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Contents 06 News
36 Commercial Property
All the latest from the Northern Ireland business world over the last month
John Simpson asks the state of Northern Ireland’s commercial property sector
If we had a Top 100 list of motoring correspondents, Pat Burns would be Moy Park
14 Cover Story
92 The Chairman
How Bank of Ireland is supporting some of the most innovative companies in the land
How is one of our most important industries preparing for Brexit? We find out
He’s had the tuxedo on and been out on the dancefloor. Did he see you? Did he?
18 David Meade
He’s back, and this time he’s talking mindfulness and how to improve productivity
We find out how to channel your work stress into the right kind of productivity
Pack your bags because we’re heading to southern France to Carcassonne!
23 Finance and Banking
74 Business Breakfast
Where are interest rates headed? We take a look at the latest hints from the central bank
Not so much a breakfast as, eh, a lunch with Suzanne Lunn from Lunn’s Jewellers
Adrian Weckler looks into the tech future after visiting a Berlin tech conference
â&#x20AC;&#x153;encyclopaedic knowledge Chambers UK
Another reason why we are Regional Law Firm of the Year.
We do more. Better.
Time for a positive political resolution
elcome to the October edition of Ulster Business. This month we have a magazine full of enterprising, innovative and downright hard working companies and individuals who are creating wealth and prosperity in all areas of Northern Ireland and in all sections of society.
There were a few tongue-in-cheek comments being bandied about on the night that at least we’d perhaps see a few decisions being made were we to fall back into direct rule for a period, and there is surely a long list of issues which need urgently addressed. But in reality no one really wants to see devolution fail.
It would be impressive enough if they were putting in such an top class performance in a time of economic and political growth but it is doubly impressive that they’re able to do so burdened by an administration which seems unable to see the wood for the trees. There was a sense of hope at last year’s Ulster Business Top 100 Gala Dinner in September when Arlene Foster and Martin McGuiness both told the leaders of Northern Ireland’s biggest companies that they would do all they can to support their aspirations. At this year’s event last month it was Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP who kindly addressed the assembled guests.
It would be a step back in progress for society, for the economy and for Northern Ireland. So come on politicians, for the sake of the business community, can you please sit down and sort out your differences because patience is beginning to wear thin and smiles even thiner. It’s up to you to work out your differences so business can get back to doing what it does best. ■ David Elliott
It was great to have the Secretary of State there but a sad reflection on Northern Ireland politics that he was having to call on the business community to urge our rival politicians to get their feet back under the table of devolution.
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A month in numbers £76.70 The average room rate in Belfast’s hotels in the seven months to July, according a survey by PwC. That’s up from £70.50 in the same period last year. The city topped the 22 it analysed when it comes to increases in occupancy, average daily rate and revenues per available room. Julian Yarr, Managing partner at A&L Goodbody; Richard McClean, Managing Director of INM NI, Janet McCollum, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland’s biggest company Moy Park, Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP, Mark Thompson, Head of A&L Goodbody’s Belfast office; David Elliott, Editor of Ulster Business.
£0.27 The milk price per litre which Dale Farm is offering to pay its farmer members for a three-year fixed price contract. The voluntary deal is a big move for the Northern Ireland co-operative and addresses a long-held difficulty for dairy farmers faced with volatile milk prices which have occasionally fallen below the cost of production.
500 The number of jobs which could be lost because of a £95m funding shortfall for Northern Ireland’s road maintenance, according the Quarry Products Association. Regional Director Gordon Best said the shortfall equates to 68,000 lorry loads of asphalt. “If you consider the number of workers it takes to manufacture the asphalt, to transport it and to lay it on the roads, the numbers quoted are no exaggeration.”
16 The percentage of adults in Northern Ireland living with serious debt, according to the Money Advice Service.
Top 100 Dinner: Brokenshire calls for business to help break Stormont deadlock
ecretary of State James Brokenshire has told the leaders of Northern Ireland’s biggest businesses to do all they can to help break the political deadlock at Stormont. Speaking at the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2017 Gala Dinner in Queens University's Great Hall, in partnership with A&L Goodbody, he said the business world needs to impress on local politicians how important a deal is for the future of the economy. “We all want to see the parties come together and form an Executive,” he said. “They need to hear from you just how important it is for to you to see them working together for the good of Northern Ireland.” If a deal can’t be reached, the Secretary of State said Northern Ireland is on a "glide path" toward greater UK intervention without a political deal. But he said that path can be avoided.
800 The number of supplier companies aerospace firm Bombardier has across the UK and Ireland. It’s getting ready to fight a law suit in the US brought by Boeing alleging the Canadian firm, which employs 4,500 people in Belfast, is selling aircraft below the cost price with the help of government subsidies.
"This can be achieved with political leadership and with support of the people of Northern Ireland - including communities and businesses." He said passing a budget at Westminster for public services in Northern Ireland this year would be profoundly a backward step.
"But in the continuing absence of devolution the UK Government retains ultimate responsibility for good governance and political stability in Northern Ireland as part of the UK - and we will not shirk from the necessary measures to deliver that." The event celebrated the success of the Top 100 biggest companies in Northern Ireland which managed to shrug off political turmoil and economic uncertainty to post record turnover in the last year. They saw a jump in revenue of £322m for the collective to an all-time high of £23.3bn. The list ranks companies by turnover to give an indication of how much they put in to the Northern Ireland economy. Profit also climbed by 16% to £932.7m from £804m. The stealer performance shows the resilience and energy of Northern Ireland companies, according to Ulster Business editor David Elliott. “To have posted such a solid performance in light of the uncertainty created by Brexit and the stalemate at Stormont highlights the robustness of our biggest business,” he said. “They have concentrated on growing their businesses in the prevailing conditions and proved once again to have the talent and industry to compete with the best in the world.”
Council offers support to small businesses
oira Loughran, Regional Business Manager Invest NI, Mary Gormley EU and Partner Delivery Manager and Councillor Mairéad O’Donnell, Chair of Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee are encouraging small business owners to sign up for a free new programme ‘Think.Do.Be’, offering one-to-one and group specialist mentoring, along with the opportunity to attend seminars delivered by experienced business consultants - all designed to grow their business. Councillor Mairéad O’Donnell, Chair of Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee said: “It’s the perfect opportunity for those running a micro, small business or social enterprise to take a little time out to access the expertise they need – whether that’s in financial management, PR and marketing, developing export opportunities, logistics, or innovation. The ‘Think.Do.Be’ programme is open to Belfast based companies not currently receiving support from Invest NI and who have been operating for more than a year. To apply, visit www.belfastcity.gov.uk/thinkdobe e-mail email@example.com
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Quotes of the month “If things don’t change we are on a glide path to greater and greater UK government intervention. But I believe we can change course. This can be achieved with political leadership and with support of the people of Northern Ireland - including communities and businesses.” Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP tells the Ulster Business Top 100 2017 Gala Dinner that the standoff at Stormont needs to change, and soon.
“Every solution inside Brexit needs to take into account that the peace process and Good Friday Agreement is secure and there is no hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.” Guy Verhofstadt, the European Union Brexit negotiator, on a visit to Northern Ireland.
“Fundamentally, it (Brexit) doesn’t really change very much at all the continued investment to Belfast…When you are operating in 98 countries around the world, there’s always something which will have an impact, and you deal with it.” James Bardrick, head of Citi’s UK operations, said the Brexit hasn’t changed the investment bank’s plans for the 2,500-head base.
“Brexit is the greatest imminent challenge – and opportunity – facing Ireland. For the best national outcome, Government should use the unallocated funds to ‘Brexit-proof’ the Greater Dublin Area by achieving tangible progress on housing supply, commuting, travel times, and the quality of public transport.” Mary Rose Burke, CEO of Dublin Chamber, shows that our nearest neighbours are ready to make the most of Brexit.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker
Call for Northern Ireland to have honorary EU status By Michael McHugh
ore than 200 supporters have signed a petition calling for Northern Ireland to be given "honorary" European Union membership while remaining part of the UK. Former European Commission head in Belfast Jane Morrice has said the country could become a European place of global peacebuilding. Her petition called on Prime Minister Theresa May, European Commission president JeanClaude Juncker and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to grant the special status. It has received 244 signatures of support. The online campaign said: "The aim is to protect peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland; to ensure respect for the European rights and fundamental freedoms of Northern Ireland citizens; to guarantee freedom of movement between the UK and Ireland and to safeguard the spirit of good relations and cooperation between the UK, Ireland and the EU enshrined in the Good Friday Belfast Agreement." Sinn Fein and the SDLP are campaigning for Northern Ireland to be given special status within the EU following Brexit.
The Democratic Unionists supported Leave in the referendum. Honorary EU association would retain the status of Northern Ireland as part of the EU, part of the UK and part of the British/Irish and North/South Council in keeping with the Good Friday Belfast Agreement, the petition said. It would respect the will of the people of Northern Ireland who voted to stay in the EU, keep the Irish border open and recognise the right of those who wish to retain EU citizenship as British and/or Irish citizens, it added. "Associate EU membership should permit Northern Ireland to stay in the customs union, the single market and the common travel area and find ways to allow the freedom of movement of people, goods, capital and services East/West and North/South of the British Isles. "It should guarantee support for farmers, fisheries, research, student exchange and other economic and social imperatives and ensure and extend funding for crosscommunity, cross border and global Peace outreach programmes." Ms Morrice is a former member of the Women's Coalition, which participated in the peace talks which led to the 1998 peace accord.
Boojum Botanic building snapped up
prominent building housing burrito bar Boojum on Belfast’s Botanic Avenue has sold “well in excess” of its asking price, according to agents.
Osborne King had been tasked with selling the mid-terrace property which has been sold to a local investor with the restaurant tenancy still in place. It had been on the market for £450,000 but sold for well above that price to give a net yield – the annual rent minus annual costs divided by the value of the property – of “sub 5.5%”. Thomas Osborne from Osborne King said there was a rush to secure the purchase. “From the outset, there was strong interest in the property and we had a significant number of offers from credible parties, including those from overseas investors. The sale was closed by way of informal tender and remarkably the process from initial marketing to completion took just under ten weeks.” He said the strong tenant had been a big attraction.
The building in Botanic Avenue in Belfast which was sold for “well in excess” of £450,000
“Undoubtedly, the location of this investment opportunity, which is popular with students and young professionals coupled with the fact that it is fully let to Boojum Ltd attracted a great deal of interest from investors. The sale demonstrated the level of confidence within the local market and current lack of investment product combined with high demand means that good quality investments will achieve strong prices.”
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Belfast festival catering company bags funding
Hays set to grow further after busy year
ne of Northern Ireland’s biggest recruitment companies has said it will grow its own headcount after reporting a buoyant year.
Belfast catering company which specialises in supplying festivals throughout the UK and Ireland is creating six jobs after bagging a substantial investment. Central Fusion has secured £750,000 from the Growth Loan Fund, a vehicle backed by Invest NI and private investors. The company said it’s going to use the money to grow its business at festivals and events throughout the region. Richard Irwin, Director, Central Fusion said it has ambitious plans. “We hope to achieve significant growth of the business by continuing to take on more festival and event work in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, as well as becoming involved in similar events in the Republic of Ireland. We currently have plans for events around Halloween and Christmas in Northern Ireland on a number of key sites. “We are also making plans for new concepts that will help improve the company’s operating levels during its historically quiet period between October and April.” Central Fusion has been providing food and drink concessions at events such as Reading & Leeds Festival, V Festival, and Latitude Festival, as well as Arianna Grande’s One Love Manchester concert in June. Neil McCabe, Senior Investment Manager at WhiteRock Capital Partners, said the company has big potential. “With the added management experience of Stephen and Richard, the potential for further future growth is evident. Central Fusion employs 27 full time team members in their offices in Belfast and Wigan and have plans to increase that over the next 12 months.”
Hays said turnover for its business here jumped 14%, mirroring a rejuvenated private sector which, encouragingly, remains positive about its recruitment plans. Managing Director John Moore said companies have been putting in a robust performance despite the uncertainties which have emerged from Brexit and from the current stalemate at Stormont. “Despite of the ongoing uncertainty, it’s evident that Northern Ireland firms are pressing ahead with their own businesses because our job registration levels are up,” he said. “The increase spans construction, engineering, technology and finance. “Given the heightened demand for qualified professionals we’re also seeing frequent contract extensions across numerous sectors as companies opt to extend contracts due to the challenge of securing the right permanent hires.” He said the boost isn’t just centred on Belfast, but across Northern Ireland. “What’s encouraging is that it’s not just increased demand driven by large firms in Belfast,” he said. “From Portadown we have seen material growth over the past three years from firms hiring across engineering, construction, finance and professional services. “This is from a mid-Ulster customer base that spans public services, heavy engineering, food production as well as numerous buoyant SME firms. Equally in Derry we welcome the infrastructure work that has improved business confidence and job levels in the north west.” He told Ulster Business that Hays in Northern Ireland took on 10 new hires this year across its Portadown and Derry offices and expected
John Moore, Managing Director at Hays
“double digit” headcount growth in the year ahead. But he said there were a couple of uncertainties hanging over the jobs market. “Further down the line we’re anxious about what Brexit will really mean. But if you look at what happened in the last 12 months, the economy has still moved forward. “We expect the same in the months ahead and we hope the negotiations will work in our favour from 2018.” He said there was also demand from workers looking to move back, or to, Northern Ireland. “Whilst InvestNI continues its sterling work attracting new firms to Northern Ireland, we’re also heartened by the number of professionals returning to Northern Ireland. Through our national and international office network we’re speaking to professionals who are weighing up job opportunities here and our schools system, house prices relative to earnings and improving infrastructure all work in our favour.” “Our recent What Workers Want report also brought out some interesting findings around what motivates people to remain loyal to their current employer or consider a move elsewhere. For instance, employers stated that the full range of employee benefits was discussed at the interview process whilst 78% of employees felt that it was not.”
Odyssey Trust to invest £4.5m in W5 revamp
he organisation which runs Belfast science and discovery centre W5 are investing £4.5m to upgrade the facility.
more young people to consider Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers, the investment will enable W5 to reinvigorate their visitor experience.
The Odyssey Trust said the aim of the investment is to encourage more young people in Northern Ireland to consider studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. It wants to make W5 a world-class innovative science centre that will create an inspiring visitor experience for new audiences and increase visitor numbers.
Eric Porter, Chairman of the Odyssey Trust, said: “Our contribution to the overall funding package is part of The Trust’s wider objective to transform the Odyssey into a hub for families in Northern Ireland. Public engagement is at the heart of the transformation and we want to invest in the complex to help improve our facilities and provide families with a number of high quality experiences under one roof.”
Judith Harvey, Head of Education and Public Affairs at the Odyssey Trust, said the project is transformational for Northern Ireland. “Through this project, we plan to implement a new model of informal STEM learning outcomes increasing the touch points with science not only within W5, but within the community of Northern Ireland, linking
Pictured in W5 are (L-R): Judith Harvey, Head of Education and Public Affairs; Wendy Langham, Head of Social Affairs and Eric Porter, Chairman at The Odyssey Trust
education, public engagement and STEM strategies to create a significant and lasting impact,” she said. “Our aim is that this project will not only be aspirational, but inspirational.” A total of £3m of funding has been awarded through the Inspiring Science Fund, a partnership between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Wellcome, with a further £1.5m invested from The Odyssey Trust. In line with the Government’s Industrial Strategy to encourage
The redevelopment of the attraction is set to take between 24-30 months to complete. The Odyssey Trust is the charitable organisation responsible for the management and development of the Odyssey site including The SSE Arena Belfast, W5 and the Stena Line Belfast Giants Ice Hockey Team.
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Bombardier deal collapse 'would hit Northern Ireland aerospace' By John Mulgrew
he potential collapse of a multibillion pound Bombardier aircraft deal to the US amid a transatlantic trade war could have a drastic effect on a network of firms working in the sector here, it's been claimed. One of Northern Ireland's biggest employers, Bombardier is facing a challenge by airline rival Boeing over the sale of up to 125 C Series jets to US carrier Delta. Bombardier employs around 4,500 workers in Northern Ireland. Boeing stood firmly behind its case last month - speaking ahead of Prime Minister Theresa May's meeting with Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau - claiming Bombardier is selling aircraft at "absurdly low prices... in a classic case of dumping". The US Department of Commerce is set to rule on the row next week, with industry experts warning a decision is likely to go in favour of Boeing.
be pivotal with major consequences for the airliner's wing manufacturer in Belfast. "There is a positive way out of this, but it will require vision and lateral thinking." Hundreds of Belfast workers build the wings and part of the C Series fuselage. The claims that the aircraft are being ‘subsidised’, in part, due to a $1bn bailout by the regional Quebec government, is being challenged by Boeing, and if successful, could scupper the Delta deal and effectively priceout and cut off its largest market, the US, and lead to hundreds of job losses. Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist with the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, said that “jobs in Bombardier, as in much of the rest of aerospace in NI, tick all the boxes in terms of relatively high wages high productivity and high level of exports”. He said: “Bombardier is the predominant player in, and at the centre of, the aerospace ‘cluster’ in Northern Ireland.
Martin Craigs, chairman of Aerospace Forum Asia and a former Shorts/Bombardier worker, said: "I have watched, with skin in the game, the evolution of global trade wars in the airliner sales for over 30 years.
“Northern Ireland has relatively few business clusters so we can ill afford to have the one in aerospace damaged. Bombardier says it has 800 supplier companies across the UK and Ireland.
"The US Department of Commerce's decision on Bombardier C Series sales to Delta will
“Official figures in Northern Ireland imply that for every £100 of output in aerospace,
another £50 are generated elsewhere in the economies. In employment terms, ADS suggests each job in aerospace generates a further job in the rest of the economy.” Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, said it is standing on the side of the workers “threatened by Boeing’s predatory behaviour”. He said: “At base it is ordinary workers who risk being the collateral damage in what is an increasingly dirty row between two giant corporations over market share. My union stands in full solidarity with the workforce in Belfast. “Personally I will be contacting our sister unions in Canada to ask for their assistance in pressing Boeing to meet with the Canadian government on these very serious matters.” Concerns over the future of the Belfast workforce prompted Theresa May to raise the issue with US President Donald Trump. Yesterday, Boeing issued a strongly-worded statement, criticising the price Bombardier was selling its jets, saying the series “has sold poorly”. It added: “This violation of global trade law is the only issue at stake at the US International Trade Commission — one sale in the US at a price millions lower than Bombardier is charging in the Canadian market.” ■
Ending the paper trail R
OL Testing, one of Northern Ireland’s most progressive and innovative providers of electrical services, specialising in facilities and compliance management, has increased productivity and created a more transparent working environment for clients, supply chain and the business alike by implementing WorkPal. ROL Testing required a better way to manage both customers and staff remotely anywhere in the UK and Ireland. WorkPal is a mobile and desktop app which streamlines workflow, with job management, time tracking, job reports and invoicing all from the palm of your hand. Mobile workers have access to customised job sheets from the mobile app, can be guided through their task and have the ability to report back instantaneously on the progress. Once a job is completed, WorkPal allows ROL to create speedy invoicing, even from out in the field. The end-to-end process management ensures that the accounts department is completely integrated with field workers and everyone in between. WorkPal’s customisable reporting tool allows ROL Testing to create reports in minutes. With no need for paper forms, ROL Testing is able to carry out end to end workflow management including risk assessments, vehicle checks and reporting all conducted on the WorkPal app, increasing transparency for clients and driving efficiency for the business . Richard O’Lone, Managing Director at ROL Testing said: “We’ve been using the system for 6 months now and have placed WorkPal at the heart of our business. We continue to work with the development team to create further enhancements to benefit the changing business needs. “The fact that WorkPal can be completely customised and configurable to us is the
Martin McCusker of ROL Testing with Ian Megahey, Head of WorkPal Sales, and Richard O'Lone, Managing Director of ROL Testing
biggest benefit. We have been able to tailor it to suit our needs entirely.
the WorkPal system resulting in minimal disruption.
“Live updates including photographic evidence from site with all task communications can be viewed on the app for all employees to see resulting in a decrease in administration. The app is very user friendly, and the transition from our old system was seamless thanks to the dedicated project management team at WorkPal.”
“Being able to track data in real time and invoice customers immediately allows ROL Testing to free up admin time and put more time into the business and ultimately, their customers.
Ian Megahey, Head of WorkPal sales said: “The configurable nature of WorkPal means it can be uniquely integrated with a company’s own internal systems, making it extremely user-friendly.” “ROL Testing was using a different IT solution that no longer met the requirements of the business and was slowing down how the information got from site to office and then to client. WorkPal was approached by ROL to offer solutions to these challenges and were quickly able to replicate and adapt a number of hard copy documents on to
“With GPS, time tracking and job management, WorkPal increases productivity and gives clients an accurate method of capturing costs, putting an end to under billing or under estimating job times by improving quotes. Logged job times and breakdowns of reports create both added value for client’s customers and a more transparent experience. “Businesses have saved up to £25,000 per year in administration costs, allowing the money to be put back into the business.” ■ For more information on how WorkPal can transform your business and put an end to your paper work, contact one of the WorkPal team on 028 9027 1777, email@example.com or visit yourworkpal.com
The banking partner to rely on Ulster Business hears how Bank of Ireland UK have supported the ambitious growth plans of some of the most innovative companies in Northern Ireland
ocated on a six-acre site in the Port of Belfast and on a significant site adjacent to Larne Harbour McKenzies is a multi-million pound turnover business with clients of all sizes located around the world. This business, led by Sergio McKenzie and son Sergio Jnr, is very much a family affair with Suzanna and Donna McKenzie also heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. Evolving beyond recognition from the business founded over 29 years ago and with the support of Stephen Russell, their energetic and enthusiastic Director of Strategy and Development, they are on a significant, ambitious and fascinating growth trajectory, supported in partnership with Bank of Ireland UK. To find out about this journey, it’s worth hearing a little more about the business. The business had been relying on a supply of scrap metal from metal recycling companies
around Northern Ireland and from the general public but a strategic review of the business four years ago saw a shift in focus. That has involved turning what had been a small, but very successful, scrap metal business into a global processor of high-value ferrous and non-ferrous material, one which is not just proving hugely successful for the company but which is helping make the Northern Ireland economy more competitive. “We identified significant growth potential in non-ferrous material within Northern Ireland, particularly aluminium,” Stephen told Ulster Business. “As a result we established contact with a number of manufacturing companies across Northern Ireland who use aluminium either directly or indirectly in their own processes.” The company had essentially found a new steady supply of aluminium from factories and
others which had off-cuts of material and went about securing it by implementing a service level which hadn’t previously been witnessed in the industry. “These companies required specialist recycling services which would allow them to concentrate on their own core activities. It was important to them that
we provided a level of service which was above expectations, which was reliable, transparent and financially beneficial.” The strategy worked and soon the business was exporting material to the UK, then to Europe and now all over the world.
went into months of research to establish whether it would be possible to support them. We believed we were in a unique position of being able to source secondary aluminium and act as a conduit between two major industries, aerospace and automotive.” And it was.
It was through this service it came into contact with Carrickfergus-based Ryobi, the aluminium casting company which counts the world’s biggest car companies as its customers. At the time it was importing aluminium from around the world but was keen to explore ways of securing local supply. It was a moment the phrase “industrial symbiosis” was made for. “Although it was breaking new ground for us, we immediately
After two years of research and development it signed a multimillion pound contract – with the help of Bank of Ireland UK - to build an aluminium melting plant in October 2016 and has already begun manufacturing ingots for Ryobi. Since then McKenzies has been approached to supply a number of other companies with aluminium
and plans to further expand the melting plant in the future, all the while helping reduce the region’s environmental footprint. Bank of Ireland UK - which has partnered with the firm for the last two years are at the heart of those plans. “Bank of Ireland UK has been exceptional in their understanding and support of our strategic goals,” Stephen said. “The process was complex and required an innovative and flexible approach from the bank which was supported at all levels. >
Stephen Russell, Director of Strategy and Development at McKenzies NI, Judith Scott, Senior Business Development Manager, at Bank of Ireland UK, and Sergio McKenzie Senior, Director at McKenzies NI
“It has adopted a much more innovative style of banking which not only supports progressive business but provides a banking experience which gives us confidence for the future.” That Stephen was formerly a banker lends that statement weight; that he picked Bank of Ireland UK after carrying out an MSc looking at customer experience levels in the banking industry doubles that weight, and then some. He singled out the business’s main point of contact, Senior Business Development Manager in the Business Acquisition Team NI Judith Scott, for particular praise and said she is representative of others in the team. “There is a pool of talent in Bank of Ireland UK which ensures a top level of service to customers. It took some innovative thinking on Judith’s behalf and if it hadn’t been for her and the team this project might not have got off the ground.”
That expansion will involve taking on new staff, significant investment in the business and support from our banking partner.
“As we’ve grown we have reinvested in plant and people and the bank has been very proactive in providing the help we needed.
“Bank of Ireland UK has stood by us from the beginning. They’ve supported us in everything we’ve done and encouraged me to have ambitious plans for the future. When we were offered the O2 franchises for Northern Ireland and Scotland they asked what we needed and made a decision quickly. That kind of support is worth a lot to a business like ours.”
“They’ve supported our business plans and we have a very good working relationship with the team.”
Woodland is another good example of a company which has grown in partnership with Bank of Ireland UK. It manufactures kitchen, bedroom and bathroom furniture from its Rasharkin base and was started 30 years ago by Brian McCloskey.
Another growing company which has been helped by Bank of Ireland UK to achieve its ambitions is IT Managed Services (ITMS). The Belfast company has been in operation for 30 years selling everything from servers to IT solutions, and in particular managing IT infrastructures for customers. Recent contract wins include Northern Ireland Water and examining board the CCEA in Belfast. It is a business partner of IBM Ireland and the authorised service centre for industrial printing specialist Printronic Inc which supplies industrial grade thermal label printers favoured by a number of distribution and freight companies.
A company which has moved its business into new geographies is MMD Communications, a Coalisland-based mobile-phone company which is the largest O2 franchisee in Northern Ireland and Scotland with 18 stores. From left Connor McCloskey from Woodland, John Curtin, Business Manager, Bank of Ireland UK and Brian McCloskey from Woodland
Business Manager at Bank of Ireland UK Madonna Daly and Maurice Devlin, founder of MMD Communications
The family-run business is headed by Maurice Devlin who has grown the business over the last 20 years and has no plans to rest on the laurels of success. Having ploughed a significant furrow in the personal mobile phone business in both the geographies it operates in, he is expanding the company into the business sector with an offering for companies of all sizes. “We’re already number one in Northern Ireland and Scotland in the personal mobile market and we want to be number one in the business market,” he said.
Its core business is supply and distribution to large chains across the UK such as Travis Perkins but since 2013 it added a new revenue stream supplying and fitting its furniture to large developments such as aparthotels and large residential developments. The move has proved successful with Woodland delivering contracts such as the supply and fit out of all bedroom furniture & kitchenettes for the £28m Marlin Apart-Hotel in Waterloo, London. They have also commenced on site at the prestigious Grand Central Hotel in Belfast to “supply and fit” all bedroom and bathroom furniture for the 304 bedroom hotel. It is deals such as these which Brian McCloskey said have helped the business on its way to hitting its target of £20m turnover by 2020 and its support from Bank of Ireland UK which has brought that target within reach. “There’s no question that Bank of Ireland UK has been hugely supportive of our growth plans,” Brian told Ulster Business.
From left Bill Kennedy, ITMS Ireland, and Tommy Doherty, Business Adviser, Bank of Ireland UK
The business has expanded into the Republic and recently opened an office in Balbriggan where it plans to recruit another three people in the next six months, as well as growing its presence in Scotland and England. During that period of growth Bank of Ireland UK has been a strong partner, founder Bill Kennedy said. “When we present them with a business plan they back it 100% and it is the support from the bank, and from Invest NI, which has really made the business work,” he said. “We’ve had a good working relationship with Bank of Ireland UK that has really helped when we expanded into the Republic.” That is quite an endorsement, but is one which runs through the testimony of Bank of Ireland UK clients in all regions and from all sectors. With that kind of partnership, achieving growth is made all the more possible.” ■
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Mind your business David Meade delves into the world of mindfulness to reveal how it could be the answer your business has been looking for
he World Health Organisation has called it the health epidemic of the 21st century because it accounts for nearly half of all sick days in the UK, and it’s been called, a ‘silent plague’ by health professionals. Stress isn’t good for us, and our people are more stressed than ever. So, what role do organisations have in helping prevent and minimizing stress, or supporting staff who are stressed out?
Fortunately, science can give us some answers here. Research tells us time and time again that ‘mental toughness’ can help us deal with stress in our professional and personal lives.
compelling that companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Deutsche Bank, PwC and Apple have implemented mindfulness programs for their employees.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS? It’s also a significant predictor of success, and people who can harness its power can accomplish truly extraordinary things. In fact, one of the best ways to cultivate mental toughness is by being mindful, and adopting daily mindful practices. The research is so
Mindfulness is a term that has been used a lot in recent years, and it’s a pretty straightforward concept. To be mindful is to fully attend to all that is happening, and to what you are doing now. It’s about being
present and focused. The problem is that in an era of email, Slack, text messaging, and social media, it’s so easy to veer from the matter at hand, and to be truly mindful takes practice.
THE REASON FOR MINDFULNESS IN THE WORKPLACE There have been a number of studies on mindfulness in the workplace, with much more in the pipeline. One study has demonstrated that people who were on sick leave who incorporated mindful practices were over 60% more likely to return to work. More than one study revealed that those who participated in a mindfulness program showed greater improvements in self compassion, focused attention and memory, had less work-related stress, greater job satisfaction, less psychological distress and better employer-rated job performance. The most exciting piece of research demonstrated that mindfulness had the ability to change the brains structure and function. The research to date is clear, mindfulness enhances a person’s emotional intelligence, it can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve memory, decrease depression and anxiety, and enhance resilience.
THE MINDFUL MIND There are two skills that define a mindful mind: awareness and focus. Awareness is the ability to recognise and get rid of unnecessary reactions. Focus is the ability to be in the moment, and to concentrate on what you are doing without distractions. To have a mindful mind, one needs to master both of these skills. Having awareness and focus at work means that we can increase our effectiveness, decrease mistakes, and enhance creativity.
BACK IN THE OFFICE Did you know that you can train your brain to focus better by incorporating mindfulness exercises throughout your day? It might sound like there is a lot of work involved, but the great thing about mindfulness is that it can be practiced in a variety of settings: sitting, standing, walking, eating, and even whilst working. That means you can do it anywhere! Yes, I said anywhere, even in the lift on the way to your office. Here are three mindfulness exercises that you can use today. • Emails. To apply mindfulness when opening your inbox, don’t open it at
the beginning of the day. When you do, only focus on the emails that are important, and become discerning of those newsletters and promotions that aren’t. • Meetings. Practice mindfulness for at least two minutes before you attend a meeting, or if you are running the meeting. Some researchers suggest giving everyone two minutes of silence to allow people to arrive mentally as well as physically. Even better if you finish the meeting early, to give those attending the time to prepare themselves for what they need to do next. • The commute home. For at least 10 minutes of the commute, turn off the radio, turn off your phone and practice mindfulness. This will help you focus and make sure that you are fully present when you arrive home. The evidence is clear. More focused, engaged, and less stressed employees all result from an effective mindfulness programme. While it may be seen as somewhat ‘touchy-feely’ by many of the NI corporate scene, the biggest businesses in the world are taking notice, and fundamentally changing their workforce and mind at a time. ■
Meeting the challenges of a low carbon future By Robin McCormick, General Manager SONI
Changes to the level of electricity demand have many contributing factors. Population growth, economic growth and, of course, the effects of weather are examples. Energy efficiency measures also help to reduce electricity demand.
(System Operator for Northern Ireland)
consortium of European energy companies, led by EirGrid Group which incorporates SONI and EirGrid, has been awarded over €20m by the EU to fund research into the deployment of renewable energy.
We consider these factors along with other variables such as the electrification of heating and transport with heat pumps and electric vehicles. We also look at the possibility of consumers moving their electricity usage at certain times of the day in order to reduce their energy bills.
The wide-ranging project, known as EUSysFlex, acknowledges the groundbreaking work that SONI and EirGrid have carried out in this sector over recent years. In 2016, on average, wind energy accounted for 25% of all electricity consumed on the island of Ireland; in some instances this increased to over 60 per cent of electricity consumption.
As things stand we anticipate a relatively slow uptake of pure electric vehicles until 2025-2030. It is likely that hybrid vehicles will act as a transition between petrol and diesel vehicles to fully electric vehicles. From 2025 onwards, improvements in battery technology and decreasing capital costs of electric vehicles are expected to significantly increase the level of uptake.
This is a remarkable achievement by our engineers, who are responsible for running the power systems across the island. This level of renewable energy is one of the highest in the world and is expected to rise to an average of 40% by 2020 in order to meet government targets north and south. The EU-SysFlex consortium will receive the funding under Horizon 2020, the EU’s €80 billion research and innovation programme. EirGrid Group is the overall project coordinator with French electricity group EDF acting as technical co-ordinator. The four-year project involves 34 organisations from 15 countries across Europe. It underpins European Union plans for a greener and more decarbonised Europe by increasing the levels of renewable energy. Specifically, the aim of the EU-SysFlex project is to identify issues associated with integrating large amounts of renewable energy; provide practical assistance to power system operators across Europe and identify a long-term roadmap to facilitate the largescale integration of renewable energy. The project team will identify improvements to
market design, power system regulation, operational practices and enhanced system tools. The team will also trial solutions in concept labs to physically test potential energy scenarios. For the first time, a wide-scale model of the pan European system will be developed and deployed in training simulators. This will provide a long-term roadmap for how the EU can realise its renewable energy goals into the 21st century. At SONI, we look at key influences on the future use of the grid in order to develop a strategic approach. This includes using our own experience and input received from government departments and agencies, research, industry representatives and bodies as well as the public.
The trend towards decarbonisation and reducing carbon output in the future will lead to reduced operating hours of large fossil fuel generators; therefore we examine possibilities for the future of coal, peat, gas and other fossil fuels. Finally, in terms of Northern Ireland’s energy and emissions targets, decarbonisation of the energy system is a trend we see continuing into the future as more renewable energy projects connect to the grid, particularly in the short-medium term. As is the case currently, wind and solar PV are likely to continue as the main contributors in Northern Ireland. ■ Robin McCormick is the General Manager of SONI. He is responsible for the operation and planning of the power system in Northern Ireland and Ireland. Robin is a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Institute of Directors.
Social foundations for success Mark Parsons, Community Finance & Social Enterprise at Ulster Bank, explains why social enterprises have huge potential to transform society and the economy in Northern Ireland To give you an example; there’s some research to suggest that social enterprises in the UK were growing at an average of 60% per year and contributing £24bn to the economy– and because they are social enterprises, much of the profits are ploughed back into local communities. This is an important opportunity for Northern Ireland. Many locally-based enterprises such as Bryson Charitable Group are among the UK’s largest and most dynamic, rapidly changing to meet the needs of their service users. Mark Parsons
hether you’re on a bus, in a leisure centre or even eating chocolate, you could be supporting a social enterprise. Social enterprises are businesses that exist to fulfil a social mission. That mission might be to make the local community a better place to live and work, or it might be to provide work to those who may otherwise be excluded from the job market. For instance, there are many social enterprises creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities, those without homes or those who have been out of the workplace for a sustained period. The sector is growing across the UK and globally as consumers take an ever deeper interest in the products they buy and the companies they support.
There’s some research to suggest that social enterprises in the UK were growing at an average of 60% per year and contributing £24bn to the economy – and because they are social enterprises, much of the profits are ploughed back into local communities
Locally, the sector has many of the key ingredients for future success. When I spoke earlier in the year at the Social Enterprise Northern Ireland conference in Belfast, it was clear that the sector had broad support. Government, councils, corporates, small business, advisors, bankers, accountants, recruiters and law firms were out in force. Like us they want to help businesses that are doing good and doing well. Ulster Bank has a long heritage in supporting the social enterprise sector. We’re pleased to have recently agreed a partnership with Social Enterprise Northern Ireland to help support the development of these local businesses. As well as a presence at the SENI awards and the annual conference we’ll be running a free event at the Belfast Entrepreneurial Spark hub on 7th November 2017 to help social enterprises address some of the challenges they face including impact measurement, governance and access to finance. We’ll also be introducing Social & Community Capital, the bank’s arms length lending charity, to Northern Ireland to help social enterprises here to access loans even if they’ve been turned down for mainstream bank funding. We’ve already supported our first local customer and we look forward to helping many more with the funding they need to grow. We believe there is a lot of potential here in Northern Ireland and we look forward to playing our part, providing meaningful help for the sector. ■
Business Finance & Banking
Is a rates revolution on the way? Interest rates have been at record low levels for years. David Elliott asks whether the Bank of England is getting ready to increase the cost of borrowing or sit on its hands
ack in the boom times – those halcyon days leading up to 2007 when markets only went up – interest rate decision day used to hold a bit of interest for financial journalists on the hunt of a bit of news and everybody else who had an inherent interest in the cost of borrowing money. Monthly payments by home owners with mortgages and other personal and business borrowers depended on how the mood of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), or more pertinently, how they viewed the mood in the economy.
Would they raise rates? Would they cut them? Month by month it could go either way and with rates wavering between 3% and 6% in the preceding decade, it was well worth a wager on a Thursday morning. Even with the onset of the credit crunch and subsequent financial crisis, rate day piqued the interest although the odds of a cut were so short it was barely worth the wager. But since 2009 the Bank of England’s decicion day has been something of a damp squib, with one exception.
Between 2009 and 2016 they remained at what was then a record low of 0.5% before being cut even further to a fresh record low of 0.25% last August where they’ve stayed until now. The big question on everybody’s lips is ‘when will Bank of England Governor Mark Carney announce a rate rise?” The general perception had been that the central bank wouldn’t consider raising rates until 2018. By the then the slowly recovering economy would be in good enough health to absorb the
Richard Ramsey, Chief Economist Northern Ireland for Ulster Bank
rise without causing too much strain on hardpushed borrowers. Interest rate manipulation is the bank’s way of spurring economic growth by increase or decreasing the cost of borrowing, thereby keeping inflation under control and as close to its target of 2% as it can. But the latest jump in consumer price inflation to 2.7% in August prompted some suggestions the bank might bring its new year present forward and raise rates before the year is out. That was further compounded by Mark Carney’s suggestion just before this magazine went to press that the UK economy might not need the rocket booster that is a 0.25% interest rate to keep it on a growth trajectory. “If the economy continues to follow a path consistent with the prospect of a continued erosion of slack and a gradual rise in underlying inflationary pressure then, with the further lessening in the trade-off that this would imply, some withdrawal of monetary stimulus is likely to be appropriate over the coming months in order to return inflation sustainably to target,” Mr Carney said in a speech. What the money markets take from that rather technical statement is that the MPC is likely to hike rates, and relatively soon. The pound duly rallied, taking heart that the Bank of England thinks the economy is doing ok.
However, as with everything in financial markets, the same speech can mean different things to different people, depending on their point of view. Other market watchers said the fact rates are going to rise in the next few months is nothing new but the important part of Mr Carney’s speech is to be found elsewhere. They point in particular to the part where he calms fears of a sharp rise. “Policy rates can be expected only to rise a limited extent at what can be expected to be a gradual pace, settling at levels significantly below those seen pre-crisis.” That last part is probably the most important bit for anyone looking to tie in borrowing rates over a longer period. If rates are going to settle well below the 5% or 6% which they sat at before the crisis, then paying up for highly-priced fixed rate borrowing may not be worthwhile and variable rates, properly stress tested, may offer a more affordable option. Of course, all these potential outcomes are burdened with the caveat that all other factors stay equal, something which rarely occurs. All we can do in the meantime is to pay close attention to economic indicators and the nuance of Mr Carney’s words. Were he, or indeed we, able to predict with accuracy where rates are headed, we wouldn’t be working for other people. ■
The 5th July 2007 was the last time the Bank of England increased interest rates. Fast forward 10 years and speculation is rife (from the Governor of the Bank of England himself) that the MPC is poised to finally raise rates in the ‘coming months’. We have been here before. When Carney’s forward guidance in 2013 suggested that if the UK unemployment rate moved below 7% interest rates would rise. Unemployment plummeted in 2014 with the rate currently at a 42-year low of 4.3%. No rate rise has occurred. Indeed, the MPC surprised markets with a post-EU referendum rate cut from 0.5% to 0.25%. This took interest rates from a 320 year low to ….a fresh 320-year low. The move was viewed as an insurance policy against downside risks from Brexit that failed to materialise. Markets now view the probability of a rate rise by November (to 0.5%) as over 60%. But this will just take rates back to where they were pre-EU referendum. That is a 320-year low. November may prove too soon for a move with February 2018 (the next month in the BoE’s quarterly forecast round) coming in to focus. A pick-up in wage growth is likely to be a pre-cursor to an interest rate rise. But we have been waiting for that for years. In any event, any rise is not expected to herald the beginning of a series of frequent rate hikes. The interest rate curve in the years ahead will be a very gentle slope. ■
Sterling performance? Colm Kelpie takes a look at where the pound/euro exchange rate is headed after its recent volatility Despite the announcement by the Bank of England - which is led by Governor Mark Carney - currency worries are likely to dominate for some time. Farmers, exporters and border retailers are all feeling the pinch, and the continued uncertainty out of the UK in terms of the Brexit talks is doing little to inspire confidence. So where’s the pound likely to go now? Analysts still take a bleak view.
“Over the coming months, Brexit negotiations are likely to remain the key factor influencing sterling, and on that basis - with the prospect of limited progress between now and year end - we could see euro/sterling trading at 87p-93p range over that period,” added Mr Fahy.
aving surged to a point where it looked like parity with the euro wasn’t that farfetched, sterling did a sudden about-turn in recent weeks, giving some welcome breathing space to Irish exporters.
“We now expect a UK rate hike by March of next year, and a further increase is expected by mid 2019,” AIB’s senior economist John Fahy said, adding that a rate hike before the end of the year can’t be ruled out.
But it’s a tight space - and analysts believe it is likely to narrow once more.
“By then they expect that the bank rate will have increased by 50 basis points overall, bringing it back to 0.75pc.
Amid continued uncertainty around the Brexit talks, and a strengthening euro, the pound inched to 93 pence to the euro at one point in the last few weeks, reaching an eight-year low. But hints from the Bank of England that the first rate increase in a decade could happen in the “coming months”, catapulted the pound past the $1.36 mark for the first time since the day of the EU referendum, and eased it back to around 87p to the euro. At the end of last month it was hovering at around 88 pence. That marks a reprieve for exporters, who have been on a sterling rollercoaster since before last year’s Brexit vote.
“This is quite a hawkish shift in UK rate expectations in a very short space of time. Back in early September, the market wouldn’t have been expecting a BoE rate hike until the second half of 2019.” Banking giant HSBC has been the first of the big names to roll back on its parity predictions. Forecasters said they had got it wrong and that euro/sterling wouldn’t hit parity by the end of this year. They now see the euro buying 89 pence by the end of 2017.
“If you want to look ahead towards next year, it’s very much dependent on what happens in those negotiations. “Progress towards a soft Brexit could push sterling back towards or below 85p, but if a hard Brexit looks more likely, then euro/ sterling could trade up towards the 95p range and beyond.” His belief for this year is that it could settle by year end around the 90p mark. It’s a similar view from Nikki Canavan, head of retail sales at Bank of Ireland Global Markets. “While the prospect of higher interest rates is supporting sterling, which has strengthened to around 88.5p from 93p at the end of August, Brexit uncertainty remains a considerable risk for the UK economy,” Ms Canavan said. “This is likely to cap any further gains for sterling, and indeed we think it is more likely to drift again to in and around the 92p level over the coming months.” ■
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Be careful what you wish for… Judith Totten is Managing Director of Upstream Working Capital, one of Northern Ireland’s leading providers of working capital solutions. Here she talks about the uncertainty of Brexit, the challenges small business owners are facing and what needs to happen on the “hill”…
ncertainty is an overused word at the moment and there's no doubt that this is a real challenge. It leads to people holding back from making decisions. We need to overcome that obstacle and get on with it. Upstream’s advice to clients’ has always been to agree a plan and execute it. You might look back and wish you had done things differently – but at least you tried. NI needs combined thinking. If the executives at Stormont and Westminster could just work out their differences. We cannot operate in a vacuum with no leadership and no decisions on budgets and so forth. Business has always got on with it and is still stepping up to fill the void, regardless of what happens “on the hill”, but this extended log jam is exceptionally embarrassing - globally. Companies here have started to overcome their natural conservatism regarding finance. Moving from one bank to four or five different funders has been a big step and it can be outside usual comfort zones. But the advantages are many. Some smaller advisory firms are still stuck in the 'go to the bank' mentality. But even this is slowly changing – Upstream wouldn’t exist if that evolution wasn't happening! There are still more gaps to fill and a lot more education to offer. There is room for still more investment and more funding. Trade and supply chain finance is one area that I'd highlight as a real gap that Upstream is actively looking to fill this year. Looking at “Brexit” from a business owner’s point of view, it might offer “corporate” NI an opportunity to try and influence the Brexit
Ireland? If achievable it could bring a lot of opportunities.
Upstream’s advice to clients’ has always been to agree a plan and execute it. You might look back and wish you had done things differently - but at least you tried
roadmap in a way that benefits us. Or, we can just be very compliant and follow suit with what Westminster decides. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do something different? Something that would be tailored to Northern
Brexit, in some ways, is an unfortunate distraction. But are we certain about anything else except Brexit? Is business not all about managing uncertainty? The market will adapt and if we can't overcome Brexit, there is something wrong. And too much speculation is pointless. NI is an easy sell in terms of cost of living, education and so on - so let's get selling it. Of course there are practical issues for us. A hard border will impact greatly on business and the freedom of movement of people. Currency volatility and the ability to export with confidence are all hot topics – but again, it is the ‘not knowing’ which is really the biggest challenge. Clear direction from Westminster and Stormont is required, then we need to get on with it. ■
Insurance Brokers & Risk Advisors www.abbeybondlovis.co.uk
The Litigation & Dispute Resolution Team at A&L Goodbody in Belfast
Partnered for growth Corporate law firm A&L Goodbody recently announced the appointment of Barbara Creed as the fifth partner in its Litigation & Dispute Resolution Team. The teamâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s partners tell Ulster Business how they plan to invest in growing the team further and expanding their offering in response to an evolving market in Northern Ireland. 30
arbara is a very welcome addition to the partner group in Litigation, bringing additional strength and depth to the team’s extensive portfolio of legal expertise,” says Michael Neill, Corporate Restructuring & Insolvency Partner, and Head of Litigation & Dispute Resolution at A&L Goodbody’s Belfast office.
Walls also highlights that an investment in the firm’s technology infrastructure continues to be a key focus for the team. “In the past two years we have launched our innovative HR app as well as our e-Discovery platform – both of which are now being used by many clients to increase efficiencies in their business. We are already working to build on the success of these initiatives with further innovative projects that will help our clients.”
“As well as being highly regarded in the local market for her ability to deal with complex disputes in a wide range of areas – such as property, shareholder, corporate, and contractual disputes – her wealth of experience in various forms of alternative dispute resolution is also a great asset to the team.”
Gareth Walls, Head of Employment, commented: "We offer our clients expert advice across a comprehensive portfolio of legal issues - covering everything from core employment issues such as restructurings, acquisitions and disciplinaries, to emerging areas such as modern slavery and corporate immigration.”
In addition to growing the size of their team in the coming years, the partners have developed a strategy that will see them invest in expanding their range of services. Barbara Creed explains: “We are continually exploring creative methods of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that can help deliver the best commercial solutions at the earliest possible juncture for our clients – such as early neutral evaluation, expert determination or mediation, for example.
Brendan Fox, Head of Construction, elaborates: “Barbara’s appointment is a continuation of our ongoing strategy over the past decade to grow and invest in our Litigation team by developing legal experts who not only excel in the core areas of litigation, but also bring an additional specialist offering to the team.” With the Litigation team topping the rankings over the past decade in legal publications such as Chambers UK and The Legal 500, Fox says a commitment to quality remains at the top of the team’s agenda.
change to regulation and compliance controls. We continue to work closely with clients across a range of sectors to assist them in understanding how their business should adapt in order to remain compliant.”
“As well as saving the client time and money when compared with a traditional trial-led litigation, ADR allows them greater control over how and when their dispute will be resolved.”
Micaela Diver leads the team’s Public and Regulatory practice – an area of law which she says is growing rapidly in Northern Ireland. “Public and Regulatory law is increasingly important in today’s commercial world, with businesses facing further levels of regulatory scrutiny. “We have seen more inquiries in this area of the law throughout the Brexit campaign, in particular. As the UK’s exit from the EU is implemented, there will inevitably be further
Fox concludes: “Northern Ireland is facing significant economic, political and constitutional changes in the coming years – not least through Brexit. With all of these changes potentially having an impact on legislation, we must continue building our team with market-leading experts who can react accordingly to provide the best legal service to our clients. “Adding strength and depth to our team in Northern Ireland will see us maintain our unrivalled reputation for exceptional quality in litigation and dispute resolution.” ■ To contact a Partner in the Litigation & Dispute Resolution Team at A&L Goodbody, please call 028 9031 4466.
*Infographic displays the wide portfolio of legal advisory services offered by A&L Goodbody’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution Team in Northern Ireland
Marco Polo, as shown on Netflix, is based on the famed explorer’s adventures in Kublai Khan’s court and along the Silk Road
Is technology coming after white collar workers? By David McWilliams
ooking out to sea at the huge winter waves crashing upon the Cape Town shore, it's hard to imagine what the first local tribesman thought when he saw, in the distance, Vasco De Gama's tiny Portuguese ship sail round the Cape of Good Hope, heading out towards the Indian Ocean in search of profit. You wonder what went through the local's mind? Could he have imagined the calamity that was soon to befall his people and most of the peoples of Africa? Once the Portuguese had opened up the passage to India via the Atlantic, the old Silk Roads, the commercial superhighways of the medieval ages from China to Istanbul, were gradually downgraded in global commerce.
Economically, the earth shifted on its axis from Asia to the Atlantic. This was the great disruption.
Uber is doing to the cabbie what Portugese did to other middlemen: eliminating them. Just wait until technology does this to lawyers, accountants, architects and doctors
It took a while, but the commercial earthquake triggered by the Portuguese heading around Africa in 1497 and sailing triumphantly into the port of Calcutta in India is impossible to understate. So much changed, from slavery to mass manufacturing, from the conversion of England's peasants to proletarian workers and, more traumatically, the mass expropriation of native lands, stemmed from the commercial imperative to trade as much stuff as possible in as many countries as possible. It was the beginning of European domination of the world. In 1497, India was the richest, most commercially sophisticated economy in the world. As Sven Beckert explains in 'Empire of Cotton' (well worth a read), India's main produce was cotton and
it was one of the most sought after manufacturing products in the world. Cotton was fine, soft, fashionable and durable unlike the smelly, heavy wool that Europeans were used to wearing. Cotton came from India and before the Portuguese opened the Atlantic route, various middlemen held European consumers in ransom. At every stage margin was added, starting with getting the cotton across the Indian Ocean, then the camel transporters in the Arabian desert took a margin, then the Ottoman merchants charged to get the material across the Mediterranean to Italy and then naturally, the Italians took their cut.
Cutting out the middleman is, and has always been, one of the major drivers of economic innovation. Whatever the product, profit margins tend to be driven by forcing down costs, making production more efficient and, if possible, maintaining your selling price. This is what capitalism and trade are all about. The relentless pursuit of profit always identifies the middleman and tries to force him out or lower his take. For the producer, the quickest way from production to sale is the most profitable route. The fewer mouths to feed, the higher the margin - this means eliminating the middleman.
These guys were yesterday's middlemen. The fees that cotton generated for these middlemen kept generations of Ottoman, Arab and Indian merchants in clover for centuries. The fees were paid in the high price of cotton forked out by the final consumer in Europe. Then overnight the Portuguese transported cotton directly from India around the Cape, cutting out the various Silk Road middlemen. The price of cotton from India started to fall. The Portuguese made fortunes, even calling this place the Cape of Good Hope because of the riches Indian trade promised. Profits always attract and these fortunes attracted the next two waves of European occupiers to this part of the world. The Dutch arrived soon after the Portuguese and settled here, some becoming the Afrikaaner Tribe. The Afrikanners stayed to farm, but most Dutch adventurers were traders, using Cape Town as an essential port on the long journey from Amsterdam to India and further afield to Indonesia. Of course Cape Town flourished later under the British, whose demand for Indian cotton to feed the mills in Manchester was so insatiable that they rolled out much of their subsequent Empire to guarantee cotton supplies. All these massive shifts in economics had one thing in common: they were driven to cut out the middleman.
In the old days the technology that eliminated the Asian, Arab and Ottoman middleman was Portuguese, Dutch and later British naval prowess. Every generation has their technology. Today that technology is the Internet. The only problem is that today we risk cannibalising ourselves. As was pointed out in this column last week, we are all "middlemen" and if today's technology is about eliminating the middleman, very soon we end up eliminating ourselves. In a mature service economy with easy credit and rampant consumerism, the middleman is what is normally called the white-collar economy. So everyone who doesn't actually make something is threatened by new technology that cuts out the middleman. In a time of the smartphone and companies like Netflix, Airbnb, Amazon and Uber, these might not so much be regarded as fantastic innovations, but could be seen as the enemy for many who could lose their jobs. Consider London's famous black taxis. In the old days the London cabbie had to learn "The Knowledge". This meant that the cabbie had to train for two years to memorise every nook
and cranny of London, every backstreet in every area of that vast city. This effort demanded cabbies renting scooters to head out for months on end, committing the city's streets to memory. Once he had the knowledge in his head, the cabbie did a rigorous exam and got his taxi license. He also had to buy a special black cab, an expensive vehicle, for which London is famous. The knowledge was his pricing power; his cab was his unique asset. Because he had the knowledge, he could demand a fare. This was his value added and his price was his margin. Now consider what has happened with the arrival of Uber. The new Uber driver doesn't need the knowledge. He has Google maps. He doesn't need the expensive black cab either. He has a second-hand Toyota. The value of the knowledge is eliminated and the asset is depreciated. In no time the cabbies' livelihood dwindles. Uber is doing to the cabbie what the Portuguese did to other middlemen: eliminating them. Just wait until technology does this to lawyers, accountants, architects and doctors. Whether they like it or not, the skill set of many of these professionals can be replicated accurately by machines. All the above are functional positions and with the exceptions of possibly doctors, few would lose sleep at their passing. The point is every era, every century, every generation has its massive technological disruption. In the 1980s and 1990s when technology, outsourcing and the relentless drive for profits destroyed working-class manufacturing, the middle classes called it "economic reform". Now when technology comes after those with white collars and pristine fingernails, what will they call it? The local tribes in South Africa called it 'Maafa' from the Swahili word meaning "the great tragedy". â&#x2013;
Managing post-Brexit energy costs Alan Taylor, Chairman and Corporate & Commercial Partner at leading law firm Arthur Cox, highlights the need for businesses to prepare for the impact of Brexit on the energy market However, while the paper is encouraging, the nature of the ongoing Brexit negotiations means there can be no certainty about the energy outcomes of the deal for Northern Ireland. This uncertainty will not have been helped by the EU’s guiding principles for the ‘Dialogue on Northern Ireland’, a position paper which it published on 7th September that lacks a firm or detailed commitment to the continuation of the existing energy arrangements. While the future of the regulatory regime surrounding Brexit and the energy market is somewhat unknown, there are steps that companies can take now to help minimise their energy costs. Alan Taylor
s all businesses in Northern Ireland will be well aware, the reliability and cost of energy are key factors in a firm’s ability to compete on a global scale.
Given its all-encompassing nature, Brexit has the potential to bring significant upheaval to the local energy market. It is only natural that business owners across all sectors will have serious concerns, but it is vital that they are fully prepared ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU. While Northern Ireland is not a low-cost energy jurisdiction, the current cost of electricity would be considerably greater if we were not operating in the single electricity market (SEM). Since its introduction in 2007, the SEM has benefitted businesses and individuals in the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland economies by ensuring lower electricity costs for companies, as well as facilitating the integration of renewables and bolstering the security of supply.
MEASURES These include considering options such as energy storage solutions and onsite generation with a potential overspill export to the grid. Businesses should also be considering investing in renewables such as wind, biogas and solar energy, as often these technologies are now at a level where the break-even period is relatively short (even without the Government Renewable Obligation Certificates). In addition, there may be potential for the introduction of energy-efficiency measures to reduce the amount of electricity they require. Another factor to consider is whether the terms of any of their existing Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), or other related contracts, have a Brexit clause or material adverse change clause that may be triggered by Brexit, thus entitling the counterparty to renegotiate.
At Arthur Cox, our leading energy and renewables team is working with clients from a range of sectors to ensure they are prepared when the impact of Brexit hits the energy market.
Business owners with concerns about Brexit can take encouragement from the Position Paper published by the UK Government in August, in which it outlined the position on Northern Ireland that it plans to adopt during the Brexit negotiations.
The mood music from the UK Government is positive, but the uncertainty that abounds means companies should act now and consider the potential impact on their business, and any available means to mitigate this. ■
The biggest source of reassurance should be the Government’s reemphasising of the need to continue the operation of a SEM. The paper made it clear that this is the best option for the electricity market in Northern Ireland - in the medium term at least - given its size and isolation.
The Corporate and Commercial team at Arthur Cox is well positioned to advise on all aspects of corporate and commercial law. Call +44 28 9023 0007 for further information from Alan or your regular Arthur Cox contact.
Commercial Property & Construction
Property advice, with a little more bite. COMMERCIAL PROPERTY
Property investing: By John Simpson
roperty agents, developers and estate agents rarely have a completely disinterested assessment of trends in the property market. Only rarely will an agent advertise a development opportunity with the words â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;buy now before prices fallâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. Success in the property market comes with more completed deals, improving yields and transactions with prices better than last year. The property market is buoyed by the vested interests of some of its central agents.
Assessing trends in the property market, whether commercial, retail, manufacturing or housing calls for a degree of caution in collecting information. Trends in commercial property prices should be a proxy for likely developments across the economy. Shop prices and rents will vary with some correlation to changing prospects for consumer spending.
the first stages of economic uncertainty caused by the anticipation of Brexit and has become the slowest-growing region of the UK (at the same time as all regions are now growing at rates below long-term expectations), the implications for the local property market are, at best, cautiously tempered. Even that suggestion feels somewhat optimistic.
Less directly, but with some affinity, changing warehousing and office rentals may follow variations in domestic demand and the ups and downs of the jobs market.
The housing market is vulnerable to its own several influences. In 2015-16, house prices began to recover modestly after the earlier crash. Needless to add, for potential house buyers there remains the diminished and diminishing, but appreciable, hangover of negative equity.
All these variables play into property prices. Since Northern Ireland is now experiencing
Property performers, not puppets. COMMERCIAL PROPERTY
risky or a safe bet? The combined workload from commercial, industrial and domestic building contracts did begin to improve in 2015-2017, coming from very low levels. Just when the optimists hoped for a steadily improved construction workload, the combined impact of Brexit, business uncertainty and concerns that household incomes may continue to slowly fall, has taken more buoyancy away from immediate order books. Hopes of a solid recovery have been put on hold.
absence of a regional Budget and the failure of the political parties to agree the conditions needed to form the coalition of a new Executive.
Whilst Brexit and weaker market confidence have been unwelcome features of the local property market place, then, in addition, there is the added negative influence of the disruption of public sector spending in the
Is there a construction market that is demonstrating significant sectoral differences?
A quick scan of the Belfast skyline challenges the pessimistic conclusion that the market for building contractors and developers is in a vulnerable state. A recent count of the number of high lift cranes on building sites is impressive.
The Belfast skyline demonstrates a welcome boost to investment in two areas of business. >
A quick scan of the Belfast skyline challenges the pessimistic conclusion that the market for building contractors and developers is in a vulnerable state.
Hound for hound, the best property team COMMERCIAL PROPERTY
First, the return of normality- and even better- in the hospitality trades and the numerous investment decisions by hotel owners and operators is bringing Belfast back to the provision of hotel capacity, in bedrooms and functional amenities, which is correcting the deficit inherited from the period of the troubles. Whilst an extra 1,000+ bedrooms is a sharp increase, the net result is that Belfast is now nearer to having comparable capacity to that of comparable British cities. Fears of excess capacity are, for the present, unnecessary. Second, Belfast is providing for a big increase in the residential demand for students linked to Queenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s University and Ulster University. Both the increased investment in hotels and more student residential accommodation are welcome and sustained by the changed market place. However, these features will not be the source of a continuing increase in the number of property development contracts. Of course, continued short-term buoyancy in the construction industry in Belfast is not
necessarily the same as an overall Northern Ireland trend. Two features of the current situation and possible developments add to a concern on a Province-wide basis. First, there is continuing uncertainty about the scale and commitment of funding on behalf of the regional administration â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Stormont. The public sector capital spending allocation, as determined by the Treasury, if implemented will maintain a stable but tight capital programme. There is a danger that even this programme may be damaged by the absence of an agreed NI Executive making the critical commissioning decisions. Second, the scale of the house building programmes seems likely to fall short of the levels that would give adequate new housing and a sensible urban regeneration replacement or redevelopment effort. The new responsibilities falling on local government to set a framework for house building and key elements of infrastructure planning has generated a series of development outlines for each of the local Government areas. Belfast, through the
Belfast Agenda, is facing the tensions of this type of planning. For housing, Belfast may need to anticipate possibly over 1,500 new housing units each year. The recent record points to an average of just over 500 being built. The Belfast Agenda illustrates something of the problems of anticipating longerterm developments. The forecasts being used point to the problems which may emerge as (1) housing developments point to an increase in the scale of commuting and (2) an imbalance as more jobs, and office developments, locate near to the urban centres and (3) the logic of planning decisions discouraging increased urban centre congestion. Northern Ireland, allowing market forces to determine major property investment decisions, needs to face the problems of the degree to which planning processes should deliver active intervention to challenge market forces. Local Government planners will need to develop constructive responses. â&#x2013;
Co Down company bags London deal By Mark Edwards
Co Down glass business has secured an ÂŁ18m contract to deliver the glazed facade for a 30-storey residential tower that will form part of the new Southbank Place scheme in London. McMullen Facades, based in Moira, has landed the deal with Canary Wharf Contractors which will see its team deliver a bay window system to be manufactured at the company's facility in Portadown. The project will also see McMullen collaborating closely with Laing O'Rourke's Expanded Group to deliver the off-site manufacturing. Mega precast panels will be manufactured to accommodate two bay windows with Juliet balconies, which will be installed by McMullen in Laing O'Rourke's off-site facility. Meanwhile, various smaller panels with screens, vents and sliding doors also make up the scope of works. In addition, the project will include ground floor screens with entrance doors and a plant screen on the roof.
Production is currently under way and installation will begin on site late this year. The new Southbank Place scheme is a joint venture between developers Canary Wharf Group and Qatari Diar, and will see the area revitalised with new offices, homes, retail spaces and public areas. McMullen has worked on offices and apartments in Belfast including the Obel Tower, the Boat and the Soloist. The firm has also worked on the Evelyn Grace Academy in London, which won the Stirling prize for architecture in 2012. While the company still bears the name of its founders, it has been part of the UK-wide Lakesmere Group since 2012. â&#x2013;
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What’s in a name? Gareth Howell, Director at Osborne King, explains why branding and marketing of new developments in the private rented sector can hold the key to success
remember well, in times gone by, a leading surveyor periodically sending company-wide emails inviting people to stir their creative juices and put forward suggestions for the name of some new development. Beyond the usual onslaught of abuse, I very rarely recall anything that really struck a chord and more than likely it was some derivative of the building’s address. At present across the UK we see the emergence of cleverly-named companies developing even more cleverly-named residential developments under the guise of the private rented sector (PRS) or build-to-rent (BTR) which promote a new way of living. The concept is predominantly based on accepting smaller personal living space in return for a range of communal facilities and the opportunity to interact with fellow residents in a community. The name or brand attached to the scheme is often the core from which the concept will hang. So what potential does this have for Belfast? Well, you might be reading this and thinking
the concept sounds more suitable for a “hippy commune” but the chances are you (as am I) are slightly outside the target demographic. The emergence of generation rent will be at the heart of this new mode of living and it will provide a very real alternative for the future post-graduate population of Belfast. The success of the concept in Belfast will go hand-in-glove with the continued progression and success of foreign direct investment in securing the appropriate career opportunities for an educated workforce that entices them to stay in Belfast. This sector is underpinning the evolution of the numerous cranes dotted across the Belfast skyline currently building the student residential accommodation needed to support the new Ulster University campus which is emerging out of the ground in the Northern Quarter of Belfast. It is almost inevitable that the next generation of Belfast students will continue to devour noodles and beer but they may also develop a taste for a slightly higher standard of living than that which most of us recall as student digs.
As always, there are challenges in realising the potential for PRS in Belfast, not least our historic preference to exit to suburbia in the evenings but also the nature of the rating system for leasing residential property, and the need to see an acceptance of a pricing differential around a unique offer. The key for potential landlords lies in understanding that design and branding are key elements of what the end user will want, over and above the hard infrastructure which might be more familiar territory for many wouldbe PRS developers. If executed correctly, a successfully branded development can generate a high level of tenant retention which can translate to a very investable asset for landlords. Embraced to the utmost, this new model has the potential to address housing shortages, improve social cohesion but most importantly for Belfast, PRS has the genuine potential to change the cultural behaviour of a generation and deliver a truly vibrant city centre. ■
Property advice, with a little more bite. Independent thinking for the smarter investor.
New versus old – a construction comparison Rob Latimer, Corporate Business Development Executive at Caulfield Corporate, takes a look at the insurance implications of more modern methods of construction
n the wake of the recent Grenfell Tower disaster and with particular attention now being focussed upon cladding and modern construction methods, we briefly look at traditional versus modern methods of construction (MMC) and some of the risk and insurance implications of the latter.
TRADITIONAL VERSUS MODERN METHODS OF CONSTRUCTION •
The term ‘traditional’ is often used to describe the types of linear construction, where each individual step is not only constructed entirely (or largely) on site, but also needs to be completed before the project can move on to the next phase. Modular construction is an off-site based construction method, during which individual components are manufactured (or ‘prefabricated’) in a factory, transported to the site entirely (or mostly) complete and assembled on location.
Modular construction can cause hidden gaps that can lead to even a small incident causing a disproportionately high loss
Expensive delays can occur if a pod in situ needs to be removed, causing disruption and removal of surrounding pods
Increased risks of water damage and storm losses due to the materials used and the effects of wear and tear over time
Many MMC materials’ ability to withstand the effects of flooding is unknown in many cases
As many MMC systems are new and innovative, contractors may have no previous experience of the materials and assembly techniques required
MMC RISK AND INSURANCE CONSIDERATIONS There are various advantages to MMC including cost and time savings due to the ability for the project to run simultaneously on-site and in-factory. There is also a reduced exposure to potential claims and losses on site but issues that need to be considered in relation to MMC include: •
Using lightweight and combustible materials may cause a greater degree of fire spread, leading to increased claims costs
• Problems of obtaining replacement components in the future, especially if a particular manufacturer goes out of business At Caulfield Corporate, we have the experience and expertise to understand your way of working and advise on managing all of your construction based risks. We are not solely interested in being your insurance broker but rather part of your team as your risk advisor, protecting your business by offering vital and important risk management services together with timely insurance advice to meet your business needs. We also ensure that our clients not only remain compliant with health & safety regulations but by identifying and minimising risk we can keep their employees protected. After all, in a safe and healthy working environment business owners can concentrate on their core business activities and growing a profitable & successful business. ■
EHA Group building 428 social houses across Northern Ireland been working hard at the design stage of this project in readiness for commencement on site. Working closely with Radius Housing, the potential of the site to provide a total of 90 homes will hugely benefit the local area. “The regeneration project will also improve the overall image of the Springfield Road and adjoining Springfield Avenue.” According to the Northern Ireland Housing Bulletin for the first quarter of 2017, Social House building is making a vital contribution to the demand for new housing in Northern Ireland. Social House Builders had exceeded their target of 1,600 house starts between March 2016 to March 2017. In this timeframe, EHA provided 20% of this target.
Sean Harley, Contracts Manager Radius Housing, Peter Graham, Contract Manager EHA Group and Mark Gilmore, Director of Construction Ireland EHA Group
EHA Group is a full service construction company now in it’s 16thyear of operation. EHA provides complete Design & Build packages including Civil Engineering and Specialist Joinery. The in-house joinery company operates from a state-of-the-art manufacturing workshop at the business headquarters, situated in Eglinton, Derry/ Londonderry.
Radius Housing, a merger of Helm and Fold Housing, stated that the scheme will breathe life into the former Peter Pan complex in Belfast and provide essential new homes.
This brings EHA’s total to 428 social homes under construction across the province. The ‘Peter Pan’ development at the site of the former Peter Pan bakery on Springfield Road began construction in September 2017.
Anita Conway, Director of Development at Radius Housing added, “We are delighted to launch this scheme on the Springfield Road with the EHA Group. We have worked with EHA on previous social housing schemes, creating the highest quality builds for our tenants. We look forward to progress on this build.”
The company operates across the UK and is working on a total of 15 projects, a mixture of social housing, private residential, commercial, hotel and student accommodation. These projects include the redevelopment of a Grade II listed townhouse in London’s Mayfair for Overseas Royalty, 500 bed student accommodation apartments in Devon and a Premier Inn Hotel in Plymouth City Centre. ■
Peter Lavery, Director of Pan Residential and owner of the site said, “EHA Group have
To find out more about EHA visit: www. ehagroup.co.uk
onstruction company EHA Group, in partnership with Pan Residential, has commenced the building of 90 new homes for Radius Housing on the Springfield Road in Belfast.
The programme will take 15 months to complete, with handover expected in December 2018. This 90 unit social housing scheme will comprise of 48 dwellings and 42 apartments with associated parking and landscaping.
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Lagan Homes sets its sights on the Republic By John Mulligan
orthern Ireland's largest homebuilder, Lagan Homes, is set to tap into huge latent demand for houses in the Republic as it plans to enter the market south of the Border next year. The company, owned by Kevin Lagan and connected to the wider Lagan Group, is understood to have already held discussions with a number of parties regarding site acquisitions and operations. It's believed that the company, which was established in 1983, will initially focus on construction in the Dublin commuter belt, where pent-up demand for homes has helped to fuel soaring prices. The company declined to comment on specifics of its entry to the market in the Republic or confirm if talks have been held regarding site acquisitions. "While developments are at an early stage, we see significant potential to deliver affordable and high-quality housing in the Republic of Ireland, building on our 30 years' experience and success in the North
and Britain," said a spokesperson for Lagan Homes.
will cost about £200m to develop, it's understood.
The developer's arrival in the Dublin market is likely to see it compete with companies such as stock market-listed Cairn Homes and Kennedy Wilson Europe for valuable sites around the capital. However, Lagan Homes focuses on building houses rather than apartments.
The latest set of publicly-available accounts for Lagan Homes in Northern Ireland show that it made a £1.6m operating profit in the six months to the end of 2015. The Northern Ireland firm was acquired by Lagan Homes UK in 2014. Accounts for that firm, also for the six months to the end of 2015, show it made an operating profit of £2.5m in the period on turnover of £18.6m. Figures out this week showed that annualised house price inflation hit 12.7pc in Dublin as a shortage of supply continues to drive up prices.
During the summer, Cairn Homes agreed to pay €107m to buy part of RTE's Montrose campus in Dublin. It intends to build 500 apartments on the site. Lagan Homes is linked to both the Belfastheadquartered Lagan Group, and to Dublinbased Lagan Asphalt Group. Lagan Asphalt Group operates aggregates and asphalt plants around the country, as well as a large quarry in Cork. Lagan Homes is expected to complete 500 homes this year between Northern Ireland and GB. Last year, it secured planning permission for developments in both Belfast and Bangor for a combined 1,200 houses. The schemes
Davy Stockbrokers estimated last week that between 35,000 and 50,000 housing units a year need to be built in Ireland up to 2021 to meet demand. Last year, just 7,500 units were completed. This week, Kennedy Wilson Europe's chief operating officer Peter Wilson said that the group wants to add about 3,000 housing units to its current stock of 2,100 over the next three to four years. Such an expansion would make the company the country's largest private landlord. ■
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Securing the best solution For any organisation hoping to implement a new or updated electronic security solution, the range of products available can seem perplexing. Product manufacturers have raised their game in recent years and there are now many products out there providing a never ending array of features and functionality to improve safety and security for your organisation. With such a large number of options available, it can be difficult to find the best solution for your business. However, more choice in the market should work to your advantage, offering more flexible solutions with additional functionality to best address your security needs, for now and as your business changes. To guide you through the process, we have outlined some of the key considerations to ensure you invest in the best electronic security solution for your business. 1. Determine your objectives What is your security system needed for? How will it be used within the business? If you can be specific about your security system requirements, a tailored solution can be designed with all the key features you need. 2. Understand your risks Addressing your security risks requires an
integrated approach to ensure that systems work together to deliver the best results. Security companies should respond to clientsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; needs by installing a flexible, welldesigned integrated solution with access control, CCTV and intruder alarms working together to deliver a better, more effective security solution. 3. Prioritise your requirements A new security system is a considerable investment for any business and budget is often an issue. Compiling a list of essential and optional items helps to prioritise your budget. If there is no flexibility in your budget you may want to consider other procurement options that are available. Security is now often sold as a service, whereby your security equipment can be installed and maintained as part of a package with regular payments over an agreed term. This type of solution will enable you to benefit from the right security solution for your business now without having to compromise on any features. 4. Maximise added-value from new technology Recent developments in technology have seen equipment costs coming down while system functionality has increased. Security
products can now cost-effectively assist other functions of the businesses, such as Health & Safety, productivity and personnel management. While itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s still early days for some innovations, you should consider leveraging technology such as analytics and artificial intelligence for your business. 5. Futureproof your solution Understanding your short and long term business needs will allow you to choose a solution that is flexible to adapt to suit your business as it changes. Considering any potential future requirements now will allow you to design the system with them in mind, allowing for easier upgrades to adapt systems rather than having to look at installing new systems completely. Whatever sector you operate in, security is of paramount importance to any business and good physical security systems are an essential investment. If you team up with an experienced installer you can realise the benefits from a cost-effective security solution, selecting the best products and software to meet your business needs now and in years to come. â&#x2013; For more information, please contact STANLEY Security on Belfast 02890 799988 or Dublin 00353 1 4564544.
STANLEY SECURITY IS A TRUSTED LOCAL PROVIDER OF SECURITY SOLUTIONS THAT ARE FULLY INTEGRATED WITH YOUR BUSINESS PROCESSES. We design, install, monitor and maintain integrated security solutions, so whether you need CCTV, access control, intruder alarms or time and attendance systems, we can provide solutions to improve the safety and security of your business. One of the largest and most reliable security experts in Europe, we have been supporting the needs of our clients across Ireland and Northern Ireland in banking, retail, logistics, healthcare, education and justice for over 20 years.
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NI workers among most digitally skilled in UK
orkers in Northern Ireland are amongst the most digitally skilled in the UK.
firms establishing a base here means that skills demand is higher than ever. “With a limited pool, this competition means businesses are willing to pay above market rate to secure top digital talent - it’s definitely a seller’s market right now if you have the right digital skills.
That is the finding of new research from Barclays which said only Londoners rank higher than their compatriots here, 57% of whom have “above average” digital skills. However, demand for digital skills outstrips supply. The Barclays Digital Development Index 2017 found that 70% of jobs advertised in Northern Ireland require word-processing, database spreadsheet or social media management skills. The research, which analysed 88,000 UK job adverts, also found that workers here could earn an additional £10,000 a year if they were to upskill their digital skills to include programming and software design. It said Generation X (35-54-year olds, are at the greatest risk of being left behind and 11%
less likely than millennials to say they are very confident in their digital skills and are more worried about their ability to keep up. Adrian Doran, Barclays, Head of Corporate Banking Northern Ireland, said digital skills have become key to determining earning power. “The digital skills gap is widely reported and these statistics highlight the importance of including digital skills in our education and training programmes to ensure Northern Ireland has the workforce it needs for the future economy. The recent influx of global
He said the demand for digital skills is the reason behind the bank’s development of Digital Wings, a free online tool anyone can use to boost their digital skills. “We also include digital training within our LifeSkills programme, a free curriculum-linked resource for 11-24 year olds, which was introduced here earlier this year and will help over 21,000 young people by 2019. “At a time when wage growth is so important to families in Northern Ireland, we need to act fast to improve our home-grown digital skills if we are to stay at the forefront of the global digital economy post-Brexit.” ■
Name: Brendan Monaghan Position: CEO, Neueda
A word from
The column with an ear for experience...
at - and surrounding yourself with people that can bridge those gaps - is crucial. I think remaining approachable and positive is key to building a motivated team and getting the most from our people. Openness at all levels of the business is so important in my opinion. It encourages people to bring their ideas to the table with confidence and ultimately fulfil their potential. What would you change if you could go back and do it all again? I’d say don’t be afraid of failure or shy away from challenges. Get on with it – you’ll learn quicker and be stronger to tackle the next hurdle.
How did you start out in your career? I worked for a number of market-leading businesses within the technology sector for several years. After building so much experience in and passion for the industry, I felt the time was right to do it for myself. I founded Neueda in 2006 and haven’t looked back. What did you find the most challenging during your years in business? This happened during my time with another company back in 2000. The company joined the then ‘big bad world’ of venture capital and Dot Coms. It resulted in 80 people losing their jobs and an insolvency moment for the new venture. Going through insolvency taught me a lot of lessons I take into Neueda every working day. How would you describe your management style? Understanding what you’re not so good
Have you done it all on your own? Absolutely not. From the support of my wife Paula to the fantastic team of talented people around me in Neueda – the business’ success is a result of a collaborative, supportive network of likeminded, forward-thinking people, who keep me motivated day by day. How would you like your business career to be remembered? I’d like to be remembered as a leader that built something special – an international digital transformation company with a culture that attracts, nurtures and retains the very best talent. What piece of advice would you give a 20-year old you? Fail quickly, encourage, reward and learn from failure – just don’t hide from it. ■ Neueda specialises in digital transformation solutions with consultancy, training and software development capabilities. Headquartered in Belfast, Neueda also has a presence in UK (London) and US (New York).
Electric Ireland: changing the energy game in Northern Ireland
t’s been a busy year so far for Electric Ireland. Last month Ulster Business reported on the energy provider’s success as the first supplier to provide energy via the new £250m pipeline which brings natural gas to most of the main towns in the west. This month we catch up with the company to learn more of how Electric Ireland is performing in both the business and residential energy markets. “We commissioned LacPatrick’s site in Artigarvan just after Christmas and business certainly hasn’t slowed down since,” said Clare McAllister, Sales & Marketing Manager, Electric Ireland. “Both residential and business markets have been extremely busy and we are delighted to say that, according to the Regulator’s latest transparency report, we are now the 3rd largest in residential sales in Northern Ireland. Some 58,000 energy consumers across NI have switched to us and we are on target for continued growth. Clare is certain that this growth is down to the company’s determination to provide residential customers with a straight forward offer and, in both the residential and business markets, offering real, valuable support that can be relied upon. She is also clear that the commitment Electric Ireland has shown to Northern Ireland through its sponsorships has a role to play in the company gaining ground. “I believe the partnerships that we have in Northern Ireland are really resonating with people across both the business and the residential sectors too,” Clare said. “We are delighted to be working this year with the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation to support their work. And of course, through our support of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce Growing Something Brilliant Series and the Management Leadership Network’s events, we have given access to hundreds
of SMEs to gain insights from some of the world’s best business people, among them Christian Majgaard of Lego and Fraser ‘Jam Boy’ Doherty. “Meanwhile both consumers and business come into play in our Game Changers campaign in support of Northern Ireland female football at all levels. This innovative partnership with the IFA, which also sees Electric Ireland become the official energy partner to the National Stadium at Windsor Park, aims to boost female football participation rates across Northern Ireland. In addition to being Official Sponsor of the very successful UEFA Women’s Under 19
Championship in August we also sponsor the Women’s Challenge Cup and Girls’ Post Primary Schools Football and Schools’ Cup. “In another sporting sponsorship, Derry’s success in getting to the finals of the Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football Championship has shone a brighter spotlight than ever on our long term support of minor football and hurling in Ulster,” Clare continued. “We are confident that our continued support for the community across Northern Ireland will identify us with both businesses and consumers alike as the game changer in the energy market.” ■
Food, Drink & Agri
Time to make hay? Emma Deighan asks what lies in store for the agri-food sector once the UK leaves the European Union and what it’s doing to prepare
f you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got’ is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein. In this instance, Robert Moore, a Derrybased beef and arable farmer, uses it to illustrate why he voted to exit the EU. According to the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) around 60%of Northern Ireland farmers voted to leave the European Union due to red tape and a feeling that the subsidy system isn’t fit for purpose. With that majority vote, however, comes uncertainty but also hope that farmers may finally operate in a market that can support the future of the agri-food sector here. Robert, whose farm straddles the border, has been frustrated with his working conditions over the years. And while he’s uncertain as
to what changes will be introduced in March 2019, he doesn’t want to continue as he has been. “I was in favour of Brexit but primarily from a farming point of view,” began Robert. “The policy wasn’t delivering anywhere in Europe but particularly here. It’s not a simple subject to discuss,” he continued. “Every farmer wants a sensible price. I saw Brexit as an opportunity to benefit from a sustainable policy linked to what the market needs and tie that in with a sufficient food supply,” he explained. He went on to discuss the subsidies given to farmers, as part of the EU. He added that without subsidies the average farm was making a profit of just £7,000 per year and so, an honest living is what his hopes are for the future.
“In the last couple of years income from farming was much less than what was being paid in subsidies. In 2016 it was approximately £35m less,” he revealed. “In 2015 it was £56m less. “What I do know is that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and hoping to get the same result. Nobody knows how this is going to work out but I look upon it as an opportunity to develop a new, positive, fit-for-purpose, sustainable agricultural policy and that is some of the talk coming from DEFRA,” said Robert. “They’re talking about changing the financial support system and reducing it but they’re going to have to fix the supply chain to ensure we get paid properly too,” he suggested. “I personally think what we need to focus on is getting the Government to concentrate
on local production - that’s the most efficient way of doing things. It doesn’t make sense to import things that we can do perfectly well.” Robert sells one tonne of oats for £150. They’re then simply ‘washed and dried’ and sold in the supermarkets at the value of £1500 per tonne he told Ulster Business. “I want to see a fairer supply chain and I believe that can be achieved. There are examples of that already with milk contracts and I’d like to see that extended. There is plenty of margin in the supply chain for everyone. That’s all I’m asking for and I’ll say that to anyone who will listen.” Barclay Bell, President of the UFU, told Ulster Business that he would like to see the Government focus on supporting local food producers while avoiding cheap imports. “What we hope is that the UK does not rush off and do trade deals with other countries where standards of production are below ours. We cannot understand why food produced at lower standards - in terms of animal welfare and environment - are imported,” said Barclay.
“If they allow cheap food to come in, it will finish the industry here, and that means you are exporting jobs to other parts of the world,” he added. The UFU has discussed trading issues with Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, and while the focus was on the environment, trading issues are not going unnoticed continued Barclay. “We picked up that he did realise that without a profitable farming sector here, all the chat about the environment won’t happen because there’ll be no one here to farm,” he continued. “We still realise that we have huge challenges ahead. We have to convince the public that it’s important to support local farming. Food production is very important to the economy and we need to get that message across to the public. “There is a certain element of support within consumers in that they do want homeproduced, high standard food but there are lower end retailers that look abroad and even within the service sector and public
procurement that is the case. That’s an area we’ve pushed. We want to see British food in schools, hospitals and prisons.” One of the other big concerns facing the industry in 2019 is cross border trade. Over 30 percent of the milk pool here heads south for processing said Barclay. Around 40 per cent of lambs are processed in the Republic. “Conversely there could be 30 per cent of pigs processed here come from the Republic. The everyday trading on the border is huge. If we do leave in March ’19, we would want to see that we remain in the customs union or something that is akin to that and allows us that continued access.” John Hood, Invest NI’s Director of Food and Drink said how cross border trade would operate after Brexit is uncertain: "While the recent Position Papers from both the UK and the EU on areas including customs, tariffs, and the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, set out the ambitions on how things might operate post Brexit, it is impossible to know what our trading relationship with Europe will be until the negotiations conclude. >
There is so much trade going on between Europe and the UK and North and South it’s in nobody’s interest not to do a deal
In the meantime we will continue to work with local companies to help them maximise the commercial opportunities that are right for them in both new and existing markets.” Michael Bell, Executive Director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) recently welcomed the Government’s commitment to preserve a ‘seamless, frictionless, open border’ between NI and the Republic. He said: “The deeply integrated nature of the agri-food sector between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain means that a practical solution to the border issue is in the best interests of all parties and should be prioritised as such. “We note with interest that a position paper focusing specifically on the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is to be compiled and look forward to its earliest publication. Given the potential significance of this paper for trade, we remain extremely concerned that the region most affected by these negotiations is not
adequately represented at the negotiating table.” Michael explained that NIFDA was working closely with the Food and Drink Federation and Food and Drink Ireland to maintain unique trading relationships between NI and ROI as well as lobbying the Government to recognise the specific requirements of the industry here. Beyond the confines of the island of Ireland, much of the agri-food sector believes there are many opportunities post Brexit - international trading deals being among them. John Hood continued; “Northern Ireland food and drink businesses are strong exporters and are already successfully selling their products in markets outside Northern Ireland including GB, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and the United States." Barclay believes the UK Government should be tapping into other markets to 'open doors'; “We recently saw our own
Department of Agriculture open China for pork exports just last month as well as opening the doors to the Philippines for beef exports. There are opportunities there."
Michael Bell added that a soft border was imperative to access EU labour to complement such deals; “The recently announced deal to export NI pork to China will require continued access to EU labour, upon which our agri-food sector has become significantly reliant on.” Perhaps most significant in terms of determining the agri-food sector post Brexit, is Robert’s departing comment - a belief that things may never be as bad as what forecasters fear; “There is a lot of hype and misinformation, and the media are partly to blame for that,” he said. “This is only the beginning and everybody is jockeying for position and it’s stupid because what they’re talking about now will be very different come March 2019. There is so much trade going on between Europe and the UK and North and South it’s in nobody’s interest not to do a deal.” ■
Meal Inspirations ng T oki i
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The taste of success
At the Autumn Food Heartland Forum breakfast were Michele Shirlow MBE, CEO of Food NI, Mark McGonigle, Head Chef of Uluru Bar & Grill, Guest Speaker Chef Mark Abbott, Simon Dougan MBE, Managing Director of the Yellow Door Deli and Nicola Wilson, Head of Department: Economic Development in Council
The Food Heartland of Northern Ireland continues to go from strength-to-strength The borough of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon has firmly cemented its reputation as the Food Heartland of Northern Ireland. The Autumn Forum breakfast event brought together local producers, chefs, council and industry leader Food NI. Guests were treated to an inspirational talk from Michelin trained BBC Great British Menu Chef Mark Abbott. Michele Shirlow MBE, Chief Executive of Food NI also updated guests on their exciting Taste the Greatness Strategy which is focused on building on the legacy of NI Year of Food & Drink 2016 and developing Northern Ireland as a standout region for food within the UK and Ireland. The awardwinning Food Heartland Forum meets once a quarter and features an inspirational guest speaker and an opportunity for local chefs and producers to network, whilst enjoying delicious local produce. Nicola Wilson, Head of Council’s Economic Development Department comments “The Food Heartland continues to thrive and this is a real testament to the commitment of our outstanding local producers and chefs. This year has been packed with initiatives to support the sector including successfully supporting 21 local producers through an innovative export programme, which included mentoring and participation at key industry showcase events, including Catex in Dublin and the Speciality & Fine Food Fair in London. Local producers and chefs have also been busy working together to develop a fantastic range of food tours in the borough. Next year, our commitment continues, including hosting our second Food
Heartland Awards – these awards are a true celebration of the passion and commitment of the great people who continue to drive forward outstanding food and drink, which in turn reinforces our reputation as the Food Heartland of Northern Ireland. The Food Heartland Forum continues to be the jewel in the crown of how council engages with the sector and we are very proud of this genuine collaboration and look forward to continuing with this successful partnership.”
Food Heartland Producers win big at Great Taste Awards The borough also performed extremely well at the recent Great Taste Awards – the Oscars of the food industry, the world’s most coveted blind-tasted food competition. Following months of judging, 37 Great Taste stars were awarded to 31 products from 16 producers in the borough. Quails Fine Foods and Yellow Door Portadown were awarded an incredible seven stars each. Burren Balsamics and White’s Oats also impressed the judges, scooping five and four stars respectively. Lord Mayor of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, Alderman Gareth Wilson congratulated the winners, “Well done to all the Great Taste award winners! Producers in this area picked up even more Great Taste awards this year, which is great news for the borough, and shows how deserving we are to be known as the Food Heartland of Northern Ireland.”
The hiring conundrum Patrick Graham from BGF explains why hiring the right team is proving a major challenge for CEOs across the land
aking the decision to actively grow your business comes with its fair share of challenges, however they are rarely insurmountable if you have the right people around you.
While a strong core management team can make the difference to the success or failure of a growth plan, a dynamic, motivated and ambitious workforce has an equally important role to play. It is no surprise then that the CEOs in the companies we meet to discuss funding as well as those in our existing portfolio regularly cite hiring qualified talent and finding the ‘right people’ as one of their biggest challenges. Northern Ireland is similar to the rest of the UK in this regard, however in some cases it can be more difficult to recruit here due to a smaller pool of talent to choose from. We know that competition can be fierce for candidates with in demand skills. If a potential employee has the skills you need, then there is a high chance there will be other companies out there seeking the same skills. BGF’s experience suggests there are a number of things that companies can do to help attract, and keep, those people. Firstly, if you are planning to recruit, do your target candidates know your company exists? Does the company have a profile? By embarking on a communications campaign the company can make itself visible to potential hires and convey what makes it different to the rest of the talent hungry companies in the market. Your company culture and vision should be at the forefront of all of these communications.
Once you have won the talent battle, staff retention quickly becomes the priority.
Our portfolio company RiverRidge, with operations across NI, is a good example of a company that has been very active in its community. Not only does the business employ over 250 people in NI, it is also involved with a number of social and charity initiatives – for example, it is part of the Prince’s Trust “Get Hired” event which helps support young people in the community to find employment. These initiatives help convey what the business culture is and hopefully creates a positive impression of it with prospective hires.
Of course, salary is important for this. However, many smaller businesses with smaller budgets may not be able to offer top tier pay. This is where long term incentive plans such as bonus schemes, share option schemes and profit sharing arrangements can help. They offer a way for employees to benefit in the future from the growth of the business and ultimately help make key individuals feel integral to the organisation. Therefore, smaller businesses with smaller budgets can compete with the big players, they just need to be clever about it. The key is understanding what matters most to the employee and then trying to structure something that works for the company and individual.
Many of the companies we work with have also benefitted from establishing links with local schools and universities. A strong pipeline of talent can often be unearthed through connections to specific courses and course directors.
All that said, retention is about more than just remuneration. More and more people are attracted by businesses which present a clear and exciting future business strategy with potential for career progression and to be part of a growth story.
Those links will also give an insight into what younger employees want from a job, which is very different to what it was even a decade ago. Research shows, for instance, that millennials are far more interested in quality of life than salary, that they respond to companies which have a clear vision and culture, and that they need to know there are opportunities for professional development and promotion.
The war for talent seems set to continue for the foreseeable future, so businesses need to make sure they are doing everything they can to put themselves in the shop window. As a funder which hopes to help businesses in NI unlock growth potential, I hope that BGF can continue to play its part in ensuring our portfolio companies hire and retain the best people. ■
Entrepreneur of the month SARAH WEIR, FOUNDER OF WEIR EVENTS
What is your career background? I have been a fixture in the PR and Events industry for almost thirteen years, primarily working for Belfast- based communications agency Jcomms, and more recently the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. As Senior Events Consultant at JComms, I was involved in some of Northern Ireland’s most prestigious and high profile events, for a broad range of corporate and consumer clients. Over the years I have organised events of all shapes and sizes, from classic black tie dinners, to the launch of a mountain top wind farm in Country Tyrone. In my thirteen years’ experience, I have grown my events portfolio to include high profile gala Award dinners and shows attended by up to 1000 guests, to more exclusive events for VIP clientele. I have managed the suite of Awards for the Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life, providing all aspects of event management for their annual Business Awards, Sports Awards, Women’s Awards, Property Awards and award winning, televised Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards. What has been your career highlight to date? Without a doubt, event management can be incredibly stressful, however the rewards outweigh the stressors. Throughout my career I have been privileged to have met and worked with so many inspirational and successful individuals. It gives me such pleasure to see an event come together and a room full of guests enjoying themselves. Be it a small, intimate corporate dinner, or an awards show for 500+ people, that feeling never gets old. A particular highlight for me has been managing the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, and especially the year when little Oscar Knox was presented with the overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Award. It was a moment of joy that resonated throughout the ballroom, and it is forever etched in my mind. Another highlight would be the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards. I introduced an all new, state of the art X Factor style LED video wall to mark the event anniversary– this was the first time such a screen was ever used at an event in Northern Ireland. The video wall gave the audience visually stunning images and a wow factor, and was unparalleled by any other event. The feedback from this event was overwhelmingly positive! What motivated you to start up your own Business? Passion. Plain and simple. I have a vision for the event management
industry in Northern Ireland, and I have to realise this vision myself. Carpe Diem! Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? I have received so much advice over the years and moreso since making the decision to start my own business. Someone told me very recently ‘’Follow your dream with a passion because if you don’t, someone will employ you to follow theirs’’. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. What advice would you give anyone who was thinking of starting their own Business? I’d probably give the same advice that was given to me; ‘’Follow your dream with a passion because if you don’t, someone will employ you to follow theirs’’ There will never be the ‘right time’ to go it alone and there will always be some element of risk involved but if it is your passion, you have to go for it otherwise you’ll live to regret it. What do you think makes a really great event? Great events create an experience. It’s all about making your audience feel a valued and part of something exclusive; a feeling which will ultimately become synonymous with your clients brand. From the offset it is all about ensuring that you can deliver on that unique outcome. Realising a client’s vision, bringing their brand to life, and ultimately ensuring guests are impacted by the event production. ■
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Of hire importance Justin Rush, Director at Abacus Professional Recruitment, explains why making the right hire is so important to your company’s bottom line
he number 3.142 is not just pi to three decimal places, it is also the multiplier the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) have identified to calculate the cost of a bad hire. Put plainly, a £35,000-a-year offer of employment accepted by the wrong candidate, could cost your business £109,970! I read the recently published REC research ‘Perfect Match – Making the right hire and the cost of getting it wrong’ with great interest. Never before has such a scientific approach been applied to this subject. Hold tight, because as much as we would like to, these results are hard to refute. Around two-in-five hires are bad, according to Indeed.com which assessed appointments made over an 18 month period. This is just a huge number, and a real indictment of the lack of quality in recruitment processes across the UK. Around 85% of human resource professionals admit working in an organisation which hired the wrong person for the job. A number of reasons have been cited to explain this high percentage: time pressure in the recruitment exercise, recruiting from a shrinking talent pool, failure to verify skills, to a poorly equipped selection panel. Indirect costs stemming from a bad hires can include negative affects upon staff morale, turnover, productivity, reputation and client delivery. Although these costs can vary from one organisation to the next, they can be avoided altogether if the right person is appointed.
At present the demand for qualified, experienced and motivated professionals across most disciplines is significant and out-strips supply. Recent surveys of Northern Ireland based businesses highlight this community’s concern around the availability and price point of suitable talent. Moving at an appropriate pace to recruit is therefore essential, however sticking to the process is even more so. Here is some advice when aiming to blend a speedy and quality driven recruitment process:
Expand the talent pool, use a recruiter that has a significant reach in the niche, advertise widely (not just in Northern Ireland), utilise social media channels, offer referral bonuses to staff, etc. One size does not fit all.
Spend enough time identifying the exact needs, job descriptions and person specifications must be reviewed and amended every time you go to the marketplace. The analogy of shaky foundations comes to mind.
Due diligence, just do it. If you don’t, you deserve what you get. ■
Involve your best people in interviews, not only because they can assess the technical ability of applicants, but because it will allow senior staff to benchmark the talent available at the defined price point. Either, appoint the best person at the budget or increase your budget.
Justin Rush is a career recruiter and Director at Abacus Professional Recruitment. He can be contacted on email@example.com
Health at Work
HEALTH AT WORK
How to make work stress work for you Harnessing the energy from nature's 'fight or flight' response can yield a winning formula in our work lives. Professor Ian Robertson tells Victoria Lambert how we can turn office anxiety into productive excitement
nother Wednesday, another work day spent shooting glances at the clock as we count down the hours until we're over the hump. If you are silently screaming "argh" at your PC, take comfort; you are not alone. Yet new research published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience shows that stress can be good for us in unexpected ways. The report from the University of Vienna last month found that stress is an essential psychobiological mechanism, without which we could not survive, as it helps us to manage threatening situations. But its added benefit is that it can lead to an increase in pro-social behaviour. Perhaps that explains the humanitarian instinct that we all so admire, when some rush towards danger in a terrorist attack or natural disaster, being driven to help. The possibility that stress can be beneficial is explored in The Stress Test by Professor Ian Robertson, co-director of the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College, Dublin and one of the world's leading researchers in neuropsychology, which has just been published in paperback. In the book, Robertson examines Nietzsche's proposition: "What doesn't kill me, makes me stronger" -
the idea that individuals can learn to harness their own power, as opposed to being subjects of forces outside their control. "We experience stress when we believe the demands upon us exceed our ability to cope with them," says Prof Robertson. "That perception leads to feelings of anxiety and threat, which triggers the 'fight or flight' response. "This is the activation of the peripheral autonomic nervous system, which releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to increase our heart rate and send more oxygen to muscles, so we can fight or run away. "Meanwhile, our stomachs go into turmoil because digestion is not a priority, leading to gastro-intestinal problems. Skin may feel
sweaty as the body cools down in anticipation of overheating from sudden activity," he adds. "It is a kind of energy to prepare us for action, and it can be harnessed in different ways." So, if your stress is brought on by the thought of dealing with a bullying boss or series of tricky meetings and presentations - rather than an actual tiger - how can you use those feelings to work for you? According to Prof Robertson, it's all down to our hormone systems. "Too little of the hormone and we underperform, too much and we overperform. The secret is finding the sweet spot in the middle for optimal performance." >
HEALTH AT WORK
HEALTH AT WORK
So that's what you are aiming for as you push through the work day - and here are eight ways Prof Robertson says will get you there.
ACHIEVE THE CHALLENGE MINDSET "Turn the 'threat' mindset into a 'challenge' mindset," says Prof Robertson. He explains that symptoms of stress, such as beating heart, dry mouth and churning stomach are as much symptoms of excitement as anxiety. So you might experience them when you feel anxious about a meeting, but also if your football team is scoring. Prof Robertson says there is scientific evidence that if performers are told to say out loud: "I am excited" rather than "I feel anxious" it will help them perform better. In an office, set a goal for yourself that the meeting is going to be an opportunity to practice your skills, not to get upset or angry.
BREATHE YOUR MIND CALM You can control the chemistry of your own brain via your hormones, says the professor. "Noradrenaline is a critical part of your stress response, switched on whether you are frightened or attracted or surprised via a
general alerting response," Prof Robertson says. To reduce the amount of noradrenaline produced, take a long, slow breath in for five counts and out for five, and repeat for a few breaths until you feel calm.
SET SMALL GOALS Sometimes we feel understimulated and undermotivated - which means we are not stressed enough to power ourselves through the day. To beat this, set small, achievable goals, says the professor. "If you achieve it, the brain will respond by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is part of the brain's reward network."
FERTILISE YOUR BRAIN Physical exercise chemically changes your brain as well - whether you are feeling jaded, bored, anxious or stressed. Prof Robertson recommends going for a 10-minute brisk outdoor walk. This will release the brainderived neurotrophic facto (BDNF) protein. "It's like a fertiliser for the brain which will increase noradrenaline levels," he says. "Meanwhile, having set and met an exercise goal will give you a rewarding dopamine boost, too."
STOP MULTITASKING The brain's limitations mean that it can only
handle a certain amount of information front and centre at any one time. This means attention is a limited resource and the brain will get frazzled from multitasking, he says. This is why you should switch off alerts for your phone and emails, concentrating on one thing at a time.
SIT UP STRAIGHT Watch out if you are slumping at the desk or stooping as you walk along the road. Posture affects the blood flow to the frontal lobes of the brain. Good posture will keep you alert.
SQUEEZE YOUR HAND If you have to make a presentation or a phone call which is making you feel anxious, squeeze your right hand for 45 seconds. This will increase the firing of brain cells on the left side of your brain, giving the "challenge" system a tiny boost.
MEDITATE BETWEEN TASKS Train your attention by stopping between tasks to do a five-minute work break meditation. An app such as Buddhify may help with this. It will help you control your attention, breathing, and, ultimately, brain chemistry. â&#x2013;
Inspiring mental health at work The 10th of October is World Mental Health Day. As this year’s theme is Mental Health in the Work Place, we thought it was a good time to check in with John Conaghan, the newly-appointed Director of Professional Services at leading wellbeing charity Inspire. will know, the Carecall offer was always about more than counselling and the rebrand to Professional Services allows us to be more explicit about this.
So John, has 2016/17 been a particularly busy year for Inspire? It has been an exciting and busy year. In November we moved into our new resilience centre in Lombard House, we rebranded from Carecall to Inspire Professional Services, Addiction NI joined the Inspire Group and I moved from my previous position as Assistant Director to Director of Professional Services. Through all of this change our focus remained on maintaining the quality of the service we offer to our clients and last year we delivered 59,600 counselling sessions to people across Ireland and GB. Carecall was well-known as a counselling organisation. Has this changed with the rebrand to Inspire Professional Services? We are really proud of Carecall’s reputation as an experienced and reliable provider of workplace counselling. But, as our clients
As a charity Inspire takes a holistic approach to wellbeing and this is reflected in the 360o support Professional Services offer our clients. Counselling will always be a key part of what we do but we also offer wellbeing consultancy for employees as well as training, mental health awareness raising, coaching and mediation services. As part of a wider charity we are in the unique position of being able to plug our clients into a wide range of expertise across the rest of the Inspire group in our mental health, learning disability and addiction services. Is there a typical Inspire Professional Services client? Our Professional Service team are very lucky to work with a wide range of businesses and organisations from across all sectors. Despite their diverse nature all of our clients have two things in common; a commitment to the wellbeing of their staff and a sound understanding of the business case behind investing in workplace wellbeing. The individual needs of our clients and our 360o model of service provision means that we employ a multidisciplinary team of professionals and associates. Our clinical staff, counsellors, professional trainers, coaches, mediators and quality assurance staff all work together to ensure each of the one million people whose lives we cover have access to the best possible, effective and appropriate support.
What’s next for Inspire Professional Services? As a team we agree that the most rewarding part of our jobs are the outcomes we achieve for our clients. At a business level that might be increased productivity, employee loyalty and reduced absenteeism. For the individuals who use our services we pride ourselves in making a tangible difference to their lives and their wellbeing. Addiction NI joining the Inspire group has opened up an exciting new opportunity for us to enhance the services we offer clients, and that’s something we are really looking forward to developing.
How to embrace change and transition into a new career By John Moore, Regional Managing Director of Hays Northern Ireland
ecent data has shown that the regional economy is rebalancing, and with some significant impact for public sector employment. September’s Quarterly Employment Survey found that private sector headcount had risen by 2% over the year to “an historical high” of 547,170 jobs. On the other hand, Northern Ireland’s public sector continues to downsize, dropping 0.3% over the year to 201,920 jobs. Capacity certainly exists for those transitioning into the private sector and opportunities are available across many professional services roles. The Ulster Bank’s chief economist says close to three private sector jobs have been created for every public sector job lost. For those experiencing change or considering career transition from public to private sector, here’s a few things to consider:
• make sure to seek objective advice on how you redraft your CV, as you will need to tailor it to each role to which you apply. Additionally you may need to reword your main achievements and responsibilities as the language used in public sector environments may not readily translate to the private sector • identify your specific professional goals and tailor your job search accordingly - talk with contacts you may have in your desired sector, and use this opportunity to ask for any feedback and advice • update your CV and your online social networks – include new skills and qualifications, amend your hobbies and interests to reflect your appropriateness for the industry in question, and customise your personal statement to explain why you would like to move into this field
• research your prospective employer’s network online and identify industry leaders on social media - this will help you understand key trends and insights within your target industry • identify and communicate your transferable skills at interview - show how your diverse knowledge could be beneficial to the role. Remember that when applying for a new role you need to demonstrate that you are an excellent fit for the advertised position and for the prospective company. ■ To find out more about Hays Northern Ireland log on to hays.co.uk/ni, follow us on Twitter@ HaysN_Ireland or call 028 9044 6911
HR Team’s tips for great staff performance Staff will exceed standards, expectations and targets through good, old fashioned face to face management Not only is it good to talk when it comes to getting the best from your employees, it’s the golden rule. Of course written communication is vitally important in every operation but in the absence of face to face briefings the message can very often get lost. It should come as no shock that an employee left to his or her own devices and not made fully aware of the requirements of a role should fall short of the mark. More often than not a lack of clarity from above signals an imminent failure to deliver. Performance management best practice is to ensure that staff see the whites of your eyes when you communicate your enthusiasm for meeting and exceeding your organisation’s basic standards, expectation and targets what we at HR Team call our ‘BET System’.
Basic standards An organisation’s basic standards are non-negotiable and must be clearly outlined from day one. These may include matters such as time keeping, code of conduct, mobile phone policy, social media policy, sickness protocols, grooming and appearance etc. Expectations Job descriptions outline clear roles and responsibilities for employees. These must be communicated clearly to ensure that every employee understands what is expected and required of them in the organisation.
HR Team Directors Breda Scott and Martina McAuley
Targets A lack of clearly defined goals or key performance indicators can severely hinder an organisation. Targets can include deadlines, financial targets, productivity targets, wastage targets, sales targets etc. Targets may shift but it is imperative that employees are fully aware of what they are at all times. Call HR Team today for assistance with performance management or any employment law issue on 028 71 271 882, email hello@ hrteamgroup.com or join us on Facebook/ LinkedIn
ON-SITE SHREDDING IS FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.
OUT-OF-SITE SHREDDING IS FOR THEIR EYES TOO!
Top 100 Gala Dinner welcomes Secretary of State Photography: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye
ecretary of State James Brokenshire MP was the guest of honour at the Ulster Business Top 100 Gala Dinner 2017, in partnership with A&L Goodbody, last month. He addressed executives from the biggest companies in Northern Ireland who were gathered at the event in The Great Hall at Queens University, along with those from Ulster Business parent company Independent News & Media and law firm A&L Goodbody. Guests also heard from Mark Thompson, Head of the Belfast Office at A&L Goodbody, and Ulster Business editor David Elliott at the second year of the event, one which proved a resounding success.
Chris Conway, Conor McDaid, Claudine Heron, Michael Guerin and Gordon Milligan
Sarah Ann Gamble, Terence Donnelly, Raymond Donnelly and Edel Creery
Janet McCollum and Barbara Creed
Mark McGivern, Catherine Harrison and Mark Thompson
Chris Lillie, Karen Nicholl, Hugh Nicholl and Randal Gilbert
David Elliott, Janet McCollum, James Brokenshire MP and Mark Thompson outside Queens Universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Lanyon building
Ellvena Graham and Glenda McStravick
Alan Gibson, Sylvie Brando and Dr Len Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Hagan
David Elliott, James Brokenshire MP and Richard McClean
Mark Thompson, Matthieu Seguin and David Elliott
Brian Kerr, Pat O’Doherty and John Redmon
Heather Williams, Ryan Davis and Sonia Armstrong
The Secretary of State faces the press core ahead of the dinner
Guests seated in The Great Hall at Queens University
Brendan Gribben, James Devlin and Andrew Bill
Sarah Ann Gamble, Seamus McKeague and Kevin Timoney
David Watson and Tandashi Takeguchi
Peter Stafford, Dr Len O’Hagan, Martin Agnew, James Brokenshire MP and Ellvena Graham
BREAKFASTEER: SUZANNE LUNN BREAKFASTING VENUE: BULLITT, BELFAST
By David Elliott
The column which doesn’t have time for lunch...
he dictionary definition of breakfast is “a meal eaten in the morning, the first of the day”.
Apart from a rather dry meeting room pastry, this month’s Business Breakfast paid heed to the latter part of that definition, at least for this scribbler. I can’t speak for my dining partner, but the fact we didn’t meet until 1230pm means Suzanne Lunn and I can’t say we even met in the morning but, as the thirsty don’t tend to say, it’s always morning somewhere in the world. Busy schedules meant that the column which doesn’t have time for lunch made time for lunch by forgoing breakfast. So, in a first for this column but not for a similar occasional series which pops up when the need arises, we present to you: Business Breakfast (Lunch), the column which makes time for lunch. Do you think it will catch on? We had discussed whether we should opt to at least eat some breakfast products but a “fierce hunger”, as friend of mine often refers to, on behalf of your reporter and the temptation of Bullitt’s lunch menu meant all good intentions went awry. We both plumbed for the Prawn Bowl in the Lobby bar of the effortlessly cool Church Lane hotel and I can confirm that it was indeed epic. Chermoula prawns (which turn out to be Moroccan spiced), along with cherry tomato, courgettes and orzo pasta couldn’t be recommended highly enough for lunch, or indeed for breakfast. We scoffed and talked next door to owners the Wolsey family, who were fresh from giving a hard hat tour of the second phase of the development which has done wonders for Belfast’s hotel offering and for Ray Ban wearers across the land.
Lunn’s watch makers are certified by the individual manufacturers so watches serviced there are guaranteed for two years and sales of any pre-owned models have undergone a hugely extensive service. The diamond ring side of the business is just as busy under its Porfolio of Fine Diamonds brand, one which ensure the highest quality, both of diamond and mount. “We get hugely involved in the supply chain and the whole manufacturing process to make sure every part of the diamond ring adheres to our extremely high standards.” For that peace of mind you might expect to pay a premium price, but that’s not the case. “Our diamond rings are at least 20% below major high street retailers yet the quality and our attention to detail is second-to-none.” Suzanne said that level of excellence is something which runs through the mindset of the 82 staff in the company and is one of the reasons it can claim in many cases to be dealing with three generations of loyal customers.
But it’s the essential cog in the wheel of another stalwart Northern Ireland family business sitting before me who we’re here to hear about. Business has been busy for Lunn’s Jewellers in the last few months with the refurbishment of the iconic Queen’s Arcade store helping draw more shoppers, Suzanne said. The impressive end product marks continued confidence in Belfast by the 60-year old business and shows off the creative and industrious talents of a plethora of local suppliers. Suzanne said there are plans for further investment in the business in the next 18 months with the jewellers hosting the first every Tag Heuer pop up in the UK to demonstrate its second generation smart watch, one promoted through the latest Kingsman film. Such exclusivity is representative of the strong relationships Lunns has with its main suppliers and follows on from the launch of the first
generation smart watch by Tag Heuer where Lunns were chosen to have exclusivity on the island of Ireland for the first six months of its launch. Patek Philippe also has strong ties to Lunns and Suzanne is preparing for a VIP dinner party held in the Queens Arcade store where the exclusive Swiss watch manufacturer will present its 2017 collection. And in November Rolex and its sister brand Tudor will launch their new collections in Lunns. “We have the top six watch brands in the world,” Suzanne said. “There aren’t many other watch retails which can say that.” And it’s not just new watches which the jeweller specialises in with the sale of preowned models attracting growing demand and prompting further investment in the service department.
Away from the main-day-to-day business, Lunn’s is a keen supporter of the intriguinglytitled Lunch with an Old Bag, an event held in Belfast Harbour Commissioners which aims to raise funds for the Princes Trust. And it has also been taking part in the Global Virgin Challenge where employees joined 300,000 people around the world to become even more active with the help of activity trackers. Given heavy rain had forced me to drive the half a mile to Bullitt rather than the customary saunter, this news was all the encouragement that was needed to get back out there and at least attempt to keep up with a level of activity demonstrated by the Lunn’s crew. With coffees to finish, we were off, Suzanne to the heart of one of the most enduring and innovative family businesses in the country and Ulster Business to hammer our these words to meet an impending deadline. Until next time. ■
Addressing the imbalance Roseann Kelly, Chief Executive at Women in Business, assesses where Northern Ireland stands compared to the rest of the UK when it comes to gender diversity How does gender diversity in Northern Ireland business compare to the rest of the UK? While the landscape is changing, Northern Ireland still lags behind other parts of the UK and there remains very few women in Chief Executive roles with only five female CEOâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s in the top 100 companies locally. These stats are worrying and further reinforce the requirement for our new Gender Diversity Charter Mark which was launched in September. The Charter Mark was inspired by the Diversity pillar within our first manifesto which was launched in Jan 2016. The global evidence is abundantly clear that businesses with diverse workforces, senior management teams and boards are more successful and profitable than those that have not, yet there is little progress in Northern Ireland. The Charter Mark enables organisations to identify and reflect on institutional barriers that impact their career progression. Businesses that sign up to the Charter will commit to advancing gender diversity by addressing areas of unequal gender representation at all levels, removing obstacles faced by women (or men) at key points of career development, implementing structural and cultural changes that help advance gender diversity and putting in place a strategy and action plan to effect change. What companies are leading the way and why? Large global companies such as Deloitte, Allstate, BT and PWC are leading the way in gender diversity. Conducting the research and introducing and sharing best practice initiatives reveals that there is a clear correlation between gender diverse companies and better results. These global enterprises are ahead of the game and are very aware of the benefits gender diversity brings, not only in relation to improved results, but also alternative viewpoints and easier access to resources. Those companies
whose Boards and CEOs fully embrace this will be the market leaders in their sector. Is a 50:50 female/male split a realistic target for companies to aim for? We recognise that each sector and organisation is different and the Charter therefore offers flexibility. Every business will set its own targets, strategy and implementation plan â&#x20AC;&#x201C; these will however be benchmarked against industry standards.
What more could be done to ensure a more balanced workplace at all levels? The Charter must be signed by the CEO or a director, this is to ensure that a clear message is being communicated about the importance of Gender diversity to the company. It must be very clear that this is not a tick box exercise but a company cultural change across all levels. Responsibility should also be shared across all management levels in the organisation
with internal targets set for senior and middle management. Targets must be backed up by implementation plans that are inclusive, innovative and properly resourced. What should bosses who want to address an imbalance in the gender makeup of their workforce do to reverse the trend? The positives of achieving gender diversity should be promoted in workplaces across Northern Ireland. Senior members of staff should clearly demonstrate their support for diversity and provide the necessary leadership for change. Their support will permeate throughout the organisation and motivate others to come on board and champion gender diversity. â&#x2013; Take the first step and sign the Gender Diversity Charter Mark, the process of achieving the Charter will start the journey towards benchmarking and creating a most positive and successful business.
Motoring By Pat Burns
Too XC for an SUV
olvo’s continual ascent upwards in the larger luxury SUV market continues with the new XC60. The new car replaces Volvo’s highly successful original XC60, which in the nine years since its launch became the best-selling premium mid-sized SUV in Europe, with nearly a million units sold globally. The XC60 today represents around 30 per cent of Volvo’s total global sales. This second-generation model has all of the advanced connectivity and safety equipment introduced in Volvo’s award-winning range of large premium cars. It also brings Volvo’s latest elegant Scandinavian design to the mid-size SUV class, along with the brand’s ground-breaking Sensus touchscreen control system. The new XC60, one of the safest cars ever made, is loaded with new technology. Steer Assist has been added to the ground-breaking City Safety system. A new safety system called Oncoming Lane Mitigation uses Steer Assist to help prevent head-on collisions, while Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS)
now uses Steer Assist functionality to reduce the risk of lane-changing collisions. Pilot Assist, Volvo’s advanced semiautonomous driver-assistance system, which takes care of the steering, acceleration and braking on well-marked roads up to 130 km/h, is available in the new XC60 as an option. The new XC60 is currently available with the diesel D4 engine producing 190 hp and the D5 with PowerPulse technology delivering 235 hp. The new XC60 range also offers Volvo’s award-winning T8 Twin Engine petrol plug-in hybrid at the top of the powertrain range, delivering 407 hp and acceleration from 0-100 km/h in just 5.3 seconds. This combines a petrol engine with an electric motor, making it a near-silent zero-emission city car one minute and a high-performance family SUV the next. With CO2 emissions of just 49 g/km, the T8 is also exceptionally tax-efficient. But it is not just under the bonnet that the new XC60 delivers healthy performance. The
By Pat Burns
new CleanZone four-zone climate control system removes harmful pollutants and particles from outside the cabin to deliver Scandinavian-fresh air on the inside. Volvo Cars’ driver infotainment and connected services offer, Sensus, and the Volvo On Call app both receive a graphical update with improved usability. As in the 90 series cars, smartphone integration with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is also available. The new model has already won a top award with the XC60 voted ‘Best Premium SUV’ at the Auto Express New Car Awards. The new XC60 won praise for its interior quality, design, technology, spaciousness and comfort-oriented approach. Auto Express said the XC60 has “a level of safety, connectivity and autonomous technology that leads the sector” and that “It’s another super-stylish SUV from Volvo that offers a level of quality, comfort and technology that rivals can’t – it really is the complete package.” The new XC60 range starts from £37,205. ■
Cross-over dressing By Pat Burns
auxhall’s top selling Mokka X SUV has been joined by a smaller sibling, the Crossland X.
Compact on the outside, spacious and flexible on the inside, the newcomer is a key new model in Vauxhall’s expanding SUV range, which is due to grow further still, with the launch of the larger Grandland X later in the year. While the Mokka X has all-wheel-drive capability, the Crossland X has a more family focus, with a spacious cabin providing good practicality and flexibility. The Crossland X has specially designed seats for the driver and front passenger, while rear passengers can adjust their seating position to increase leg room. This seating flexibility is equally valuable for luggage capacity, which is a classleading 410 litres with the rear seats up. The flexibility of the rear seats allows the luggage capacity to be increased if additional leg room is not required.
Additional innovations in the Crossland X make driving safer and more comfortable, and include a 180-degree panoramic rearview camera, advanced park assist, forward collision alert with pedestrian detection and autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and side blind-spot alert, among others. Full-LED headlamps ensures outstanding visibility when driving at night or in gloomy conditions, and includes functions such as cornering light, high beam assist and auto levelling to ensure optimal visibility in all road situations. The entry-level engine is the 1.2-litre petrol with 81PS (54.3mpg combined; 116g/ km CO2). Elsewhere in the range, the 1.2 Turbo with petrol direct injection is available with five speed, six speed and automatic gearboxes. This 110PS engine offers up to 58.9mpg. The top-of-the-line petrol engine is the 1.2 Turbo with 130PS, delivering maximum
torque of 230 Nm from 1,750 rpm (55.4mpg combined; 116g/km CO2) and six-speed manual transmission. This takes the Vauxhall Crossland X from zero to 62mph in 9.1 seconds and to a maximum speed of 128mph. The line-up also includes two turbocharged diesel engines, including the 1.6 diesel with 99PS and maximum torque of 254Nm at 1,750rpm. The efficient diesel ECOTEC variant, with Start/ Stop, emits as little as 93g/km CO2 and achieves up to 78.5mpg combined. The most powerful diesel is the 1.6 with 120PS (70.6mpg combined; 105g/km CO2) and maximum torque of 300Nm, to provide power in all situations. The entry-level SE trim is available from £16,555 on-the-road, with a 1.2i (81PS) petrol engine and five-speed manual transmission. The top of the range model is the six-speed manual 1.6CDTi (120PS) S/S diesel in Elite Nav trim, available from £21,380 on-the-road. ■
R E V E N PAY J U ST
+ ADVANCE R E N TAL
P A E H C K O O L
Visit your local Vauxhall Northern Ireland Retailer or search Vauxhall Northern Ireland Official Government Test Environmental Data. Fuel consumption figures mpg (litres/100km) and CO2 emissions (g/km). Crossland X range: Urban: 43.5 (6.5) – 68.9 (4.1), Extra-urban: 58.9 (4.8) – 85.6 (3.3), Combined: 52.3 (5.4) – 78.5 (3.6). CO2 emissions: 123 – 93g/km.# Personal contract hire offer on Crossland X Elite 1.2 (81PS) including free of charge brilliant paint silver roof rails and premium LED lighting on vehicles ordered by 2 October 2017, subject to availability and status. Age 18+ only. Figures based on a non-maintenance contract hire package with advance rental of £4,740, then 35 monthly rentals of £237. Excess miles over contracted mileage of 24,000 over 36 months charged at 8 pence per mile. Excess charges also apply if you breach manufacturer servicing or maintenance guidelines or if the car exceeds BVRLA Fair Wear & Tear guidelines for its age/mileage when it is returned to Vauxhall Leasing. Package includes Road Fund Licence and Vauxhall Assistance. Guarantee/ indemnity may be required. Prices and details are subject to change without notice. For full specification and Ts&Cs contact your local Retailer. You will not own the car. ALD Automotive Ltd., trading as Vauxhall Leasing, BS16 7LB. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. #Fuel consumption information is official government environmental data, tested in accordance with the relevant EU directive. Official EU-regulated test data is provided for comparison purposes and actual performance will depend on driving style, road conditions and other non-technical factors. Vauxhall Motors Limited s reserves the right to change, amend or withdraw this offer at any point in time. Correct at time of going to press.
The ultimate 911?
he new Porsche 911 R is one for the purists, a pure-bred sports car built to a time-honoured formula; a powerful 500 hp four-litre naturallyaspirated flat-six engine driving the rear wheels, a six-speed manual transmission, and a lightweight body. It is also limited to just 991 examples worldwide. These characteristics place the 911 R firmly in the tradition of its historic namesake: a road-homologated racing car from 1967. Produced as part of a limited production series, the original 911 R was campaigned in iconic road races of the period, such as the Tour de France and Targa Florio, and also in world record runs. Like its legendary predecessor, the new 911 R offers an unfiltered driving experience, delivered by lightweight construction and a commitment to maximum performance: this special model has an overall weight of 1,370 kilograms and is thus the lightest version of the 911. Developed in the Motorsport workshop, the 911 R extends the range of high-performance naturally-aspirated engines alongside the motor sport-inspired, trackbred models 911 GT3 and 911 GT3 RS. From a standing start, 0-60 mph is possible
in 3.7 seconds and top speed is 201mph. Fitted as standard with specially-tuned rear-axle steering, direct turn-in and precise handling is guaranteed while maintaining high stability. In addition, the mechanical rear limited slip differential ensures maximum traction. Ensuring the greatest possible deceleration are Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB), also fitted as standard. The discs measure a generous 410 mm diameter on the front axle and 390 mm on the rear. The bonnet and front wheel-arches are made of carbonfibre and the roof is magnesium, which reduces the centre of gravity. Rear windscreen and rear side windows are lightweight plastic. Additional weight-saving factors are the reduced sound insulation in the interior and the omission of a rear bench seat. The optional air conditioning system and the audio system also hint at the intense slimming regime. The front and rear apron come from the 911 GT3, with a re-designed spoiler lip installed on the front. The sports exhaust system
By Pat Burns
consists of the lightweight construction material titanium. Continuous coloured stripes in red or green over the entire mid-section of the vehicle provide a visual cue to the legendary predecessor. A further leitmotif is provided by the ‘Porsche’ script along each side of the vehicle. The driver and front passenger sit in a carbon-fibre bucket seat, trimmed with bespoke fabric centre panels in Pepita tartan design, a nod to the first 911 in the 1960s. Fabric pull straps on each door are a familiar hint to the focused intent of all 911 models from the GT department. The new Porsche 911 R is available priced from £136,901 and is limited to 991 units worldwide. The 911 R is arguably the ultimate roadfocused 911 in the 53 year history of the model. It is certain to be appreciated by long-standing fans of the 911, and in particular those customers that have consistently owned, lived with and driven successive generations of this iconic sports car. ■
Ogilvie Fleet continues awards blitz O gilvie Fleet has cemented its position as the UK’s best contract hire and leasing provider scooping two trophies in the annual awards from trade publication BusinessCar.
The awards for Leasing Company of the Year - up to 25,000 vehicles, and the highly competitive Customer Service Award add to the clutch of trophies won by Ogilvie Fleet already this year and make it 20 titles collected so far this decade. Gordon Stephen, managing director of Ogilvie Fleet, which operates a fleet of more than 15,000 company cars and light commercial vehicles, was presented with the two newest awards in a glittering ceremony at London’s Park Plaza Hotel. The BusinessCar Awards were judged by a panel of industry experts, including fleet managers, and the publication’s editor Debbie Wood said: “We are delighted to have awarded Ogilvie Fleet not one but two awards this year. Ogilvie Fleet’s recent innovations and investments have paid off, putting the company at the forefront of delivering technology solutions to fleet managers and drivers. “Ogilvie Fleet’s commitment and passion for its customers is rooted in its culture and the company has set the bar high for great customer service. Our judges were extremely impressed.” In addition to the BusinessCar Awards, Ogilvie Fleet, which continues to experience significant growth as it targets a fleet size of 20,000 units over the coming years underpinned by industry-leading customer service and cutting-edge IT vehicle and driver solutions, has already this year won:
Gordon Stephen, managing director, Ogilvie Fleet, with the Customer Service Award flanked by BusinessCar editor Debbie Wood (right) and comedian and Awards presenter Zoe Lyons
• The Experteye Award for being the best vehicle leasing and fleet management company with more than 250 vehicles for service to customers thus becoming the first business to win a Fleeteye CSI (customer satisfaction index) award seven times in succession (2010-2016). • Fleet Technology Awards - known in the industry as the ‘Techies’ - from BusinessCar magazine for being the best leasing and contract hire company and having the best app, its ‘Happy Drivers App’. Ogilvie Fleet managing director Gordon Stephen said following the latest double triumph at the BusinessCar Awards, which are in their 11th year: “Delivering service excellence to customers and their drivers must always be our focus and that will not waver. “Therefore, to win another Customer Service Award while also continuing to expand,
innovate, develop and launch industryleading technology and have that also recognised with a Leasing Company of the Year Award is a fantastic achievement. “It means an awful lot that Ogilvie Fleet is continuing to develop as a business, while simultaneously delivering top quality customer service. Continuing to deliver on both fronts over many years is testimony to the skills of the company’s employees.” Ogilvie Fleet is one of the UK’s largest independent vehicle contract hire and leasing fleet management company operating an expanding, full-risk fleet, and won the Leasing Company of the Year - up to 25,000 Vehicles Award for a string of achievements, including: fleet growth of more than 50% this decade; adding more than 35 new clients with an average fleet size of 118 vehicles each to its portfolio in the past 12 months; and maintaining its 100% customer retention rate. ■
Nicola McCracken has been appointed Business Development Consultant at Industry Training Services (ITS) in Portadown. Nicola will be responsible for driving forward ITS’ training services. Sheridan Easter has been appointed Health and Safety Consultant at Industry Training Services (ITS) in Portadown. Sheridan will be responsible for Fire Safety training and consultancy at ITS. Kate Ferguson has joined Belfast communication company Jago. She brings more than 15 years’ experience of PR and marketing communications, spanning both in-house and agency in London and Northern Ireland.
SONI, the company responsible for operating Northern Ireland’s electricity transmission network, has appointed Alan Campbell as Manager of Grid Development and Interconnection. Áine Hughes has been appointed Associate, Restructuring & Insolvency at law firm A&L Goodbody. She specialises in providing advice to insolvency practitioners and financial institutions. Jonathan Hacking has joined A&L Goodbody as an Associate, Mergers, Acquisitions and Corporate. He specialises in commercial law, technology, IP matters, data protection and cyber security.
Michelle Linden has been appointed Director at Specsavers Newry. She will be responsible for helping to grow the business and developing staff to keep up to date with customers’ needs . Business advisory firm, BDO Northern Ireland, has announced that Brian Murphy has become its new Managing Partner, following the planned retirement of Peter Burnside. Brian has been with the firm since 1992. Rory McCurry has been appointed Managing Director at Modern Office Supplies. He will bring his experience sto drive the image and reputation of the company within Northern Ireland
Gerry Martin has been appointed Vending Service Manager at Mount Charles. In his new role, Gerry will manage and grow client relationships across the private and public sectors in both NI and ROI. Philip Wood has joined Mount Charles as Senior Bid Manager. He will lead the bid management team at Mount Charles, co-ordinating responses to new business proposals and contract renewals. Upstream has appointed Alan Wardlow to the Board of Directors. Alan will be responsible for growing the company’s portfolio of clients by providing appropriate working capital solutions.
Jessica Neeson has joined professional recruitment consultancy Abacus as a Recruitment Consultant for IT/Technology. She previously worked within IT recruitment in London. Lucy Mooney has been appointed ICT Consultant at Abacus Professional Recruitment. She has experience of working across the UK in business-tobusiness sales recruitment. Adrian Kennedy has been appointed Compliance Administrator at Johnston Campbell. He will ensure the company’s work is compliant with all the relevant rules and regulations, both internally and with the regulatory authorities.
Andrew Burrows has joined Johnston Campbell as Chartered Wealth Manager with the advisory team. He will be working with his existing and new clients to provid efinancial planning. John Toner has been appointed Financial Controller at Hagan Homes. As part of the finance team, he will be responsible for day-to-day activities, budgeting and reporting. Desmond Morris has been appointed Executive Head Chef at the Everglades Hotel. Desmond has over 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry and has been employed by the Everglades Hotel since 2012 as a Sous Chef.
PHOTOCALL 1. Carella Laminate Systems is expanding its workforce in Londonderry to help secure new business in the interior fit-out markets across Great Britain and Republic of Ireland. Invest NI’s North West Regional Manager, Des Gartland (left) is pictured with Seamus Heron, Carella Laminate Systems.
2. The new Advanced Biomedical Engineering Laboratory officially opened recently in Ulster University. Pictured from left are Professor Brian Meenan, Ulster University, Tracy Meharg, Invest NI, Professor Jim McLaughlin, Ulster University, and Stuart McGregor, Randox Laboratories.
3. Model, Blogger and Producer Niamh Cunningham officially opens Northern Ireland’s second Søstrene Grene store in Newry with joint venture partners Richard and Norma Power. The Danish retailer has 150 stores worldwide with six in the Republic of Ireland and one in Belfast and the company is targeting expansion of 100 new stores over the next two years.
4. The inaugural Belfast to Newcastle flight landed last week welcomed by Laurie Scott, Director of Business Development at Visit Belfast, Ellie McGimpsey, Aviation Development Manager at George Best Belfast City Airport and Andy Mathieson, Eastern Airways’ Commercial Manager, Northern Ireland.
5. Institute of Directors Northern Ireland Chairman Ian Sheppard, second from left, congratulates the latest local directors to achieve Chartered status including, Robert McConnell of CCP Gransden who, at 31, is the youngest ever to receive the award locally; Brian Murray, CEO of The Workspace Group and Stephen Reid, Chief Executive of Ards and North Down Borough Council.
6. Wealth management company Johnston Campbell Ltd has swung into action with a vengeance - raising more than £6,500 for local cancer support with its Golf Day at Malone Golf Club. Pictured from left is Johnston Campbell director Graham Glover; winning team; Liam O’Loan, John D’Arcy and James Mairs; Cancer Focus NI corporate fundraising manager Rosie Forsythe.
7. Pictured are students who completed work placements in the successful pilot of the ‘BeWise’ programme, delivered by partners Belfast City Council and the Department for Economy and its Connect to Success portal.
10 OCTOBER 2017
8. Jayne Taggart, Chief Executive of Causeway Enterprise Agency, conference speaker Arlene Foster MLA and Dr Karise Hutchinson, Provost of Ulster University’s Coleraine campus at the launch of Lead 2 Grow: Leading Change for Success.
9. Specsavers Newtownards has relocated to bigger and better premises in Conway Square thanks to a £400,000 investment in the practice. Leigh Nelson, store director at Specsavers Newtownards, is pictured with Ryan Kee, retail director at Lambert Smith Hampton.
10. Elemental Software, the ‘tech for good’ company operating within the health and wellbeing sector, is recruiting 10 additional jobs in Derry/Londonderry with support from Invest Northern Ireland. Grainne McVeigh, Invest NI, is pictured with (L – R) Leeann Monk-Özgül and Jennifer Neff, Elemental Software.
PHOTOCALL 11. Simon Coveney TD, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, met with businesses in Northern Ireland last month to discuss Brexit at an event hosted by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) and BT. Pictured are NI Chamber President Ellvena Graham; Irish Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Simon Coveney TD; BT’s Paul Murnaghan and NI Chamber Chief Executive Ann McGregor.
12. School leavers Sean McAdorey and Brooke Wardlow beat stiff competition to secure places on an intensive six-month programme at Allen & Overy’s (A&O) Belfast Support Services Centre. The Document Services Training Programme fast tracks promising talent towards employment.
13. arc-net has announced a partnership with PwC Netherlands which will see both companies combine their specialist industry knowledge to create a new model for food integrity, supply chain security and compliance. Pictured is Kieran Kelly, CEO of arc-net.
14. Simon Caughey, Marketing Manager, Devenish, Dr Mike Johnston MBE, Director, Dairy UK (NI) and joint chair of the Local Organising Committee for the IDF World Dairy Summit 2017, and Dr Vanessa Woods, Director of Communication, Devenish. Devenish has been announced as a Platinum sponsor of the event.
15. Novosco has secured a significant contract with Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust to deliver an IT project that will enable rapid genome testing of new-born babies. David Walliker, right, Chief Information Officer at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust; announces the contract with Ellen Dickson, Novosco; and James Anderson, Novosco.
16. Pictured marking the Small Business Loan Fund £6m milestone are (Left to Right) Harry McDaid, UCIT’s CEO; Donal Leahy, Senior Lending Executive, Enterprise NI; Paul Donnelly, BPE Director and William McCulla, Invest NI’s Director of Corporate Finance.
17. Pictured are Brendan Donaghy, a Quality Manager at mac-interiors and Armagh GAA player (left); Gearard McGovern, Graduate Project Manager at mac-interiors and Down GAA player (right) with Davinia Cann, Regional Family Services Coordinator for Caudwell Children in Northern Ireland.
20 OCTOBER 2017
18. The four-star AC by Marriott Hotel at Belfast Harbour’s City Quays development has been ‘topped’ out. Pictured are Belfast Harbour’s CEO, Roy Adair and Gilbert-Ash Managing Director, Ray Hutchinson. The hotel is due to open in early 2018.
19. Three consultants have recently received a promotion within the Abacus Professional Recruitment office. Pictured from left are Alex Noble, Team Lead Business Services, Eoin Fleming, Team Lead Accountancy & Finance and Ewan Lockhart, Senior IT Recruitment Consultant.
20. Pictured are a team from PwC at the recent PwC Extra Time 24-hour five-aside football challenge to raise money for Barnardo’s NI. Over 60 staff took part, playing through torrential rain. They were joined by a team of Syrian refugees who thoroughly enjoyed giving us a run for our money.
PHOTOCALL 21. Value Cabs recently held a star studded ball and raised £125,000 for charity partner Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. Pictured celebrating the achievement are, from left, Peter McCausland and Christopher McCausland from Value Cabs, Sinead Lynch, NICHS, Emma McCausland, Value Cabs and Declan Cunnane NICHS.
22. One of the most anticipated new hotel developments in Belfast, the Titanic Hotel, is being backed by Ulster Bank. From left are Ulster Bank’s Claire McKeown, with Adrian McNally of Titanic Hotel Belfast, Gordon Davidson of Ulster Bank, and James Eyre of Titanic Hotel Belfast at the iconic new hotel.
23. AB&C Insurance has completed extensive renovation work to its William Street head office after receiving significant funding by Danske Bank. Pictured are Colin Atkinson, Managing Director at AB&C Insurance; Karen Jennings, Business Manager at Danske Bank’s South Business Centre and Joan Mulholland, Associate Director at AB&C Insurance.
24. Law firm Axiom’s Belfast office has raised vital funds for Action Mental Health (AMH) by donating £498 - the proceeds of its annual summer ballot - to the charity. Pictured are John Mallon, (right) Axiom’s Vice President of Client Service Operations, Europe, Orla Harris, (centre) Manager of Facilities and Procurement, Europe, present their cheque to Callum Clark, AMH Fundraising Officer.
25. This year’s international Bluegrass Music Festival, held at the Ulster American Folk Park Omagh in September, welcomed the debut collaboration of Omagh’s popular live music bar Bogan’s and the Tyrone craft brewery Pokertree Brewing Company. Pictured from left are Darren Nugent, Director of Pokertree Brewing Company, Richard Hurst, Visitor Services Manager at the Ulster American Folk Park, Andrew Bogan, Owner of Bogan’s Bar.
26. Preparing to support this yearâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Byte Night charity sleep out at the Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland Young Directors Conference sponsored by Barclays and the MCS Group from left, Barry Smyth, Managing Director, MCS Group; Darren Lemon, co-chair, Byte Night; Lisa Keys, Head of Business Development, IoD NI and Gavin Campbell, Corporate Banking Relationship Director, Barclays.
27. Firms in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough are being encouraged to take part in a week-long series of events November 13th â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 18th as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week. Pictured in the Elk & Clipper, a chain of barbers set up by local serial entrepreneur Dwaine Smyth, are Lord Mayor Gareth Wilson and Paul Reid, Business Development Manager, at Ulster Bank.
28. Commercial property agent Lisney has been instructed by Henry Brothers Ltd to let various units at a major site in Magherafelt. Pictured is Ian Henry, Director, Henry Brothers Ltd, left, and Andrew Gawley, Associate Director, Lisney, at the property.
30 OCTOBER 2017
29. Acheson and Glover is pushing the boundaries of its Health & Safety responsibilities to embrace a well-being dimension by encouraging its 431-strong workforce to abandon their cars and public transport in favour of pedal power. Pictured is Gary Mason, a General Operative in the Ballygawley plant who mounts the saddle twice a week.
30. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) announced its new-look, Ambassador-led board to help drive activities in Ireland. Pictured are Dr Lisa Harkness Vice-Chair with Nicola McCleery (centre), Head of Marketing at Danske Bank, who will be the Chartered Ambassador and Education Ambassador Peter Craven from BlueSky Video Marketing.
who delivered the match ball of the first polo game were on top form, as was fitness blogger Tiffany Brien.
The Chairman He’s been at it again. The man who even gardens in black tie has been at the best of the month’s events. Did he see you?
olo has The Chairman’s name written all over it. Actually, this particular event had Antrim diagnostics company Randox’s name written all over it, as has the Randox Health Grand National, that not-so-underthe-radar horse race which it lent its name to recently. But it was the International Polo Tournament in Bushmills which piqued the interest on this particular occasion as founder Dr Peter Fitzgerald gathered together some of the top names from around the world to battle it out in the balmy north coast weather. There to replace the divots was a 450-strong team of grounds people masquerading as guests and including some of the top names from the corporate world and beyond. Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim Mrs. Joan Christie OBE and Mayor of the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Joan Baird
The Chairman also enjoyed the company of Colonel Neil Salisbury, April Salisbury, Dr Helen Jackson and David Jackson, all of whom were enthusiastically supporting team Randox. It was made up for Shaun Brokensha, Jamie Heriot-Maitland, Marc Coppez and Dr. Peter Fitzgerald but it was the Republic of Ireland team which lifted the silverware at the end of the day, to coin a sporting cliché. Declan O’Brien, William Clarke, Keelan McCarthy and Robert Park seemed pretty pleased with the day’s work. However, the top award of the day went to Michelle Bradley who took the title of Randox International Polo Tournament 2017 Hat Competition, probably the most tightlyfought race of the day. A great day out was had by all and credit must go to Dr Fitzgerald for his impeccable hosting, once again.
If there were a competition for event of the year then the Ulster Business Top 100 Gala Dinner would surely win every time. Once again this prestigious event was held in partnership with those erstwhile lawyers at A&L Goodbody who helped welcome the leaders of Northern Ireland’s biggest companies to the Great Hall at Queens University for an evening of fine wine, fine dining and fine networking. Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP
was the guest of honour and enthralled The Chairman with tales of his afternoon tea only hours earlier with Prime Minister Theresa May. He was grilled mercilessly by the titans of industry at his table including Janet McCollum, Ellvena Graham, Julian Yarr, Nick Whelan, Dr Len O’Hagan, Mark Thompson and Isabel Jennings. And the rich seam of executive talent which filled the room meant it was hard to move without bumping into the biggest movers and shakers on this land. David Haldane, Neilus McDonnell, Martin Agnew, Richard McClean, Peter Stafford, Bill McGuiness…the list is long and distinguished and made for an enthralling night. The Chairman has a good chat to Translink boss Chris Conway about his innovative plans for the transport company, to Terence and Raymond Donnelly on how their continuing to break new ground in the motor trade, energy market giants Karen and Hugh Nicholl, PR gurus Katie Doran, Jonathan Ireland and Matthew Jeffrey, soft drinks supremo Matthieu Seguin, aluminium expert Tadashi Takeguchi, communications guru Eamon Deeny, energy extraordinaire Michael Scott, sales team par excellence Sonia Armstrong, Sylvie Brando and Sarah Ann Gamble and the organisation supremo Glenda McStravick. There were too many more to mention but suffice to say the economic world was put to rights on more than one occasion. What a night, what a team of business leaders! ■
Secretary of State James Brokenshire meets with guests at the Ulster Business Top 100 Gala Dinner
Jonny Ireland and Tracey Schofield at the Ulster Business Top 100 Gala Dinner
Secretary of State James Brokenshire addresses the audience at the Ulster Business Top 100 Gala Dinner
From left Colonel Neil Salisbury; Joan Baird, Mayor of the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council; Mrs. Joan Christie OBE, Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim; April Salisbury; Dr Helen Jackson and David Jackson, Chief Executive of the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council
Joan Baird, Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, delivers the first match ball of the polo tournament
David Elliott, Richard McClean, Janet McCollum, Mark Thompson and Julian Yarr at the Ulster Business Top 100 Gala Dinner
Mark Thompson, Matthieu Seguin and David Elliott at the Ulster Business Top 100 Gala Dinner
Michelle Bradley (centre), winner of the Randox International Polo Tournament 2017 Hat Competition, with the other Hat Competition Finalists
The Republic of Ireland team, winners of the Randox International Polo Tournament 2017, from left to right: Declan Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Brien, William Clarke, Robert Park and Keelan McCarthy.
Team Randox from left to right: Shaun Brokensha, Jamie Heriot-Maitland, Marc Coppez and Dr. Peter Fitzgerald
Perched on a rocky hilltop and bristling with zigzag battlements, the fortified town of Carcassonne looks like something out of a childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s storybook
Carcassonne: the magic of medieval France By Elle Gordon
had never been to Carcassonne and knew very little about it. Yet, when I mentioned to people where I was going, I was met with more than a few sighs of 'ah, so beautiful', which is always a good sign. With more than 2,000 years of history, and the inspiration behind many romantic painters' work, it was with great excitement that I boarded my flight to Toulouse airport - which is about an hour's drive from Carcassonne.
smile fixed itself to my face the moment my feet touched the tarmac and pleasant heat wound its way into stiff limbs. A short break to the sun can only be food for the soul.
rooms, you will feel you are getting that all-important holiday indulgence, but your wallet will delight in what are extremely affordable prices.
As we pulled into full view of this walled medieval city, I had a moment to catch my breath. Think of the books you might have read as a child of those mythical cities, faraway lands of wonder and beauty. Now multiply that by 10 when it comes to the aesthetics of this place.
The flight was pleasant, long enough to get lost in some easy listening music, but not so long that I arrived too rumpled and crumpled to go straight out and explore. A
We checked into our accommodation, Hotel Aragon - a three-star hotel that was anything but modest. With its glimmering turquoise pool and beautifully furnished
Its location is extra special, given it's only 50 metres from the Porte Narbonnaise, which is the main entrance to the medieval citadel. With that in mind, I dumped my bags and explored. Within moments I was through the entrance and strolling on winding cobbled streets. It was a blissfully warm summer's evening, the perfect climate to wander around, fawning over some of the beautiful boutiques and craft shops this city has to offer.
Soon, tiring feet called for me to retrace my steps and settle myself in the little outdoor restaurant across the road from Hotel L'Aragon. Underneath twinkling fairy lights, I sipped my glass of utterly delicious tap white wine, at just €2. Our meal that evening was in Au Jardin de la Tour. The stroll to the restaurant was just enough to shake off any travel cobwebs and ready us for an indulgent meal. I opted for a poached egg to start, followed by an exquisite bowl of truffle pasta. Waistline guilt forgotten, I savoured every bite. We ate outside in the restaurant's shaded garden which is situated at the foot of the castle fortifications; it is a truly evocative dining experience, with lights woven amongst the greenery. A must if you visit. The next morning I awoke much refreshed, and headed for another tasty breakfast in nearby Hotel du Pont Vieux. We ate in the beautiful walled garden, guzzling coffee in the morning sunshine. Pure bliss. With so much attention to our inner foodies, it was time we explored, taking a walking tour of Bastide Saint Louis. The Bastide was built during the reign of Saint Louis in 1260 and we were there on a Saturday, which meant one thing - market day. This area is a meeting place for locals, particularly on market days and the place was buzzing. I wove my way through crowds of people chopping watermelons, choosing fruits and buying freshly baked bread. A truly authentic side of Carcassonne. Lunch, that afternoon, was in Chez Rodriguez, a fabulous little restaurant that
prides itself on cuisine made with local produce. It was an utterly melt-in-the-mouth lunch.
enthusiast to visit - any fitness fanatic would love the option to hike the valley and discover these castles up close and personal.
With a simple dessert of fresh ruby-red strawberries topped with homemade frozen sorbet a welcome and cooling addition, we departed restored and refreshed. Just a short drive of 20 minutes is the village of Caunes-Minervois. With charming medieval streets and renaissance stone houses, it is well worth the few hours we took to explore here. Our tour was again on foot and we found ourselves in the Benedictine Abbey decorated in red marble. This red marble was famously used in Versailles and many other monuments in Paris and Rome.
Hiking wasn't for me, but our tour guide brought us to an excellent viewing platform across the valley that gave us a bird's-eye view of the castles and a brilliant photo opportunity.
Exploring during the heat of day is one way of working up a thirst, which coincided seamlessly with our next destination of Laure-Minervois, to visit a vineyard; Chateau Jacques d'Albas. UK expat, Graham Nutter, along with his son, Andrew, decided that it was about time his love of wine grew some legs. This picturesque vineyard was the result, with wine-tastings and tours, 'gites' to stay in and regular jazz festivals. With our hankering for a cooling glass of wine sated, it was time to visit Lastours in the deep valley of the Orbiel river to the south of the Black Mountain. It is best known for its four medieval castles, built in the 12th and 13th century, and their history in the anti-Cathar Crusades. You don't need to be a keen Cathar history
Our final day in Carcassonne was spent venturing around the medieval citadel known as 'La Cite'. This part of the city or 'old town' dates back more than 2,000 years and with the 52 stone towers topped by 'witches hats' - as they are known locally - it really does feel like something whipped out of a fairy tale. Having taken in the exterior of the fortress, we crossed Porte Narbonnaise into the citadel interior. The Chateau Comtal was our next stop where, for a small fee, you can take in the castle up close. We even got a chance to go up into the ramparts of the castle walls - and with spectacular views it's an opportunity not to be missed. Within its walls, art lovers will delight in a carefully restored painting still visible on the ceiling in the distinctive blue of lapis lazuli. It was difficult to say goodbye to this exquisite place, but easy to see why it is one of France's most visited. Added to the UNESCO world heritage site list in 1996, this city takes pride in its rich history and is one holidaymakers should keep in their sights. Whether it's an educational trip with your kids or a romantic trip for two, this medieval treasure holds something for everyone. ■
Getting there Ryanair flies direct from Dublin to Carcassone
Where to stay? Hôtel de la Cité from £181 a night Hôtel du Pont Vieux from £58 a night Hôtel du Château from £127 a night Hotel des Trois Couronnes from £79 a night
Tech predictions for the future What does the future hold for the tech we use every day? Adrian Weckler joined 250,000 visitors at Europe's biggest tech trade event IFA 2017 in Berlin to check out what's coming next. 1 We're finally maxing out on phone screen sizes as battery life improves It looks like six inches is the farthest we're willing to push it on our smartphones. For years, handset screens have been scaling up. Indeed, it's hard to fathom that the standard screen on a phone just three years ago was only 3.5 inches across. Today, the average screen size is five inches, even for budget entry-level phones. That's a doubling in size in a relatively short period of time. However, we are now definitively approaching the final size ceiling for our phone displays. This is because manufacturers have nowhere left to push the screen size without making the devices into actual tablets. At present, Samsung, LG and, probably, Apple next week Apple, are executing their final screen-enlarging push by getting the display to cover the entire front side of the handset, squeezing out the bezels. In the case of Samsung's Note 8, this results in a screen that's 6.3-inches in size, a hair larger than its Galaxy S8 Plus, which has a 6.2-inch screen using the same bezel-eliminating method. But anything bigger than this would make the device into something resembling an iPad mini. And while such a screen would have its benefits, it simply wouldn't fit into a pocket or ever be usable with a single hand. One happy by-product of the ever-larger phones, incidentally, is an improvement in battery life. Even mid-range models such as Motorola's new X4 now have batteries of 3,400mAh or higher (compared to the iPhone 7's battery of 2,700mAh). The extra battery life is due to more physical space to house a bigger battery. But it's also a recognition
from manufacturers that people now use their phones for much longer periods, and for much more media-intensive purposes, than was the case in previous years.
programming that people can watch on an everyday basis. It's for this reason that no-one is even trying to talk up 8K, despite a few models on show at IFA with that resolution.)
2 It's getting increasingly difficult to tell TVs apart Walk into any electronics superstore and you'll be hard pushed to find any real differences between today's premium TVs. If IFA is anything to go by, it's getting even more homogenous.
Furthermore, TV manufacturers have used up a fair dollop of credibility on supposed technological breakthroughs that were flops. Remember curved TVs and 3D? You don't see many of those anymore. In the last two years, the promotional push has been around Oled technology and HDR. But neither provides a significant difference to the quality of content that the ordinary person watches or streams.
They're all thin, flat screens with tiny logos. They all have 4K. Most are now getting HDR, which marginally improves detail and your ability to see the colour black. But there's no technology that gives any one TV set the kind of edge that anyone is really talking about. Earlier advances such as 4K have been integrated into no-name, entry level televisions that cost ÂŁ499. (Even now, 4K content still represents a tiny percentage of
Aside from screen size and thinness, we're simply finding it harder to tell one TV from another these days. So the giants - Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic - have eased off hyping the products up for the time being. 3 Amazon Alexa is spreading everywhere Voice activation is proving to be one of the
most pervasive hit technologies of the last three years. In particular, it's proving popular in homes with gadgets such as Google Home or Amazon Echo.
the good news is that this will make still-hefty 128GB MicroSD cards cheaper, with prices now already falling below £50 (the equivalent of five months' cloud storage fees with Dropbox).
Even if they can afford it, they don't think anyone will be bothered to go over and look at their wares, which are starting to take on the aura of niche professional machines rather than fun devices to tempt a mass market.
5 The standalone camera market may soon be dead A couple of years ago, camera manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon boasted huge stands at shows such as IFA and CES in Las Vegas.
To be fair, both Panasonic and Sony had plenty of camera equipment, lenses and other optical gear on site. But that was only as part of their giant enclosures which featured everything else from TVs and fridges to smart home speakers.
At this year's Berlin show, Canon (the world's biggest camera manufacturer by some distance) didn't turn up, despite one new major product launch and several smaller ones in recent weeks. Olympus was absent too, despite a brand new camera launch (the E-M10 Mark ii) the same week. Once-mighty Nikon had arguably the smallest tent in the whole conference, manned by two people and a handful of D850 cameras (with no battery grips or new lenses). When I visited it, there was no-one else going near it. Even BlackBerry had more visitors.
Ironically, talk of cameras dominated some of the launches at IFA - but it was in phones and drones. Several phone manufacturers unveiled dual camera models at the event, while DJI hyped up the large enhanced cameras on its new Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian model. This is sadly typical of the global trend. Cameras are now spoken about and measured in conversations about phones, not standalone DSLRs, compact or mirrorless devices.
A walk through the halls of IFA showed a growing number of devices loading voice-recognition systems from Amazon or Google into their systems. This is particularly noticeable in the world of speakers and 'smart home' gadgets. But it's also now present in phones. For example, despite dual cameras and object-recognition technology, what most interested commentators about Motorola's new X4 phone seemed to be that it can handle both Google and Amazon Alexa voice commands. Alas, Amazon Alexa is not yet officially supported for the Irish market. (Neither is Prime, its shopping service.) So if you get an Amazon Echo, it will work as a (mediocre) music speaker. But if you ask it about the weather, you'll have specify the weather "in Belfast" (or wherever you live) as opposed to simply asking about "the weather", which you would do in an Alexa-supported territory such as the UK, the US or Germany. 4 Tiny memory storage cards will soon hold 1,000GB Over the last five years, memory cards have not been able to keep up with popular usage patterns in phone, camera and PC media. Phone cameras, in particular, have been getting far better for both stills and videos. It's not unusual now for an ordinary person to shoot a few different videos on a daily basis, using up 100MB (0.1GB) of their phone or camera's 16GB or 32GB storage memory in the process. This has been a great boon to companies like Dropbox and iCloud, both of which now make ever-increasing sums from people's monthly cloud storage subscriptions. To tackle this, some phones allow you to put a MicroSD memory card into the phone to hold photos or videos. But even then, most cards are limited to 32GB or 64GB, which fill up quickly for people taking a lot of pictures. Sandisk chose IFA to unveil its newest memory card, which has a whopping 400GB of storage in a little plastic thing the size of your little fingernail. While this won't initially be cheap (costing well over £100),
Fujifilm, which is one of the few camera companies actually holding its own in the market, skipped out on the event too. The message the camera market is sending out is a desperate one - it's sinking and its biggest practitioners can barely afford to take out a stand at the world's most important trade fairs.
In a vicious circle that will accelerate the departure of cameras from the mainstream, camera manufacturers are now paying less and less attention to ordinary consumers and retrenching to professionals or wealthy hobbyists. As such, while the price of most tech goods is going down, the price of new cameras is going up, with fewer and fewer major launches focusing on sub-£1,000 models. ■
MY DAY Uncovering the 9-5
hectic at this time serving food for guests in The Bar where we offer hearty and delicious dishes like club sandwiches, succulent 8oz burgers and mouthwatering fish and chips and we will also be serving Afternoon Teas in the lobby with fresh scones, sandwiches and pastries at this time. I’m based in the kitchen most lunch times to ensure everything runs smoothly from an operational point of view and I can be there to support the team. 2pm One of the most important parts of my day is post-lunch, when I’m able to set aside time for menu development, followed by some next day planning for orders and logistics. As it’s a five star hotel, I’m keen to always be looking ahead and endeavouring to provide our customers with the best dining experience possible and I see this part of my day as key to making this happen.
Name: Ryan McFarland Position: Head Chef at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, Belfast
6am Making sure the kids are up and ready, getting them their breakfast and then doing the school run all before starting my day’s work, can make early mornings in our house an extremely busy time. Everything can often seem a bit manic but I still enjoy the family time before we all go our separate ways for the day. 8.30am By this time I would already be at the hotel preparing the day ahead for both myself and the team. This usually consists of stock checking, fridge inspections and reviewing the daily business schedule. I like to call this part of the day ‘the calm before the storm’, a time when I can regain my thoughts and get my head focused on what tasks I have ahead of me, before the rest of the team arrive. 9am 9-10am is known as my organisation hour a time which consists mostly of creating task lists for the team, briefing and organising them on the day ahead and arranging all the
different zones within the kitchen. I would also be checking figures from the previous day and preparing for the daily morning meeting. I have a great team around me, so this part of the day tends to runs smoothly enough, most of the time! 10am From 10am until lunch time, everything tends to be pretty full on. All the department leads have a daily morning planning meeting where the logistics of how the day will run are discussed, including any bookings and VIP guests. After this, I’m normally straight back to the kitchen to feedback anything important to the team before meeting with local food suppliers to talk through the fresh produce available for that day’s menu. We love to support locally where we can and Northern Ireland produce is up there with some of the best in the world so when possible I like to factor it into our menus. 12noon Lunch – not surprisingly, this is one of my busiest times. The kitchen tends to be pretty
5pm With help from our amazing food and beverage team, we would normally host a staff tasting around 5pm in the kitchen. Here we like to introduce new dishes to everyone while encouraging feedback and ensuring everyone is knowledgeable on the dishes enabling them to explain the menu to our guests. 6pm Dinner service in The Restaurant is between 6pm and 9.30pm where we offer a pre-theatre menu and then an a la carte menu, so it’s back to the kitchen for me to start preparing dishes for our guest. We also cater for parties of up to 30 people in our Private Dining Room this could be anything from a wedding breakfast to a birthday celebration. When service is over, it’s time to catch my breath before starting to clean the kitchen, ensuring stock is topped up and starting preparations for the following day. 11.30pm I would like to say I am normally home by this time, with my feet up and a cup of tea in hand, but that isn’t always the case!
MEETINGS AT CHIMNEY CORNER HOTEL
CENTRAL BUSINESS LOCATION FROM SMALL BOARD MEETINGS TO CONFERENCES UP TO 150 PERSONS DAY DELEGATE RATE FROM Â£20 PER PERSON
Chimney Corner Hotel 630 Antrim Road, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim, BT36 4RH Tel: 028 9084 4925