually to achieve cost-savings and improve productivity. Nowadays, companies are increasingly looking for outsourcing solutions that could enable their competitive advantage.” Mount Charles is one of NI’s biggest and longest-running family outsourcing business. Currently catering to over 400 clients throughout the UK and Ireland, meeting their cleaning, vending, security and food needs, it says outsourcing is more of a partnership with a firm rather than it acting as a service provider. Gavin Annon, head of sales and marketing at Mount Charles told Ulster Business: “Outsourcing allows clients to focus on their core business competencies, while we focus on risk assessments, certifications, legislation, the latest food trends, supply chains and most importantly keeping their staff nourished and happy in appealing working environments. “Businesses that outsource can also save costs, as they don’t >

DECEMBER 2019

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OUTSOURCING have to worry about HR, staff training, salary, employee benefits and all the other day-to-day people management issues.” Gavin said creating bespoke solutions for clients allows it to work with many types of companies. “We see ourselves as a partner, rather than a business providing a service to clients. When we approach a company, we want to do business with, we offer as many services as we can, so that our clients can get all that they need from one service provider, we’re a one stop shop.” An increasingly important market, as digital becomes ever more a part of our daily lives, is the protection of data storage and sensitive information. Morgan Document Security has specialised in protecting important items and files, and has since developed into a burgeoning business which focuses on storing digital information for many of Northern Ireland’s leading organisations. Some of the biggest outsourcing areas for many NI companies are IT-related, a landscape that is constantly changing and in Northern Ireland in particular, cloud tech services are abundant. Metacompliance is one such firm that is capitalising on the demand for cloud-based technology. It is about to go through its third phase of growth – with 70 new staff due to bring the company’s headcount to just under 200 in the North West. It’s already one of the leading companies in its field, supplying cloud software and services for cyber-security and compliance. Robert O’Brien, Metacompliance founder and director told Ulster Business recently that the risk of a data breach for any company is too detrimental to pass over, which in turn creates the need to outsource this element of the business. He said: “The reputational damage of a data breach is too serious to be ignored and now it receives board level attention. “Back in 2005, the word cyber-security hadn’t even been coined. We were focused on compliance. I saw increased demand for businesses to take account of their actions.”

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Gavin Annon, Mount Charles with Brian Lee of Freshly Chopped and Mount Charles founder Trevor Annon

Safeguarding reputation is another reason firms may choose to outsource parts of their business. It eases their responsibility in areas where they may not have the experience. Nicola Bothwell, NB Chartered Communications, has held public relations accounts for some of NI’s best-known businesses. She promotes their activity and successes throughout the press, and in some instances, manages crisis situations. The independent marketing professional said: “For my clients, outsourcing works because they are able to entrust me with their marketing and public relations activities in a way that suits their business. I work with some on a full calendar of activity spread across the year like Belfast One, Hillmount, Lough Neagh Partnership and Self Help Africa. “Others may need my expertise on certain projects or at various key times like Boat House Dining in Bangor, Eastside Awards, Sugar Rush Creative and Titanic Hotel Belfast. “The beauty about outsourcing for clients too is that they know their strategies are being handled by me personally and they are getting value for money as they only pay for the work that I do.” As political uncertainty still casts its shadow over NI, outsourcing can make even more sense. Staffing shortages in the service and

manufacturing sectors are at risk in a ‘no deal’ Brexit, Gavin says. “We currently have 2,500 team members, each one an ambassador for the company, so we must ensure that we can maintain the employment of the many EU nationals, who support the business and who are instrumental to our growth.” And Tina MacKenzie, chief executive at Grafton Recruitment, says the changing working environment and an inclination towards flexibility in the workforce can make outsourcing recruitment needs a wise move. Grafton says that it doesn’t do zero hour contracts, and it “creates a mechanism” to cater to those who want flexibility. “People might have 20 jobs in their lifetime now instead of one, and more businesses are realising that if they don’t offer flexibility they won’t survive. You get better productivity.” According to Deloitte “love it or loathe it, outsourcing is now a permanent feature of business life. As companies search for cheaper and more effective ways of working, handing over non-core functions to lower cost specialists can be an alluring prospect”. In its handbook guide to outsourcing, it says “a combination of common sense, a structured approach and learning from others’ experiences will go a long way” in selecting the right outsourcing firm for your needs. ■


NEWS

Barry’s in Portrush

Barry’s goes on the market O ne of Northern Ireland’s most loved amusement parks has been put up for sale.

Barry’s Amusements in Portrush has entertained children and adults alike for more than 90 years, when it was opened by Evelyn Chipperfield and Franceso Trufelli, who met when the Royal Italian Circus toured Ireland in 1923. From humble beginnings that featured just one carousel, it grew over the decades to the Barry’s in Portrush in 1977

massive seaside attraction that it is today, with dodgems, Swing Boats, a ferris wheel and a host of arcade games. Since it opened in 1926, Barry’s has remained in the Trufelli family, who announced on Friday that it is to be put up for sale as a going concern. In a statement, the family said the decision was “not taken lightly” and followed “significant and emotion consideration” over a long period.

“We understand the special place that Barry’s holds in the hearts of many Northern Ireland families, but none closer than our own,” the family has said. “We wish to thank all our customers who have helped sustain Barry’s down the years and our full-time and seasonal employees who have been pivotal to the success of the business. “As family operators, we feel we can no longer give the considerable commitment required to effectively manage the business.” Barry’s 11 full-time staff will continue to be employed throughout the sale process. Business advisory firm Grant Thronton has been appointed to find a buyer. The family said they hope to pass the business on to someone who will ensure future generations “can still enjoy the fun that Barry’s offers our local and wider community”. ■

DECEMBER 2019

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INTERVIEW

BREAKFAST GUEST: RICHARD MCCAIG, OSBORNE KING

VENUE: CURATED KITCHEN, DONEGALL STREET, BELFAST

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espite having worked across the road from our breakfasting venue until just a couple of years ago, I’d managed to overlook it – and I try my very best to try everything worth eating in the city, when I can. It’s a tough job.

Richard McCaig joins me shortly after I’m working my way through the first of two Americanos. An associate director with property firm Osborne King, he’s responsible for office leasing, sales and acquisitions across Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland. “I would say it’s a bit frustrating,” he says, speaking about the current market landscape for office and commercial property in general. “There are lots of private individuals who are there and want to invest money in property. I would say we have had at least 20 to 25 private individuals who have in excess of £1m and who are prepared to buy.”

THE BILL Braised beans with planters relish and egg Pozole with corn tortilla Americano x 3 Total

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£7.90 £7.90 £8.10

“But the problem is the investors who are holding those assets don’t want to sell them because they are getting a good return on their money – it’s a catch 22. “I think there is an apprehension for people to sell because they are unsure if they sell, get their cash in, what do they do with it then?”

perspective, I would see a lot of people who are saying ‘let’s sit tight and see what happens in the next one or two months’.” Richard started his career in Osborne King in 2007, when house and commercial prices were reaching a crescendo before crashing at an almost unthinkable scale.

I should note that concerns of the breakfast dissolving into a race to see how much caffeine two people can consume on empty stomachs soon abates – this is a chunky menu of interesting things. Curated Kitchen picks out dishes from a host of different recipe books – including the likes of Yotam Ottolenghi and other faces which have graced the small screen – thus the menu is ‘curated’ and changes on a regular basis.

But since 2016, that continued to lift significantly, before the ‘B’ word then raised its head and created another quandary for the market.

It’s also a bright and friendly environment, with stools directly facing a large window which not only lets in the light, but views of Belfast’s stunning St Anne’s Cathedral.

“If people start seeing properties that aren’t being used, also, whether that is tech hubs, residential use and that sort of thing. That’s where the change is likely to come from. People are going to have to repurpose provincial towns, and even Belfast, to get it occupied, rather than it sitting there.”

I opt for pozole. What’s pozole some of you may ask? It’s a Mexican soup or stew, in this case packed with lots of corn, beans and punchy umami. Substantial, with a crispy corn tortilla, and topped with a raft of colour in the form of fresh coriander, pickled onion and cabbage.

One thing which Richard is keen to see happen is increasing the number of residential floors in city centre buildings with a ground floor retail presence. “That will hopefully help city and town centre living,” he says.

The private rental sector is something else which could increase here, with enough significantly experienced operators to build or take on schemes.

Richard, who is on the braised beans with egg which appears to be as equally as hearty, says many are awaiting the outcome of the two main chunks of uncertainty which await potential investors in the coming weeks.

And there are also ambitions to increase the number of people living in Belfast city centre – something Belfast City Council and others continue to champion.

“I think a lot of people are waiting to see what happens with the election and with Brexit to see what the fallout is. From a personal

“I think the university coming much closer will help drive more people living in the city centre,” he says. ■

£23.90


INTERVIEW

DECEMBER 2019

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INTERVIEW

Paul Allen: from crisps to taking over a family bakery Ex-Tayto boss Paul Allen speaks to Emma Deighan about his bakery, new pasta company and what lies ahead for his burgeoning acumen amid an evolving economic landscape

new roles — and the rebrand of the business and its most famous lines from Genesis Crafty to Genesis. Before that he was at the helm of Co Armagh crisp giant Tayto for seven years during which he increased turnover from £15m to £250m.

European Economics at Queen’s University, he decided to become a pilot.

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“I may have driven a lot of that strategy,” he says about the acquisitions that drove that rise in profits. But it’s important to say there was a team of people there who helped put together the vision.”

A serendipitous conversation with his sister’s colleague the night before he was to fly to England to begin his pilot degree would change that. “She said, ‘It’s very clear your interest is in business, not being a pilot. You’ve a couple minutes taking off and landing when you fly and the rest is done in autopilot and I think you want more from life, instead of spending time in autopilot’.”

Just last year, Paul took over McErlain’s Bakery in Magherafelt after it went into administration. He’s now announced a £750,000 investment and the creation of 35

Born and bred in south Belfast, Paul recalls his childhood as a happy, stable time. He has one younger brother and an older sister who he feels lucky to still be very close to today. Business wasn’t the original career path Paul chose. After completing his degree in

Instead of becoming a professional pilot, he studied for an MBA at Ulster University which led him to the role he is in today – though he does have a pilot’s licence. Paul fondly recalls his secondary school years at St Malachy’s Grammar in north Belfast.

aul Allen, executive chairman of bakery Genesis, has a reputation for boosting the fortunes of food businesses, or any business for that matter, but he’ll not take all the credit for it.

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INTERVIEW “The future for Genesis is continued growth. There is great opportunity to grow including the gluten free range. It’s a very nice business with a committed workforce,” he says. But the firm, which supplies to M&S and Waitrose as well as Starbucks and other big high street names, is struggling to get sufficient numbers of staff. Many existing staff are from EU countries. “Brexit is having an impact and people are unsure,” Paul says. “People feel unwelcome and some have probably taken a pay cut because the euro has strengthened. “Our staff numbers have gone up to over 400 people but there are times when we can’t run the bakery to its full capacity because we don’t have the staff numbers and that is a challenge for all of the food business to face.” Looking ahead to the general election in December, Paul hopes that whatever the outcome, some form of certainty will prevail. “I think what the business community is crying out for is certainty and we need to be able to plan. We only have 80,000 factory jobs to sustain a population of 1.8 million and those industries are very capital intensive.

Paul Allen

During the week, Paul is busy living up to his name as a guru in the food business. He’s established a reputation for turning companies around; developing and expanding them through expansion and acquisition. His first journey into company takeovers was during his days at PwC where his first deal was the management buy in of Shop Electric. And while working with Tayto at PwC he was offered an in-house role. That was in 2002 after which he was instrumental in Tayto’s acquisition of Golden Wonder, Red Mill Snacks, Mr Porky’s Pork Scratching, The Real Pork Crackling Company, Portlebay Popcorn and Real Crisps. Sister company, Montague Group, which specialises in vending machines, was also formed.

DECEMBER 2019

Last year he took over the McErlain’s and Genesis Crafty Bakery. Talking about that move, he says: “We all reach a watershed moment and last year I turned 50. My mother-in-law and father-in-law passed away within the year, we were moving house and I bought and sold a Harley Davidson. I wasn’t willing to have an affair so the next change for me was to change jobs. “I was made aware that Genesis was in difficulty so I put in an offer and bought it with help from Danske Bank,” he says. “I was very sorry that the McErlain family lost the business,” he says, adding that while there are opportunities to grow it and return it to profitability, the takeover will not be without its challenges.

“They require a lot of future planning. If I look at my business in three years’ time, I know I have to make investment but whenever I don’t know what paper work is going to be required to sell products to customers in Dundalk or Dumfries it’s difficult to make those decisions. And on the subject of Brexit, he says: “We shouldn’t just take whatever deal is on the table. We need to push for the best deal that we can.” In the background, however, Paul and his team will be looking at other transactions that could add value to his business. In recent weeks, he and his business partner Michael Blaney took over Devon-based Pasta King, which provides pasta meals to schools in the UK. It also has a growing presence in the health, leisure and care sector with a sales turnover of around £8m. He plans to grow the operation into Northern Ireland too with a view to connect with Deliveroo. When it comes to other possible acquisitions, he says that “one or two come across my desk every week”. ■

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NEWS

First Derivatives sees profits and turnover rise

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ewry tech giant First Derivatives says it’s continuing its search for a new chief executive following the death of founder Brian Conlon earlier this year.

The company spoke as interim results for the half year ending August 31 revealed it had increased pre-tax profits by 12% to £8.4m in the first half of the year. Turnover was also up by 11% from £106m to £116.7m. The company started out providing consulting and software services to financial institutions but in recent years has adapted its Kx software for uses including online retail and Formula 1. It is one of Northern Ireland’s few public companies and is listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). It has around 2,400 employees. Mr Conlon, who was 53, died of cancer in July, around two months

Brian Conlon

after the company announced that he had been diagnosed with the disease. Executive chairman Seamus Keating said: “We successfully executed on our strategy during the period, signing a number of key contracts across our business, and making strong progress towards securing landmark contracts in the markets we are targeting across industry.” “We continue to progress our search for a new chief executive following the passing in July of our founder, Brian Conlon, and we will provide an update when the process is complete.”

Belfast Transport Hub moves closer to reality

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new multi-million-pound Belfast Transport Hub has taken a step closer with the appointment by Translink of Co Down firm GRAHAM as the contractor to deliver essential early engineering works.

The Belfast Transport Hub is a transport-led regeneration scheme, a Northern Ireland Executive Flagship project which will see the transformation of an eight-hectare site in Belfast city centre to deliver a modern, high-quality integrated transport facility to enhance local and international connectivity, with bus, coach and rail links across Northern Ireland and beyond. It will be a key driver of social, economic and environmental wellbeing and will be at the heart of an exciting new city neighbourhood, ‘Weavers Cross’. The facility will have enhanced capacity to encourage a shift in transport habits and help to deliver the ambitions of the draft Programme for Government. Chris Conway, Translink group chief executive, said: ‘‘This announcement marks an important milestone as we continue to

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Chris Conway, Translink group chief executive and Leo Martin, GRAHAM Civil Engineering managing director

move towards the start of construction. These site preparation works will take around 18 months to complete, and will include site clearance, utility diversions, ecology surveys, ground remediation and watercourse and drainage activities. This will ensure the site is ready for the main build phase in 2021, and that construction teams and materials are able to enter and begin work safely. ‘‘We’re looking forward to working with GRAHAM to start the delivery of this world-class facility. These initial works will see up to 100 jobs generated, with potential for up to 400 from the entire scheme. The impressive new Belfast Transport Hub will help us build on this success, with increased capacity vital to delivering our ambitious plans to make public transport ‘first choice for travel’ for everyone.’’


Motoring By Pat Burns

Sponsored by


MOTORING

Kia sure to succeed

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he all-new Kia XCeed adds a Compact Utility Vehicle to the Ceed range, a body style that is increasing in popularity, and one that bridges the gap between the traditional hatchback and SUV body styles. It has a higher ground clearance, is longer and taller than the Ceed hatchback, however, with its sloping roofline it sits lower than an SUV, giving the XCeed a dynamic and more distinctive look. The exterior of the Kia XCeed shares only the front door panels with the Ceed hatchback. Face-on, there is a distinct difference between the two models, helped by the longer, taller, sportier bonnet, new dual blade front grille, satin chrome garnish, revised bumper and new LED headlamps. Changes at the rear of the car include a new bumper, diffuser and new LED lights. The rear proportions give the XCeed a muscular stance on the road. It also benefits from SUV styling in the form of black

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wheel arch trims along with 16 or 18-inch alloy wheels. At the heart of the XCeed’s dashboard is Kia’s new 10.25-inch TFT LCD widescreen system, featuring the new Uvo Connect telematics system. It is featured as standard on ‘three’ and ‘First Edition’ grades. New functions include a split screen mode, home screen customisation, Bluetooth multi-connection and user profiles. Uvo Connect puts a raft of information at owners’ fingertips, including live traffic, weather, and parking availability. The system can also be accessed through a Uvo smartphone app, providing remote access to a range of vehicle functions, including ata-glance overview of key elements of the car, including doors and locks. The last known location of the vehicle can be viewed, and a monthly summary of the car’s usage. Diagnosis alerts are shared with the smartphone user, keeping them informed of

the current status of the car, with notifications automatically sent whenever an event is detected in the car. The range comes in Kia’s trademark, easy to understand line-up of ‘two’, ‘three’ and flagship ‘First Edition’ models, with both petrol and diesel engines on offer. A seven-speed DCT automatic transmission is available with the 1.4 T-GDi 138bhp engine. The XCeed is an impressive car to drive offering the raised driving position of an SUV but its compact dimensions mean that it’s easy to park. Like all Kias, it has a quality feel and comes with the company’s unique seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty, subject to certain wear and tear conditions. The warranty is fully transferable should the car be sold before the time or mileage limits have been reached. Prices for the new range start from £20,795. ■


MOTORING

Mazda3 beauty saloon

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azda has launched a saloon version of its very impressive 3 range. This new model is powered exclusively by the groundbreaking Skyactiv-X spark controlled compression ignition engine. Featuring Mazda’s unique Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) technology, Skyactiv-X is the world’s first production petrol engine to exploit the benefits of compression ignition. Providing drivers with the free-revving performance of a petrol engine with superior efficiency akin to a diesel, the 2.0-litre fourcylinder 180ps Skyactiv-X engine features the highest compression ratio for a production petrol engine in the world, while its lean burn capabilities ensure outstanding fuel economy and low emissions.

Additionally, Mazda’s Skyactiv-X engine is matched to the Mazda M Hybrid 24V mildhybrid system that recycles recovered kinetic energy. A belt-driven integrated starter generator (ISG) converts the energy in the

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600kJ lithium-ion battery, while the DC-DC converter supplies it to the cars electrical equipment, further improving efficiency. A stand out compact premium saloon, visually the all-new Mazda3 Saloon shares just its bonnet and windscreen with the hatchback, ensuring that it delivers a uniquely elegant and executive look distinct from the hatchback. With an identical wheelbase, the saloon is 200mm longer, while the 444-litre boot ensures this stylish saloon delivers impressive levels of practicality. The eight-model Mazda3 Saloon range features Sport, Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech trim levels, with a choice of automatic or manual transmission for every grade. All versions are specified with a level of standard equipment never seen before on a Mazda in this sector, including high-end technology such as a windscreen projecting colour head-up display with traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control and LED headlights across the range. Every model in the line-up also features navigation, Apple

CarPlay/Android Auto and an advanced eight speaker audio system. Crucially for business customers the Mazda3 Saloon emits just 96g/km in the £23,555 Sport trim, and it’s this combination of low BIK, generous standard equipment, efficiency and performance that ensures the Mazda3 Saloon will appeal to business users looking for a stylish, high quality and great to drive saloon. Mazda’s focus on Japanese mastery inspired craftsmanship is evident in both high-class materials found throughout the interior and the impressive build quality. All models feature a seven-inch colour TFT driver instrument display and the latest version of the Mazda Connect infotainment system. Visually distinct from the hatchback, the saloon’s design flows from front to rear in a single motion, the saloon’s smooth style is based on the Vision Coupe concept car. Its chrome plated grille and unique front bumper adopt a horizontal layout that accentuate a low and wide stance on the road. ■


MOTORING

The Volvo XC40

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he Volvo XC40 has already proved a great success, the soaring popularity of the brand’s first compact premium SUV helping deliver unprecedented sales growth since it arrived in showrooms in February 2018. Now the appeal of the multi-awardwinning XC40 has been widened with new powertrain options and features, and more generous specification levels.

Volvo’s range of SUVs are among the best in the world while the compact dimensions of the XC40 give it a more agile feel on our roads. Where powertrains are concerned, the highly efficient 1.5-litre three-cylinder T3 petrol engine, introduced to the range last summer, benefits from an increase in power, from 156 to 163hp. It is also now available for the first time with the option of an eight-speed automatic transmission, in addition to the existing six-speed manual gearbox. As a result of the changes, the manual version’s 0-62mph time is cut from 9.4 to 9.3 seconds, while the smooth-shifting automatic takes 9.6 seconds.

DECEMBER 2019

Efficiency has also improved, with WLTP combined fuel economy of between 37.2 and 41.5mpg for the T3 manual. The manual car’s CO2 emissions are also lower, ranging from 142 to 146g/km, compared with 144 and 148g/km previously. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder T4 petrol engine is now available with two-wheel drive, to complement the existing all-wheel-drive version. The front-wheel-drive T4 manages 0-62mph in just 8.4 seconds – 0.1 seconds faster than the AWD version – while its combined fuel economy ranges from 33.6 to 36.7mpg. The T4 FWD is priced £1,400 below the equivalent AWD version. In line with the R-Design grade’s sportier profile, all versions with an automatic transmission now come as standard with paddle shifts mounted on the steering wheel, giving the driver a more connected and engaging driving experience. Equipment changes include the addition of auto-folding door mirrors, a 12v power outlet in the luggage compartment, a locking glovebox and a load protection net. These

features build on the generous standard specification, highlights of which include the Sensus nine-inch touchscreen, voice-activated control system, automatic LED headlights, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels and the Volvo On Call connected services platform. For added comfort in cold weather, there is a new Winter Plus pack option, which adds a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats to the contents of the established Winter pack. World renowned for its leadership in vehicle safety, Volvo is introducing an upgraded Blind Spot Information System option with a new Steer Assist function to the XC40 range. This automatically applies corrective steering to return the XC40 to its lane to help avoid the risk of collision with another vehicle in the driver’s blind spot. On-the-road prices start from £28,965. The XC40 range will expand further with the introduction of a T5 Twin Engine petrol-electric plug-in hybrid variant, deliveries of which will start in early 2020. ■

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MOTORING

UK vehicle supply chain growth ‘key’

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rowing the UK’s car and vehicle supply chain is key as the industry deals with wider changes such as

Brexit.

Mike Hawes, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) chief executive, was speaking at its Regional Forum in Luton. “Growing the UK automotive supply chain is a key aim of SMMT, especially at a time when Brexit and the shift to connected and autonomous vehicles are significant challenges to the sector,” he said. “The new and improved Automotive Supplier Finder is an invaluable resource, helping to boost new business opportunities and encouraging collaboration within the industry.” It comes amid a mixed picture for Northern Ireland and the UK’s wider new and used car industry. Across the UK as a whole, the used car market increased by 0.9% in quarter three, after nine straight quarters of decline, according to figures from the SMMT. There were 2,076,382 transactions between July and September, 18,925 more than the same period in 2018.

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Demand for diesel models was up 1.4% in the quarter with 858,442 changing hands, while petrol sales were flat with a slight drop of 0.2%.

new car industry”. He said it was unsurprising that consumers were waiting to see how the economic and political picture develops before making big purchases.

And plug-in electric and hybrid models showed a solid increase of 13.0%, totalling 37,589 units and increasing their share of sales to 1.8% from 1.6% in Q3 2018.

Speaking about the UK-wide industry, Mike Hawes said: “The growth in alternatively fuelled cars is very welcome, showing increasing buyer appetite for these new technologies. The overall market remains tough, however, with October now the year’s eighth month of decline.”

However, new car sales saw a slump in Northern Ireland during October. The number of new vehicles powering out of showrooms fell by more than 16%, based on the same period a year earlier. Ford’s Kuga and Fiesta topped the list of the best-selling cars during October, followed by the Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Qashqai and Ford Focus. Graeme Maclaughlin, relationship director at Barclays Corporate Banking, said October had been “another disappointing month for the

Some 10,348 fewer cars were registered in October than during the same month in 2018, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The figure reflects a tough environment for businesses and consumers as economic and political uncertainty continue to hit confidence, the trade association said. ■


The column with an ear for experience... How did you start out in business? Being brought up in rural Mid Ulster within a strong farming community and my father a veterinary surgeon, I made the perhaps slightly unexpected career choice of becoming an engineer. I subsequently studied engineering in Newcastle upon Tyne and after graduating moved back to Northern Ireland to work with a firm of consulting engineers in Belfast – Murland and Partners. I then took up a role at NIE and have worked in the energy industry ever since. While my career began as an engineer I transitioned to focus more on the commercial aspects of the industry as NIE transitioned through privatisation in the early 1990s and then undertook a capital restructuring to diversify under a new identity as the Viridian Group (now rebranded the Energia Group). What have you found the most challenging during your years of business so far? I believe that applying real thought and energy to challenges is an important part of personal fulfilment in any role. A key constant is to attempt to provide strategic clarity for everyone in the organisation whatever changes in the external environment are afoot. This is a process that must have the customer at the centre. Without satisfied and loyal customers, we don’t have a business. However, what we are experiencing today is a once in a century seismic shift in our

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Name: Stephen McCully Position: Managing director, Power NI energy world, including a speedy switch away from traditional fossil fuels to carbon free renewables, placing clean electricity at the centre of not only energy provision but also transport.

given wise advice throughout, when I have most needed it. I’m incredibly proud that the business has expanded and developed with over 380 wonderfully talented staff now working at Power NI.

How would you describe your management style? I’m a firm believer that staff and customers need to be the centre of management focus, in equal proportions.

I also owe a lot of thanks to my many highly valued external connections that I have established within the local business community, through serving on the Board and as President of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry and as a Board member of Women in Business NI.

Power NI rebranded in 2011 and the foundations of the new brand and values were developed with significant staff and customer input. Indeed, the central organising principle that we adopted from this collaborative process was ‘friendliness.’ I have found this incredibly helpful in giving me a focus for my management style. I aim to be accessible (I sit in the middle of our open plan office in Belfast) collaborative and enthusiastic. What would you change if you could go back and do it all again? Probably try to allocate a little more time to reflect and learn from events. However, I also recognise that I have been incredibly fortunate with the diversity of business experiences that I have encountered. So, I’m not sure I’d change too much. Have you done it all on your own? I have also been incredibly privileged to have worked with wonderful colleagues that collectively have helped shape my career and

How would you like your business to be remembered? As a business that continuously modernises and provides both staff and customers with high levels of satisfaction. Also, for the impact our portfolio of community programmes has made on the everyday lives of people, helping them reach goals and providing fantastic opportunities for young and old in their local city, town or village. What piece of advice would you give to a 20-year-old you? Have a vision and purpose about what role you really want to do, and every career choice should be designed thereafter to keep you moving in that desired direction. Young people have such an advantage in this world of digitalisation and can connect much more effectively with the smart technology that will be the basis of customer engagement in every sector of the economy. ■

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APPOINTMENTS

Jodi Doherty returns to Smarts as a senior communications consultant having spent a year in Australia delivering awardwinning campaigns for Kellogg’s and Burger King. Jennifer Morgan has been appointed as a senior communications executive at Smarts. She joins the business from the SSE Arena where she spent two years working within the digital marketing team. Adrian Hipkiss has been appointed as marketing director of Boost Drinks, bringing a wealth of experience to the company’s leadership team.

Jenna Watt has joined Mills Selig as a solicitor, and forms part of the corporate team. She has particular experience in mergers and acquisitions, restructures and business sales, and purchases. Ellis Smith is a design analyst at GIA. He develops accurate 3D models and visuals of development sites and surrounding buildings for use with analysis software to assess the impact of daylight and sunlight and rights of light matters. Emily Hyde is an assistant surveyor with GIA. In her role she liaises with various stakeholders and clients, conducts extensive research and due diligence, assesses high-level information, and prepares quality reports.

Fraser Campbell has been appointed as a senior communications consultant at Smarts and will work across several Diageo projects. He joins Smarts from ‘The & Partnership’ in Scotland where he worked as an account director for the RBS Group. Conor Mulligan joined Mills Selig in September to undertake a two-year training contract while he completes his law degree. He currently assists the employment, litigation and construction team, gaining knowledge and experience across the sectors. Catherine Carland has been appointed as communications manager at Smarts. She previously spent four years working at the Web Bureau where she delivered digital campaigns for a wide variety of local and national clients.

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APPOINTMENTS

Adrian Patton has been promoted to director at ASM Chartered Accountants in Belfast. Having worked in the firm for 16 years, he has progressed from trainee chartered accountant to senior manager. Amy Shannon joins Smarts as a communications executive. She brings a wealth of experience in project and event management to her role having worked for five years as a wedding planner, project manager and in a marketing capacity. Kevin Francis is now managing partner at GIA. His role is to ensure all employees buy into GIA’s wider vision for the company, setting the overall strategic direction of GIA alongside the UK partnership.

Ryan Leoanrd is a trainee solicitor with Mills Selig. He joined Mills Selig in July 2018 and assists with private client matters. He continues to gain first-hand knowledge and experience under the trainee programme. Ryan Hood has been appointed as an architect by Hamilton Architects. A graduate of Queen’s University he has 15 years’ experience across a variety of sectors including healthcare, commercial, residential and community. Mauricia Croan is now an administrative executive at Hamilton Architects. She has eight years’ experience working in a variety of management, supervisory and administrative roles in the retail sector.

Mairi-Claire Power is a trainee solicitor with Mills Selig. She joined in September to undertake a two-year training contract while she completes her law degree. She currently assists the property team, gaining experience in both real-estate and commercial property transactions. Mills Selig has appointed Kathryn O’Hagan as a trainee solicitor. She joined in September to undertake a two-year training contract while she completes her law degree. She currently assists the corporate team, gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience in the management of deals and transactions. Ala Cieslikiewicz has been appointed as an architectural technologist by Hamilton Architects. She has more than four years’ experience in the residential, commercial and manufacturing sectors.

DECEMBER 2019

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PHOTOCALL

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1. Glens of Antrim Potatoes has teamed up with the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days To Remember Trust to bring hundreds of children with terminal illnesses and life-limiting conditions to experience Lapland. Pictured are Colin Barkley, Michael McKillop, and Fiona Williamson. 2. Pictured celebrating their Best Workplace in Tech Award is Ashleigh Coulter and James McNeill. The team at Liberty are the only company based in Northern Ireland to reach the top 10 in the Best Workplaces awards. 3. Francesca McDonagh, Bank of Ireland Group chief executive with Geraldine Byrne Nason as she signs the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) Principles for Responsible Banking at the UN Headquarters in New York City.

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4. John Hood, Invest NI and Philip Johnston, Buchanans, as the food firm has announced an investment of more than £1m to develop a new standalone 12,000 sq ft factory for its growing nut business at its Carrickfergus site. 5. Devenish employees Marc Gartland, Ryan Connor, David O’Halloran, Claire Espie, Richard Smith. The company has launched its first apprenticeship programme which will help employees within its production and distribution operations gain formal qualifications.

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PHOTOCALL 6. The Department for the Economy has launched a new Assured Skills Academy with US insurance company Aflac in partnership with Belfast Met. Mark McCormack is pictured with Graeme Wilkinson and Damian Duffy. 7. We Are Vertigo has opened the doors to its second Inflatable Park in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, completing a £750,000 investment and creating 50 new jobs. Pictured is Gareth and Lorna Murphy. 8. Manufacturing NI’s Mary Meehan is pictured alongside Dr Trevor Cadden, Ulster University as it launches a major new campaign to ensure businesses are prepared for Brexit.

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9. Camilla Long of Bespoke Communications with Jonny Crooks, Catherine McNaughton and Connor Hamilton, CDE Global. The Cookstown firm is one of those participating in Career Encode, which sets out to fill a skills gap in the IT sector.

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10. Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland has contributed more than £1.2m to the most vulnerable in society this year. Pictured at a celebration event at Stormont are Janine Donnelly, Joanna McConway, Imelda McMillan and Brenda McMullan.

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PHOTOCALL

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11. Desi Derby, marketing director of SuperValu and Centra and Gareth Kirk, chief executive of Action Cancer are joined by school pupil Elle Woods to celebrate SuperValu and Centra retailers reaching a landmark fundraising target of £3m for Action Cancer. 12. Roisin Keenan of First Trust Bank with Grand Design winner and self-build expert Patrick Bradley to launch ‘Movies and Mortgages’, which is a series of events for those at the start of their selfbuild journey. 13. St George’s Market in Belfast has offered up another of its popular Twilight Market evenings, showcasing top food producers and chefs. Pictured is Danny Millar from Stock Bar & Restaurant at St George’s Market.

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14. Steph Ellis, Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke with Lora de Castro Carvalho and Professor Peter Roberts, of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The organisation’s executive’s annual golf day has raised an impressive £6,000 for the charity. 15. Journalist Wendy Austin with guest speaker co-chairman of Balance for Better Business, Gary Kennedy and head of business, Diversity Mark NI, Christine White at the second Business of Diversity Lunch which took place at the Canal Court Hotel, Newry.

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PHOTOCALL 16. Businesses across Northern Ireland have received free Brexit advice through the IoD’s Brexit Ready NI campaign, delivered in partnership with KPMG. Gordon Milligan, IoD NI chairman, centre, launched the initiative with Frankie Devlin and Jennifer Upton of KPMG. 17. Esther Rantzen and Simon Magowan stock up for the 2019 Lidl Trolley Dash. Lidl Northern Ireland is gearing up to give away thousands of pounds worth of free shopping this December with the return of its major festive fundraiser for charity partner, NSPCC Northern Ireland.

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18. Ulster Bank has announced a new deal to continue its sponsorship of Northern Ireland’s largest agricultural event, The Balmoral Show. Pictured is RUAS chief executive, Alan Crowe, operations director, Rhonda Geary and Ulster Bank’s head of NI, Mark Crimmins.

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19. Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen has achieved five stars for its outstanding visitor experience. Pictured at the grading announcement are Samantha Corr from Tourism NI with Tracey Jeffery of Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen. 20. Tourism NI has joined forces with OpenTable to encourage more diners and restaurants onto the platform in support its Taste the Island initiative. Pictured are Connor Johnston, Aine Kearney, David Hamilton, Stephanie Renke and Michael Deane.

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DECEMBER 2019

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PHOTOCALL

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21. Johnny Hanna, KPMG is pictured with Niall Gibbons, Tourism Ireland, Tánaiste Simon Coveney alongside Belfast Chamber’s Rajesh Rana and Simon Hamilton, during the organisation’s annual lunch in Belfast. 22. Ards Business Hub has given specialist support to 55 craft entrepreneurs involved in the creative industries in the past 12 months. Pictured is chief executive Nichola Lockhart and John Magill outside Handcrafted Gallery in South Street in Newtownards. 23. Carl McGarrity from The Salthouse in Ballycastle is pictured as the hotel has opened a new £400,000 spa facility just months after launching what is Northern Ireland’s most sustainable and eco-friendly hotel.

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24. RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) is seeking entries for its new Social Impact Awards. Pictured launching the awards are Michael Hannaway, Fergus Ó hÍr and Susan Mason. 25. Hospitality Ulster has named Danny Coyles (right) of the Anchor Bar Complex as its new chairman, while Coppi and Buba’s Tony O’Neill (left) is now vice-chairman. They are pictured with chief executive Colin Neill.

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PHOTOCALL 26. SONI has outlined a new plan to transition the NI power system to green energy sources, during an event with the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce. Pictured is Brian McGrath, Derry Chamber with Jo Aston, SONI, and Jamie Delargy. 27. The first phase of expansion plans have been completed by Kingsbridge Healthcare Group with the opening of a new £1m ward in Belfast. General manager Sarah Marks is pictured with chief executive Mark Regan. 28. The first major Artificial Intelligence conference has taken place in Belfast. Pictured are Austin Tanney, Kainos, Gillian Armstrong, Liberty IT, and Alastair McKinley, Analytics Engines.

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29. Pictured at the launch of this year’s Newry Chamber Annual President’s Banquet is Louise Young of the Canal Court Hotel & Spa, Paul Convery, president of Newry Chamber of Commerce & Trade and Philip McNeill, business development manager at Ulster Bank.

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30. Around 20 apprentices are experiencing on-the-job training with local construction and engineering firm Farrans as part of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s new £35m leisure complex. Pictured are apprentices Abigail Reilly, Kealan McCambridge and Daire Tennyson.

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THE CHAIRMAN

The Chairman Northern Ireland’s dinner and awards season is fully in flow, and the Chairman has been in the thick of the burgeoning autumn social calendar

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t wouldn’t be a month in the Chairman’s social calendar without rubbing shoulders with, not only the great and good of Northern Ireland business, but some of our political heavyweights. While our local political representatives continue their extended indefinitely extended spring, summer, autumn and winter break, Tánaiste Simon Coveney spent a long afternoon at the Belfast Chamber of Commerce’s annual lunch – breaking down progress and the Irish Government’s position on the Brexit deal negotiated by bumbling Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Speaking at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Belfast, Simon Coveney said efforts must now be made to urgently repair the damage caused to UK-Irish relationships as a result of Brexit.

Mr Coveney was speaking at the lunch event during his first official visit to Northern Ireland since Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed details of his proposed Brexit deal with the EU. In his speech at the Belfast Chamber of Trade and

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Commerce’s annual lunch he said that the Irish government does not dismiss “genuinely held fears” of any community, including unionists. He was joined by Rajesh Rana, former Stormont minister and now Belfast Chamber chief Simon Hamilton, Belfast’s Lord Mayor John Finucane and KPMG’s newly appointed partner in charge in Northern Ireland, Johnny Hanna. Some other well-known business leaders turning out included Danske Bank boss Kevin Kingston, Sinn Fein’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Translink’s Chris Conway, SONI’s Natasha Sayee and property developer Gareth Graham.

Then, for the first time, it was over to The Mac in Belfast city centre for the inaugural Belfast Telegraph IT Awards. The event was kept lively thanks to the compering from comedian Neil Delamere. Among the winners was the head of homegrown IT firm Novosco, Patrick McAliskey. He was named IT Professional of the Year. And it was Rapid7 which walked away with the award for Overall IT Company of the Year. Those turning out included John Lennon, managing director of Novosco, Angela Bell and Victoria Logan from Allstate, who picked up the Cyber Security Project of the Year award. Others attending included Peter Watson, Tom Hall, Alison McFadden, Noel Brady and Richard Houston, alongside Neasa Quigley of Carson McDowell and the

rest of the team, as the main sponsor of the inaugural event.

And it was a return to the Crowne Plaza on a Friday afternoon for the Belfast Telegraph Property Awards. Journalists tell me getting an estate agent or commercial property expert on said afternoon is a tough one, as it’s the date in the calendar which knows how to draw a crowd within the sector. Those turning out included the founder of estate agency Templeton Robinson, Beth Robinson, who won a top award at the Belfast Telegraph Property Awards, in partnership with Electric Ireland. She was joined by Clare McAllister of Electric Ireland and Sarah Little, INM publishing director NI. Beth Robinson started her career in property as a secretary in Brian Morton & Co estate agents, after which she went on to develop Templeton Robinson. She went on to grow the company, giving it a presence across Belfast, Lisburn, North Down and further afield. It was also one of the first property firms here to embrace online advertising of homes for sale. Others turning out included Drew Nesbitt, Roger Craig and Alastair Coolson, from Lotus Property, along with Robert Sinclair and Colin Graham.

And, once again, the Crowne Plaza, was the backdrop for the annual Women in Business Awards. This year, the top award for Business Woman of the Year 2019 was presented to entrepreneur Edel Doherty. With more than 30 years in the travel industry, Edel has an impressive career portfolio and is the founder and managing director of Beyond Business Travel, a travel management company. Edel was joined by Women in Business chief executive Roseann Kelly and Alison Bawn, people director, Virgin Media Business. ■


THE CHAIRMAN

Peter Watson, Tom Hall, Alison McFadden, Noel Brady and Richard Houston pictured at a the IT Awards 2019

Rajesh Rana, Tanaiste Simon Coveney, Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane and KPMG’s Johnny Hanna

Neasa Quigley of Carson McDowell pictured at the IT Awards 2019

Clare McAllister, Beth Robinson and Sarah Little at the Belfast Telegraph Property Awards

Angela Bell, John Lennon, and Victoria Logan at the IT Awards

Pamela Ballantine with Colin Graham and Robert Sinclair at the Belfast Telegraph Property Awards

Comedian Neil Delamere pictured at the IT Awards 2019

DECEMBER 2019

Roseann Kelly with Business Woman of the Year 2019 winner Edel Doherty and Alison Bawn

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TRAVEL

Andorra: skiing in the pleasure principality Madeleine Keane visits Andorra and takes to the slopes, before finding out what else is on offer in the small principality in the heart of the Pyrenees

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ride comes, as the saying goes, before a fall. I’m feeling mighty pleased with myself that, after a decade-long absence from the slopes, a morning’s skiing has got my snow legs working. I’m flying, high as a kite. Until I take a button lift. Boldly confident, I grab the bar, try to straighten my skis and it all goes spectacularly pear-shaped. I tumble backwards, tangle up my poles and nearly decapitate the teenager who has the misfortune to be coming up behind me. Even though I’m the eldest of the group, I’ve already been given the sobriquet ‘Trouble’ by Liam, our wonderful instructor (an NHS driver when he’s not teaching rookies how to get down a mountain in one piece), who comes immediately to the rescue, saving me and my dignity. My profuse thanks are met with a modest, ‘I had great fun coming to get you’. That’s what all the boys say, I wearily reply. It’s mid-January and we’re in Soldeu, a station in Grandvalira, the largest ski resort in the south of Europe. We’d flown in the previous day to Barcelona and taken a three-hour bus transfer to the petite, pretty principality of Andorra. Toulouse is another entry point for a state so small it doesn’t have an airport.

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Land-locked between Spain and France, deep in the heart of the majestic Pyrenees, Andorra was founded in 805 by Charlemagne to thank the people of this region for their help in vanquishing the Saracens. These days it’s a happy, laid-back place. During our short stay we meet lots of people who arrived a couple of decades ago and simply never left. One of them gestures to the snow-capped mountain — “my office,” she smiles. Andorra has a well-earned reputation for being a great place to learn how to ski. And after three days of lessons I can see why. This is my fourth time skiing and the teachers are far and away the best I’ve encountered: patient, solicitous, encouraging and terrific at showing this clumsy citeog how to parallel-ski. Here, they pride themselves on it. In one resort, Arinsal in the Vallnord area, Kayleigh, an Essex girl and former architect, explains how each teacher must have at least two disciplines. She has four: skiing and snowboarding, and adaptive in both. We see the latter in action as disabled young people shoot down the slopes on mono-skis, some on crutches with mini-skis attached. In Pas de la Casa, a fun resort with great

apres-ski ambience, we novices master a green and a blue slope (easy and less easy, for the uninitiated in ski parlance), and reward ourselves at the summit, wolfing down a lunch of Serrano ham and local cheese bocadillos and mugs of thick hot chocolate. The piste artists in the group scoot off down the vertical slopes with elan, but for the rest of the gang, it’s the chairlift. Which should be fine. Except it’s not. We’re a third of the way down and suddenly it stops. We’re swinging off the side of a mountain, and my intense vertigo kicks in. Luckily we’re in the company of yet another very experienced guide, who distracts us with non-stop chatter until the machinery starts again and I can breathe. All this high-octane physical activity has many upsides, including the excuse for some serious pampering. Both our hotels, the homely, cosy Himalaia Soldeu and the glamorous Princesa Parc, have wellness centres, but if


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you’re looking for the wow factor, book an afternoon at Caldea, the biggest thermal spa in Europe. Designed by Jean Michel Ruols — known as the water architect — Caldea is an extraordinary edifice of soaring steel and glass shards, which combined with the area’s natural thermal waters makes for a stunning spa, housing hammams and hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms, lazy rivers and lagoons. There is even a pool filled, bizarrely, with grapefruit: apparently it has marvellous properties for the skin. This counts as one of 2019’s more memorable moments: sitting outdoors in warm bubbling water, inhaling pine-scented air, watching the setting sun turn the surrounding powdered peaks shades of coral and peach. A day’s hiking through hollow lands and hilly lands in heavy ski-boots also ensures you

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feel no guilt about what you eat. Two feasts stand out. In Soldeu, at the cute bistro La Cort de Popaire, food is prepared in front of us over a stone grill and here, for the first and last time in my life, egged on by my young companions, I sink a Jagerbomb. Another evening a snowcat — also known as a piste bully — takes us high up to Llac de Pessons, a mountain chalet perched near a lake, where Champagne is served beside a log fire and we dine on entrecote which has been matured for 60 days. Stuffed deer heads and outdoor braziers enhance the romance of this gorgeous epicurean experience. You can also ski here during the day for lunch. Andorra is also renowned, thanks to it duty-free status, as a shopping mecca. PostChristmas, I’m all done with retail but the rest of my compadres get superb value in cosmetics, perfume, booze and cigarettes. The range and variety of emporia in the

capital, Andorra la Vella, are impressive and it’s easy to see why a short ski and shopping break is such an attractive option. Given that I can be a big girl’s blouse when it comes to acts of physical courage, plus I have a fear of heights and am prone to altitude sickness, it is a mystery to me that I love skiing so much. While doing it, I ask myself why I subject myself to it. Answer: it’s the adrenaline junkie in me. Two parts terror to two parts total exhilaration, a day out on the slopes is sensational fun and so good for mind, body and soul. On this trip, despite a few falls and a bruise or two, I’ve graduated from the nursery slopes to being able to go down a blue. I’m proud of myself. As always, I return home after a few days of sloping off into the great white yonder, exhausted yet energised and ecstatic. Truly, there is no business like snow business. ■

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TECHNOLOGY

REVIEW: Google’s latest big handset and a photographic step up from the smartphone By Adrian Weckler

REVIEW: Google Pixel 4 XL

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ow is it that Google’s Pixel phones dazzle with software, the Google Assistant and the camera technology, but still leave such substantial gaps?

This has been my experience with the Pixel 4 XL, a phone I should be recommending as an equal to rival flagships like Samsung’s Galaxy S10+, Huawei’s P30 Pro or even the iPhone 11. But despite some stellar features, I can’t really do that. The 6.3-inch Pixel 4 XL, the larger sibling of the Pixel 4, is the smartest phone around, has some jaw-dropping new software features and feels great in the hand. It’s a joy to use. But yet again, Google has compromised one or two key features that make it very difficult to recommend over the aforementioned rivals. I’ll get right to the point with what those compromises are: the lack of an ultra-wide camera and a really disappointing battery life. The camera issue might be subjective. The battery life question undeniably has more universal application. First, the camera. Virtually every high-end phone made now has three different camera focal lengths: normal (1x), telephoto (2x, 3x or 5x) and ultra-wide (0.5x). An ultra-wide camera is enormously useful. It allows you to get really excellent details into photos, especially when you’re indoors. With the Pixel 4 XL, I had to focus more on details of rooms rather than being able to capture the whole room itself, like I can do with the ultra-wide cameras on any other flagship phone. Yes, I’m a bit of a camera nerd. And yes, regular readers know that

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cameras weigh heavily with my phone reviews. And no, I don’t refurbish houses often.

the One Plus 7 or Nokia 7.2 phones now have long-lasting batteries.

But there are increasing circumstances when I otherwise reach for the ultra-wide option on a phone. It’s my default lens now when taking a cityscape shot. The perspective and detail you get are just much more comprehensive than with a standard or telephoto lens.

OK, I’ve moaned enough. What about the positive bits of the Pixel 4 XL? Happily, they are numerous. The Pixel 4 XL has added some new sensors to the top of the front-facing panel, mainly to facilitate a new facial-unlocking capability. This works really, really well – easily the best implementation of facial-unlocking outside the iPhone X models, which remain the gold standard. In fact, unlocking the phone, in general, is lightning fast.

The great shame is that Google is so darn good at the cameras it actually does give us on this phone. The standard (1x) and telephoto (2x) cameras on the Pixel 4 XL are not just good, they’re superb. I mean this sincerely: they’re up there with the iPhone 11 and Samsung S10 (and Note 10) in terms of clarity and resolution. (The Huawei P30 Pro still has an edge because of its 5x telephoto lens, but the Pixel 4 XL’s 2x zoom scales impressively to 8x digitally.) But there is no such mitigation on the issue of the relatively poor battery life on the Pixel 4 XL. Honestly, I was genuinely surprised. My phone was in the red every day between 6pm and 8pm. I just don’t understand how this could have been allowed to happen. Yes, the Pixel 4 XL has a 3,700mAh battery, which is around 10% smaller than the batteries in the top phones from Samsung and Huawei. But that’s not such a big deal when you’re as good at software as Google is. To be fair, I’m sure there are plenty of people for whom a phone lasting reliably until 6pm is good enough. And in some ways, it is. It’s just very rare now; we’ve all become used to better. Android rivals such as Samsung’s Galaxy S10+ and Huawei’s P30 Pro are much, much longer-lasting. Even mid-range models such as

The most useful end result of the phone’s sensors and motion detection is picking it up and unlocking it straight away. Google’s


TECHNOLOGY

Assistant is also now becoming a significant differentiator for those who want their phones to be smarter. The breadth and depth of things you can now ask your phone to do through the Assistant is genuinely impressive. One of the show-stoppers is its ability to take dictation or give you live captioning. Voice detection technology has raced ahead in the past few years, but the best systems typically charge you for it. Google is starting to provide it as a basic service. And it’s amazing. The Pixel 4 XL is slightly narrower than most flagship rivals, but this has the effect of making it easier to grip and operate onehanded. It has a really nice matte finish on the back, which is the antithesis of a fingerprint magnet. This is a phone techies and advanced smartphone users should love. But the battery life issue kind of spoils things. ■

REVIEW: Canon M200 £499

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f you want a barebones ‘quality’ camera with different lenses to mostly shoot on automatic mode, this may be the one to get. Canon’s new M200 has a big, high-quality APS-C sensor and connects to lenses that generally beat smartphones’ efforts.

most obvious questions here has to be: if this isn’t quite as good as a DSLR, is it considerably better than your smartphone?

It’s pitched as an entry-level mirrorless camera and this is evident from the moment you pick it up: there are less than half the buttons, dials and knobs you usually find on an interchangeable-lens camera. There are only three ‘modes’: automatic, manual and video. I’d confidently bet the first of these modes is the camera’s main utility.

The short answer is a qualified yes – this can do things your smartphone can’t, in particular creating proper depth of field. I’ve compared it with my iPhone 11 Pro Max on a number of shots and the M200 gives much more pleasing blurry bokeh than the smartphone. It also has much more varied focal lengths because of the different lenses available.

In doing this, it succeeds pretty well. Point it at something, squeeze the shutter button and you generally get a good-quality photo. It has a flip-up touchscreen, which means you can hold it up for decent selfies or videos of yourself.

Having said that, the iPhone beats it on one or two counts, especially in dealing with light and dark parts of a photo in automatic mode.

The M200 has a neat trick of letting you video in vertical mode, like a smartphone. However, you have to go through Canon’s smartphone app to do this – it won’t transfer right off your memory card. It also does a very good job at face detection and eye autofocus, especially during video, for a camera at this price. The camera isn’t stabilised (like high-end smartphones), but quite a few of the lenses are. Its best shooting mode is full HD, as 4K has a 1.6x crop, which means you lose the outer rims of the shot. Canon has kept the size of the camera body very slim and compact. It’s a bit ironic, as this goes out the window the second you attach a lens. I did like the tactile feel of the camera. It’s a brushed, matte finish that doesn’t feel cheap. The lenses have this same pleasing handling. One of the

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So a photo taken with any sunshine in it usually turns out much more evenly balanced on the iPhone (or any new smartphone) than the M200. But that’s not an optical issue; it’s because of the huge processing power advantage that the smartphone has over Canon (‘computational photography’). The iPhone also beats it hands down for video stabilisation. If you’re moving and trying to video something, the M200 is a little shaky and juddery, whereas the iPhone is really smooth. The two categories of people I’d recommend this for are those travelling and who just want a simple camera that takes quality photos at zoomed-in focal lengths their phone can’t match, or those who are really on a tight budget and want something with a decent minimum level of quality from a large sensor. That’s probably a fair whack of camera buyers. ■

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Uncovering the 9-5 NAME: Harry Harpur POSITION: Managing director, Square Box Training Consultancy

7.45am I am a morning person so by 7.45am, I’ve hopefully done the gym and I’m on my way to work. If I’m good, I will have had a healthy breakfast and managed to say hello to the family.

1.45pm This is usually when I’m finishing up on lunch, whether I’m training or in the office. I try to be healthy when I can but with the nature of our work, especially when travel is involved, it can be difficult sticking to a healthy routine.

9.30am This differs from day-to-day, depending on whether or not I’m delivering training on that day. If I’m delivering training, I would be going through the programme and getting myself mentally prepared for the workshop ahead. This involves reviewing what I will be delivering to attendees.

It’s good fun enjoying lunch with those attending our workshops – it’s a good opportunity to find out more about them in a more relaxed setting. It also helps those who are quite reserved come out of their shell a little more which always makes the afternoon sessions even more fun.

If I’m not delivering, I will be in our office in Antrim ‘eating the frog’ as we talk about in Square Box – getting the biggest and most onerous task out of the way first. 10am If I’m delivering training, at this stage, I would be getting to know the attendees that will be taking part in the workshop on that day – we like to do things differently at Square Box, as a result our icebreakers are more unconventional than the norm. I’ll also outline the plan for the day ahead to attendees – keeping in mind one of our core values at Square Box is fun, we’re sure to be having a good old laugh at this stage. 10.30am If I’m not delivering, I would normally be arranging or meeting with clients or potential clients – we work throughout the UK and Ireland so that could mean getting on a flight to anywhere in the UK or driving down to Dublin, Limerick or Cork. I might also be liaising with our clients, thinking about upcoming training sessions or creating bespoke training presentations, as each of our training workshops at Square Box are created to meet the needs of each individual client.

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2pm It’s back to the training session, carrying out enjoyable exercises for the remainder of the afternoon, getting the best out of our attendees, helping them see their potential and thinking outside of the box. There’s no fluffy stuff, buzz words or clichés with our training – it’s all interactive and uses practical, real life scenarios which ultimately, delivers results. 3pm Around this time, I’m usually catching up with our team, finding out about their training sessions in addition to making plans for the training sessions in the coming weeks. We have an excellent, forward-thinking team here at Square Box, all of whom are fantastic at what they do, so I don’t have to do too much to advise them – I can usually sit back and listen. 7pm This is around the time I arrive home then it’s out for a daily walk with the dogs – we have two Basset Hounds, Ronnie and Fred. The evening is also a good chance to spend time with my family, catch up with the kids (I have two boys) and my wife over dinner

and enjoy a bit of banter. This is when I can start to relax, especially if I’ve been delivering that day. 10.30pm At this time, I should be going to bed but you are most likely to find me in my man cave. Following a training session, I’m usually still buzzing so it takes me a good bit of time to bring myself back down to earth. This is normally done by zoning out watching real life documentaries or listening to audiobooks.


Profile for Ulster  Business

Ulster Business - December 2019  

Ulster Business

Ulster Business - December 2019  

Ulster Business

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