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Contents 06 News

37 Commercial Property & Construction

77 Motoring

All the news and exclusives from across the world of Northern Ireland business

The challenges facing the next generation

A top of the line Astra, compact SUV and a new hybrid are all in the driving seat

14 Cover Story

53 Food, Drink & Agriculture

86 Photocall

Bank of Ireland UK on how it empowers its colleagues to help others across NI

The Open has reignited the conversation about modernising licensing laws here

A monthly look at events and announcements happening across Northern Ireland

18 In Focus

63 Health at Work

92 The Chairman

John Mulgrew sits down with Belfast Harbour chief executive Joe O’Neill

Which firms are leading the way in developing and backing healthier ways of working?

Would you believe, he was invited back to Westminster... but didn’t get in to Number 10

23 Business Finance & Banking

70 Economy

96 Technology

Two separate business barometers paint a poor picture for what’s around the corner

We speak to NI man Mark Hopkins, who is now country boss for tech giant Dell

Brexit, Bank of England and a blow to sterling

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The time has gone... we need a deal


n the four weeks since I last wrote this, we’ve endured political turmoil, arguably unprecedented in modern times. He threw the baby out with the bath water, and while there’s a sense of a Brexit compromise on the table, his recent behaviour in both Parliament and Luxembourg has been far from statesmanlike.

Unfortunately for all of us, regardless of whether supportive of Remain or Leave, it’s no laughing matter. Some of the cream of the Northern Ireland business crop, hundreds in fact, joined MPs, dignitaries and ambassadors in Westminster last month – the largest single delegation representing both the private and public sectors.

It was an opportunity to have frank on, and off, the record chats with those companies which are now weeks away from leaving the EU and still have no clarity, still no clarity, on what trading arrangements they will meet on the other side. There was a different atmosphere, compared with a similar event hosted last year by the three groups behind Trade NI. The careful and diplomatic language of some of the bigger businesses, perhaps concerned about being aggressive and bullish, seemed to have largely gone. Positive remarks about how a ‘no deal’ would decimate the economy, met with large cheers, while any floppy language avoiding the salient issues received little response.

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

Speaking to some senior politicians, including those involved in talks with the Prime Minister, it did appear that a compromise to the backstop was bearing fruit. Some made sure to clarify, explicitly, that this is not a backstop. We’ll see what comes out of the negotiations. There’s often a concern that by the time I’ve written this, it goes to print and then lands on your desk, that significant developments will have been made, thus making this somewhat dated. However, if that means reaching an agreement to protect the future of Northern Ireland, then I’m more than happy. ■ John Mulgrew

Editor John Mulgrew Senior advertising manager Jackie Reid Sales executive Sarah-Ann Gamble Production manager Irene Fitzsimmons Graphic design Susan McClean, INM Design Studio

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

Contact: 028 90 264262 Cover photo: Khara Pringle www.ulsterbusiness.com


Ulster Business Magazine

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




month IN ‘Strong FDI pipeline’ numbers for Belfast Harbour A


The number of jobs Belfast Harbour says it aims to help create as part of its plans for expansion over the next five years.


The predicted growth of the Northern Ireland economy in 2019, according to the latest forecast from EY.


The investment in a new innovation centre at the Eco Centre in Ballymena, with the capacity to play host to 125 workers.


Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate, according to the latest Labour Force Survey for May to July. It’s a record low for NI, however the region’s economic inactivity remains significantly higher than the UK as a whole.

By John Mulgrew


elfast Harbour has a strong pipeline of foreign businesses who could take on its huge City Quays 3 office scheme as it eyes further ambitious residential developments in the coming years, Ulster Business can reveal. Harbour boss Joe O’Neill says the port is undergoing a £250m investment, two new buildings, major port improvements and tripling the size of what will become the second largest film studio outside of Pinewood.

And speaking about the £50m City Quays 3 office scheme – which is its largest to date, Mr O’Neill said: “It’s a speculative development. You do need to have the product, not even partially coming out of the ground, but completed and that occupiers can walk around in. “We still see a strong pipeline of FDI opportunities. There are a couple. We have had some outline enquiries with people who are looking – the certainty of when we complete and fitting around their growth plans.” On Brexit, he says that the harbour has not seen the UK’s exit impacting on FDI being attracted to the region. “Brexit has not be cited to us as a reason why people are delaying,” he says. “Clearly, if there was a serious, adverse economic impact from whatever comes, you would factor that in to any future investment. But at this time it is not heavily impacting or heavily influencing our investments.” He said the £250m investment had a “Brexit lens” applied to it, but that it didn’t have a significant impact on the overall development plans. Speaking about the potential impact to the port’s general trading, he says: “Clearly if there are any impacts for border checks, we


Joe O’Neill

could see additional trade coming which would otherwise have gone to Dublin. We do have plenty of capacity at our ferry and container terminal. “We have some additional land close to locations which we have set aside for additional check points, if required. At the high level we are comfortable we should have resources and resilience to respond.” Around 70% of the port’s tonnage is across the Irish Sea, with goods flowing within the UK. On the impact of a potential Irish Sea border, he said: “Yeah. It depends on the checks. There is a lot of commentary around what can move freely. We are extensively involved in the various preparatory groups at government and regional level around that.” Like most, anything that keeps trade as closely aligned to the current arrangements in place is the favourable choice for the harbour. “If there is to be any dip in the performance in the Northern Ireland economy, that would have an impact on our business,” he says. Read the full interview with Joe O’Neill on pages 18-19


Developer selling off ‘hotel’ properties


Lawrence Kenwright

iverpool developer Lawrence Kenwright is selling off two of his proposed Belfast hotel properties, it has emerged.

His firm Signature Living had planned to turn the former Crumlin Road courthouse and the former War Memorial Building on Waring Street into hotels. But the buildings are now being marketed for sale by Colliers.

Another hotel, the George Best on Bedford Street, has yet to open its doors amid ongoing delays. This summer, employees at the hotel were offered relocation to England or Wales, or redundancy. Planned opening dates for the £15m George Best Hotel in February and June have come and gone. The future of the hotel is still not clear. It’s also understood that the proposed Waring Street hotel has received objection from the neighbouring Royal Ulster Rifle Museum, which is owned by the Ministry of Defence. A letter says it strenuously objects to the applications “as the proposals do not take into consideration our clients right of way and potentially seriously detrimentally affect our clients use and enjoyment of the property”.


A spokesman for Signature Living said: “I can confirm both The Crumlin Road courthouse and Waring street sites are on the market. Our sites in Belfast among others, are constantly under review as part of our continued growth strategy throughout GB. The situation with regards to The George Best Hotel and Belfast City Council planning/licensing remains challenging.”



Quotes OF THE month “If we have to pay multiple tariffs and customs and bureaucracy that makes us uncompetitive then we will be out of business... it will decimate the business.” Brian McGrath of Foyle Port addressing a delegation at the Irish Embassy in London of his Brexit concerns.

“It is a huge honour to have been appointed as the new chief executive of RBS and I am looking forward to getting started. As one of the oldest and most important financial institutions in the UK, we have a key role to play in supporting the economy and championing the potential that exists across the country. Alison Rose speaking as she was appointed head of Ulster Bank owner RBS.

Chris Kirke

Moy Park grows sales to £1.61bn


oultry giant Moy Park has further strengthened its position as Northern Ireland’s largest company as sales grow to £1.61bn. The company, which has several sites here including its headquarters in Craigavon, also saw pre-tax profits rise to almost £50m. Revenue rose from £1.55bn to £1.61bn, according to the latest accounts for Moy Park Holdings (Europe), ending December.

The business supplies Moy Park branded and own label chicken products to leading retailers and foodservice providers throughout the UK, Ireland and Europe.

“We want to stay as close to the existing arrangements as we can. We supported Theresa May’s deal and we will support a compromise. It is for the politicians to decide what is constitutional and what isn’t.” Michael Bell of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association speaking about his views on securing a deal to protect the cross-border agri-food sector.

In numbers, Moy Park processes six million fresh chickens each week, 600,000 turkeys a year, along with 200,000 tonnes of other ‘added value products’. London-born Chris Kirke replaced long-serving boss Janet McCollum in 2018, less than a year after Craigavon-based Moy Park was taken over by new US owners Pilgrim’s. The company has topped the Ulster Business Top 100 list for the last eight years. Around a year ago, Flavio Malnarcic joined the


business – then as executive business director – before taking over as the firm’s chief financial officer. He was formerly business director at JBS Global, he has a senior leadership background as executive director of the poultry and export business in Seara, also as chief financial officer and chief executive at Tyson do Brazil and finance roles in Cargill. Speaking to Ulster Business ahead of the publication of this year’s Top 100, he said: “There has been a consistence in the performance. We have been growing volumes… we got to six million birds each week, which is about a third of the UK market. For the UK, it is a significantly big company. Looking year over year, our performance was very consistent in the last few years. “A lot of the efforts in the last year has been to consolidate the management tools they have in Pilgrim’s. They are very keen on efficiency, so that’s one of their strategies. “(There is) a lot of focus in improving our performance, it’s how we can be more efficient, focusing on a portfolio that feeds our customer base, how we deal with our customers.”


Voxbit lands deals worth £3.5m


elfast telecoms firm Voxbit has landed deals worth over £3.5m for its internet-based business phone platform within just a year-and-a-half of its launch.

Voxbit’s platform, which has been developed with just over £600,000 financial backing from economic development agency Invest NI, gives businesses more control over their calls and improves inbound and outbound call handling. The system is marketed by Voxbit as byphone, and uses a voice over internet protocol platform (VoIP) to cut costs and support multiple types of media. It’s sold through 50 Voxbit partners around Great Britain generating contracts worth £3.5m over the last year. Voxbit is part of


Dr Vicky Kell, Invest NI with David Whelan, Voxbit

Clarity Telecom, which was founded by serial entrepreneur David Whelan. “Byphone is an end-to-end managed service that uses an innovative drag and drop system,” he said. “This allows users to essentially develop their own phone system without involving their phone company. This enables

organisations, for the first time, to see who is using the phones, when people are calling, and if any calls are unanswered.” Invest NI provided research and development funding of £622,000, part-funded through the EU Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme 2014-2020.



Brexit compromise gets business backing Government talks with the DUP and others are making progress to secure a “plan A” deal for Brexit to avoid potential economic chaos – a compromise which now has received backing from top business leaders, John Mulgrew discovers first hand at Westminster Colin Neill, Stephen Kelly and Glyn Roberts


undreds of leaders of Northern Ireland’s business community and politicians attended the launch of Trade NI’s new Vision 2030 report at Westminster to hear resounding calls for a deal to be agreed among leaders and that a no-deal Brexit is still not an option for the region. DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told Ulster Business people were keen to see a deal agreed. “We are talking to the Government (and seeking) alternative arrangements to the backstop, so we can get an accommodation where the UK leaves with a withdrawal agreement but where the backstop will be replaced by practical arrangements for dealing with cross-border trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” he said. Claims by Glyn Roberts, from Retail NI, that a no-deal withdrawal was not an option were met with cheers of “hear, hear”. Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said his organisation, which represents the massive agri-food sector, supported a compromise and any solution that keeps the situation close to the frictionless trade currently enjoyed. “We want to stay as close to the existing


arrangements as we can,” Mr Bell said. “We supported Theresa May’s deal and we will support a compromise. It is for the politicians to decide what is constitutional and what isn’t.” Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith told the event: “I am acutely aware, totally clear and fully supportive that we need to get a deal. I am working closely with the Prime Minister and his negotiation team.” Mr Smith added the UK needed to agree a deal within the next six to eight weeks, with the October 31 withdrawal deadline now in sight. Sir Jeffrey said the current talks would not result in a backstop-style arrangement. “This is about our future relationships and how we do trade across the border when the UK leaves the EU,” he said. “It’s a very different vehicle and a very different outcome to a backstop. That would be plan B and this would be plan A.” Kevin Kingston, chief executive of Danske Bank, who attended as one of the sponsors, agreed there was an appetite for a Northern Ireland-specific deal. He said any agreement would have to “look

at the needs of Northern Ireland and address those while meeting the needs of all the other parties that have an interest in the outcome”. “I do believe there are other opportunities for a unique solution which may well address the needs of Northern Ireland while meeting the political demands,” he said. “I think every one of our political representatives needs to be putting Northern Ireland first.” Trade NI is an alliance made up of Hospitality Ulster, headed by Colin Neill, Manufacturing NI, led by Stephen Kelly, and Retail NI, headed by Glyn Roberts. The bosses, politicians and dignitaries packed into the Pavilion at Westminster formed the single largest Northern Ireland business delegation to descend on Parliament. Speaking about Vision 2030’s ambitious plan to create new 65,000 jobs, Anne Donaghy, the chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said: “As a council, we are working so hard to deliver Northern Ireland’s first advanced manufacturing ecosystem in Mid and East Antrim and promoting the incredible potential of our area at a regional, national and international level.”


PwC NI ‘fastest growing in UK’

Paul Terrington


orthern Ireland continues to be the fastest growing offices of PwC as staff numbers head towards 2,800 as it moves to its new headquarters here.

The firm said its investment here was a vote of confidence in the economy despite political uncertainty. This year’s announcement of a move to the new £70m Merchant Square office development in Belfast city centre had helped secure its ranking in the number one spot. The report also said that PwC had boosted its workforce in Belfast by over 80% over the last three years. Numbers have grown from 1,259 in June 2016 to around 2,300 people, making Belfast PwC’s biggest office outside London. Staff will be on the move from Waterfront


Plaza to the Merchant Square development in Wellington Place in early 2021. PwC said much of Belfast’s growth was down to the importance of its operational delivery service for clients, known was Operate. It had helped deliver £100m revenue in the past year, while total revenue for the year

ending June 30 was up 12% to £4.23bn. Paul Terrington, PwC NI chairman and head of UK regions, said: “We’ve seen exceptional growth in Northern Ireland and the move to Merchant Square is a catalyst for us to transform how we work for our clients in a new, technology-enabled way.



Top IT firm Leaf undergoes fresh rebrand L eading IT company, Leaf has rebranded and launched a new logo and website as the managed services provider continues to grow. The change comes as the company appoints a new chief operations officer and continues to expand into new markets. Included in the rebrand is the development of a new website, a new brand identity and a change in domain.

Leaf is a cloud first IT managed services company, providing results driven IT solutions since 2003. With a focus on support, security and disaster recovery, the company delivers fully managed IT solutions and cloud technology for IT security, productivity, profitability and business growth. Belfast city centre-based Leaf has partnered with Northern Irish businesses offering business centric technology services since 2003, when the company was founded by chief executive, Steven Goldblatt. Since then it’s continued to grow its team and capabilities now offering a complete portfolio of services across multiple business sectors. “We’ve developed our brand identity to enhance our customer experience and communicate the strong partnerships between our people, partners and most importantly our customers,” Steven says: “We’re a cloud first company and reflected in the new branding is not only our dedication to delivering cloud solutions, but to building trusted long-term relationships with clients – not quick wins. It’s about developing and implementing the right combination of technologies for the right job and our team give clients the ongoing support and leadership necessary for results.” Leaf’s IT services are the building blocks of their lifecycle approach, allowing clients to future proof technology investments and build IT systems that are robust, productive


Colin Patton, service delivery manager and Darryl Heanen, chief technical officer

and cost effective. Every service provided is based on delivering tangible results, where IT investments can be matched to business successes. Leaf partner with industry leading technology giants such as Microsoft, Veeam, Dell EMC, Apple, BT and SonicWall, giving clients the unique opportunity to engage directly with industry leading technology vendors. Leaf’s managed IT support solution provides personalised access to an expert team of cloud services engineers who keep clients informed about how effectively your IT systems are running, troubleshooting problems as they arise, meaning networks maintain compliance and efficiency. Speaking on cyber security, the firm’s chief technology officer, Darryl Heanen says: “We believe a complete cyber security managed service is the best route to effectively identify and manage cyber security risks. Our solution provides a complete range of sophisticated

software products that secure your entire network. From email security to mobile device management to data leakage and ransomware protection- prevention is key and our managed cyber security and disaster recovery does just this.” Leaf has made significant investment in the last number of years in the development of a cloud solutions team which builds transformative cloud solutions. Their team designs and implements cloud technology that matches exact business requirements, whether it be a bespoke CRM (customer relationship management) for sales, marketing or customer service, a business intelligence solution, productivity suite, a company intranet or a flexible cloud phone system. If you’d like to explore the business opportunities available through technology get in touch with Leaf for a free, no obligation assessment of your current IT. Visit www.leaf-it.com


Empowering colleagues to support local communities With a purpose to enable customers, colleagues and communities to thrive, Bank of Ireland UK staff are building on a long history of supporting local charities and community organisations. Ulster Business speaks to Northern Ireland managing director Ian Sheppard, and learns more about how colleagues are being empowered to play an active role in the local communities where they live and work


ank of Ireland UK sees developing its colleagues and helping customers and communities to thrive as part of its DNA, according to Ian Sheppard, managing director in Northern Ireland.

From key charity partnerships, to fundraising, volunteering, sponsorship and more, Ian says the desire for Bank of Ireland UK is to make a positive impact by empowering colleagues to make a difference. “When I speak to my colleagues, I hear how really active and involved they are in their own community,” Ian says. “There are so many examples and I never cease to be amazed by


their passion and commitment. An important partnership for the bank is with Alzheimer’s Society, its flagship charity for the last two years. In that time around £125,000 has been raised in Northern Ireland, but as Ian explains it’s about more than fundraising. “We realised that not only can we help them financially, but there are resources we can share and opportunities we can offer which can help to significantly raise the charity’s profile and raise much needed funds.” One example in which the bank has supported Alzheimer’s Society in this way is through its

own long-running partnership with Ulster Rugby. “We donated our advertising and promotion activity for a televised game at the Kingspan Stadium making the charity ‘Sponsor for a Day’. This included using their logo on the back of the Ulster Rugby jerseys, taking over the pitch side boards and inviting a group of people living with dementia, their family and carers to the game – helping to get their brand message out to not only a stadium with capacity of 18,000 people but to a much wider TV audience.” Alzheimer’s Society sees some fantastic people


Paul Slevin, Alison Mitchell, Ian Sheppard, Sally Irvine, Christine Graham and Paul Magee

There are so many people impacted by dementia and Alzheimers in our local communities, and its touching so many people’s lives, taking this as our motivation, the bank now has almost 1,000 staff trained as Dementia Friends.

giving their time to help others. That’s no clearer than its Side by Side programme, which Bank of Ireland UK helps to fund. The photograph on the front of this edition of the magazine taken at the Grand Opera House in Belfast features Mary Dalzell a Side by Side volunteer, alongside Hazel Whiteside, who has been living with dementia for two years. They share a love of music, theatre and cinema and the Side by Side programme, which re-connects people with dementia to their communities by doing the things they love, has not only put a smile on both their faces but has had a positive impact on their lives.


The bank’s ‘Give Together’ programme means staff can take one day a year to spend the time working with a charity or community organisation of their choice. “This day can involve anything from gardening work to painting a youth centre,” Ian says “Beyond Alzheimer’s Society, colleagues are helping many other organisations such as Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK through its Relay for Life Legenderry, the Wooden Spoon children’s rugby charity, and Space NI, which offers support services in health and social care sectors to the local community.” You can read more about some of the good work colleagues have done further on in this feature. “We are also committed to reflecting the community by developing a diverse and

modern workforce – which is part-and-parcel of a progressive company,” Ian says. “It’s something that current and future employees expect in their employer. For us its part of our DNA, something that’s always been there but we are now putting a clear and visible structure around it,” Ian says. This has included being a founding member of FuSIoN – the Financial Services Inclusion Network which drives to support and promote LGBT+ professionals across the sector, becoming JAM Card members – allowing staff to know if customers with a communication barrier need ‘just a minute’, as well as recently being awarded the Diversity Charter Mark. “Our community involvement is something we are very clear about - something I’m passionate about and it’s an easy ask to get staff engaged. It’s very natural, and it has always been developed from the ground up,” Ian says. He believes this contributes to the huge numbers of staff doing their bit – enabling their own local communities to thrive. ■


COVER STORY ALISON MITCHELL A customer service manager for Bank of Ireland UK in Londonderry, Alison has worked for the bank for 22 years, but her motivation for fundraising and support for Alzheimer’s Society began in 2015, following her mother-in-law’s diagnosis with dementia. Alison trained at her local hospital to become a dementia volunteer and learned so much she asked Alzheimer’s Society to run similar sessions in her own branch to enable staff to better assist customers with dementia. Sadly, Alison’s mother-in-law passed away in May of this year but to mark her passing and to raise vital funds in her memory, Alison took part in Alzheimer’s Society Cupcake Day. Initial plans to simply sell cupcakes within her own branch changed rapidly as colleagues from nearby branches heard of the event and wanted to support both Alison and the charity. Faced with orders for more than 300 cupcakes, Alison requested a Give Together day, which is time given by the bank to both individuals and teams to give back to their communities. Alison says: “I was in the kitchen from 7am to 11pm baking and icing but it was worth it. The event raised £1,750 which Bank of Ireland UK matched doubling the amount raised to £3,500. “I could not have achieved that without the support of family, colleagues and the wider business. I was proud to raise the funds in my mother-in-law’s memory and I am proud to work for an organisation that not only values our role in the wider community but supports it too.”

CHRISTINE GRAHAM Christine Graham has helped to raise funds for Cancer Research UK through the Relay for Life “Legenderry” event held in St. Columb’s Park, Londonderry. The Derry-based senior business manager for Bank of Ireland UK has personally been touched by cancer as she lost two close family members to the disease. Her young great niece was also diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2016 and is now doing well, but seeing the impact a cancer diagnosis has on a family inspired Christine to get involved with the Relay for Life event. “Our event truly is ‘legenderry’,” she says. It is a 24-hour relay race that brings the whole community together to celebrate the lives of cancer survivors, to remember those lost to the disease, to fight back by increasing our knowledge of cancer and

by raising money to fund life-saving cancer research.” In just three years the event has raised over £500,000 for Cancer Research UK with Christine helping to raise £240,000 in 2019 – not only the most successful Relay for Life event in the UK this year but all funds raised in Northern Ireland stays here. Christine values the support she has had from the bank who promote the event to the wider community and from her colleagues who enter teams. “Relay for Life is for all ages and stages, all shapes and sizes,” she says. It’s cross community and intergenerational and the atmosphere every year is electric.” Plans are already underway for Relay for Life 2020 which promises to be another massive event.

PAUL MAGEE Paul Magee, associate director of the corporate banking team, became involved with the Ulster Region Committee for Wooden Spoon, the Children’s Charity of Rugby, five years ago after he successfully completed the charity’s Four Peaks Challenge, reaching the summits of the UK and Ireland’s highest peaks. He is now an active committee member for Wooden Spoon, helping to raise funds to provide life-enhancing experiences for disadvantaged and disabled children. “All funds raised in Ulster stay in the region

and benefit the children here,” Paul says. “For instance, we provided £18,000 to the Mae Murray Foundation to buy specialist equipment for the first fully accessible beach in Ulster at Benone Strand. When we created the access to the beach, one parent was very emotional as he watched his teenage daughter in the sea for the first time. It’s those occasions where we’re responding to a need within the community that makes the effort worthwhile.” Wooden Spoon has funded numerous charity projects, most recently £33,000 for a new

Alison Mitchell and Paul Magee



Christine Graham, Sally Irvine and Paul Slevin

multi-sensory room at Parkview Special School in Lisburn and purchasing a horse for Riding for the Disabled Association in Coleraine, a charity that enhances children’s lives every day. With his passion for and involvement in Wooden Spoon, Paul is grateful for the support Bank of Ireland has given him in his role with the organisation, specifically the corporate banking team who value his dedication to making a difference. He says: “The bank has been fantastic – I appreciate the flexibility the team offers in the lead up to events and my colleagues often attend Wooden Spoon fundraisers. I’ve also benefited from the bank’s Give Together initiative, which offers days of paid leave that employees can use for volunteering. The bank’s support has helped facilitate my commitment to Wooden Spoon, where I can really see and be a part of the impact the charity has on the local community.”

PAUL SLEVIN Branch manager at Bank of Ireland UK in Newry, Paul Slevin is someone who embodies the bank’s ethos of community involvement through his role with the charity Space NI. Space NI offers support services in health and social care sectors to the local community. Through its service Home to Hospital, the organisation has helped 400 elderly people travel to crucial hospital appointments, while its Family Support Hub offers vital assistance to families in distress.


SALLY IRVINE Over the last 10 years Sally Irvine’s coffee mornings have become a highlight in the office calendar, in turn raising more than £15,000 for MacMillan Cancer Support and funding 75 days of specialist nursing care for cancer patients across Northern Ireland. Sally, a business lending and credit governance manager at Bank of Ireland UK, arranged her first Macmillan Coffee Morning in 2008 following a colleague’s cancer diagnosis. She found herself wanting to do something to help people living with cancer and so took the plunge and decided to be a host as part of Macmillan’s biggest coffee morning fundraising event. From the outset, Sally had tremendous support from her team members and the wider business, and this has contributed to the ongoing success of the event.

Paul joined the charity in 2011 and has just completed five years as chairman of the Board of Directors. He is proud that his background in finance has enabled him to support the charity through its repositioning process to ensure that its activities best serve the community. Since Paul’s involvement with the charity began, Space NI has won the ‘One to Watch’ award at NI Social Enterprise Awards and the ‘Community Wellbeing Initiative’ at the All Ireland Pride of Place Awards. The organisation

The bank plays a huge part in ensuring Sally can deliver the event each year by giving her support through their Give Together scheme. Sally says: “The coffee morning has become a very special occasion and a great day of fun where people from across the bank come together to have a wee cuppa and a cake and take time to catch up while raising money for a really important cause. One in two of us will face cancer at some time in our lives and I am passionate about continuing to fundraise to provide the specialist nursing care that’s so vital for those living with cancer.” Plans are already underway for this year’s Macmillan Coffee Morning and Sally is hopeful the annual fundraiser will continue to hold a special place in the office calendar.

has also grown and opened a third premises in Newry and launched a range of volunteer made soy wax candles to raise crucial funds. “Bank of Ireland UK encourage all staff to give back,” Paul says. “Every manager I’ve had was very active in their community, so they were both great role models and great motivators. I think it’s really important to give our time, our expertise, and to do whatever we can to help and support the communities we live and work in.”



Belfast Harbour’s Joe O’Neill: Brexit, development and beyond John Mulgrew sits down with Belfast Harbour chief executive Joe O’Neill to chat about 18 months in charge, a £250m investment, tripling its film studio business, further residential developments, Brexit, attracting new foreign investors and diversification 18



oe O’Neill’s role at the helm of Belfast Harbour will see him steer an ambitious course which will include a £250m investment, two new buildings, major port improvements and tripling the size of what will become the second largest film studio outside of Pinewood. With more than 20 years working at the port, he took over as chief executive from Roy Adair last year, and has now unveiled a five year investment plan – aimed at bringing an additional 7,000 people into working at the estate – and an ambitious scheme reaching out to 2035. “The core port investment is a big part, just under £100m in a range of port assets,” Joe told Ulster Business. “About £40m is in replacing our crane and handling fleet. That is a major investment, a once in a 25year investment. That will bring in a degree of automation. New cranes will have an automated driving capacity. That brings safety benefits.” Further investment at the port will include £15m in a new berth and ramp for two new Stena ferries, which will be introduced at the start of next year and 2021.

The £50m City Quays 3 building is now well under way, and the harbour’s largest to date, with around 250,000 sq ft playing host to around 2,000 workers. Joe says it’s been in discussions with a number of foreign direct investment (FDI) firms, but as a speculative development it needs to get out of the ground first. Next for the commercial property element is City Quays 4 – a build-to-rent scheme with around 250 apartments. Joe says it hopes to submit planning at the start of next year and is also seeking an operator, with work complete by 2021. “We are doing a lot of market research into that marketplace, and then an operator thereafter. There are quite a few developers. No one has delivered something of scale yet.” Trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves, City Quays 5 and 6 – part of an initial


masterplan – will be under review as to what those buildings will end up being. At this stage, it’s looking like further residential plans are in the pipeline. “From market demand perspective and alignment with Belfast Agenda, we could probably bring forward further residential schemes,” he says. He says work is also due to start soon on its joint venture with Titanic Quarter to build the Olympic House office development. Joe also has now revealed it’s planning to spend £35m on tripling the size of its film studios, which are currently home to Warner Bros. The initial scheme represented a £22m investment. “We will scale that up, treble scale size and increase the production size to just under 300,000 sq ft. That makes us the second largest studio outside of Pinewood. “That’s been driven by NI Screen to become the largest media hub outside London. That’s a £35m investment.” And moving on to the UK’s exit from the EU, Joe says “Brexit has not be cited to us as a reason why people are delaying” investment. He said the £250m investment had a “Brexit lens” applied to it, but that it didn’t have a significant impact on the overall development plans. Breaking down what leaving the EU means for an organisation which still counts its port activities as its core business, around 70% is cross-channel, UK trade – moving between ports in Scotland and England. A further 16% comes from outside the EU, Joe says. “We have a lot of our coal and feed products coming from South America, where there are tried and trusted customs procedures in place. “That leaves a small amount, about 12 % with other EU nations. Our port supply chain family say they should be able to manage any additional customs clearance complexities.”

Talk of a potential Irish Sea border could have some effect, though, with checks likely to be introduced. “Yeah. It depends on the checks,” he says. “There is a lot of commentary around what can move freely. We are extensively involved in the various preparatory groups at government and regional level around that.” Like most, anything that keeps trade as closely aligned to the current arrangements in place is the favourable choice for Joe. “If there is to be any dip in the performance in the Northern Ireland economy, that would have an impact on our business,” Joe says. Of course, he wants to see an Executive up and running, but says the harbour’s shorter term plans don’t need a minister in place for development or any sign off. The harbour’s ambitious growth plans are boiled down to five areas: a growing port, smart port, green port, connected port and developing an economic waterfront for the city. Longer term, connectivity is key and core to the harbour’s goals – bringing a closer and stronger connection between the estate, and the edge of the city centre, through public transport and cycling in particular. Joe says public realm and ‘green’ space remains a key element of its development plans, and it’s not just about putting up grey, concrete buildings. He wants to create an “iconic waterfront” as part of the harbour. And while Joe says the harbour’s bread and butter of goods coming and going, with tonnage sitting at around 24 million tonnes a year, it will see “modest” growth in the coming years. But he says it’s looking at long term diversification in the types of goods being handled, as products such as oil and coal are declining industries – with a gradual shift towards a growing gas network. ■



Employers must invest in skills to make the most of automation By John Moore, Hays Northern Ireland


lot has been written about the threat automation could pose to some traditional jobs which are likely to become obsolete because of new advances in technology.

Of course, those sort of scare stories make for better headlines than reporting that automation, if done well, shouldn’t simply replace people but should increase productivity by freeing them up to add value in other ways that artificial intelligence can’t. But in our annual ‘What Workers Want’ report it became clear that there is a real appetite amongst both employers and employees to use new technology to improve productivity. Almost three quarters of Northern Ireland employers and employees said digital transformation is a key focus for their organisation, while 61% of employers said they are investing in or planning to invest in automation. Around half of respondents believe automation would allow people to add greater ‘human value’ to their organisation.

to implementing new technology and 33% said they are already experiencing moderate to severe skills shortages when trying to hire people who have the right skills. Only 7% of organisations said they had access to all the skills needed to make best use of automation technology. Close to half (48%) of the firms who recognised skills gaps in their businesses said they were missing both technical and soft skills. The biggest technical skills gaps within existing teams were reported in project (56%) and change management (59%), followed by analytics (56%). When looking at soft skills, the top gaps within existing teams for employers are critical thinking and people management (both 61%), followed closely by problem-solving (58%). The top technical skills in short supply when hiring new staff are data science (59%), data analytics (56%) and engineering (53%). For soft skills, emotional intelligence is shortest in supply (55%), followed by problem solving (48%) and critical thinking (42%).

But, despite this good will towards automation and the fact that most have digital transformation plans underway or in mind, most admitted to us that they are lacking the skills needed to get the full benefits from new technology.

The focus on soft skills from employers is largely driven by automation reducing administrative tasks from workers, enabling greater human value to shine through.

We surveyed more than 14,500 respondents across the UK, with more than 500 responses from those working in Northern Ireland. The research found that employers are struggling to find the right blend of technical and soft skills to support implementation.

Personally, I think it is very encouraging that employers are taking the chance to invest in automation and also that workers believe automation will let people contribute more of value to an organisation. But it is also a concern that employers currently lack access to the right skills to make the best use of this technology.

Some 56% of all employers expect a lack of skills among their current staff to be a barrier


To overcome those skills shortages employers

will need to adapt their recruitment strategies to focus not only on technical skills and qualifications but also hiring professionals who have the right soft skills and the open mindset needed to make automation and digital transformation a success. These are soft skills like critical thinking, communication and emotional intelligence, which have been overlooked by some in the past. Employers also need to consider different recruitment channels and techniques they can utilise to engage with the right professionals, and ensure they are promoting their investment in automation. Candidates told us that is actually appealing to hear a prospective employer talking about how and why it is investing in digital transformation and automation. It’s a selling point because it shows that the employer is forward thinking and prepared to embrace change. It is, therefore, something you can’t afford to ignore. ■


Outlining opportunities on the horizon, Alastair Todd, Chris Milligan, and Mark Jameson, partners on the Arthur Cox property team, provide an analysis of the local property market

Chris Milligan, Alastair Todd, and Mark Jameson

Signs of positivity remain in property sector


oncerns around Brexit and the ongoing political impasse at Stormont continue to impact all sectors of the Northern Ireland economy, including the property market. As a result, statistical analysis of the local sector reveals a mixed picture but there are signs of positivity ahead.

The government’s Residential Property Price Index (RPPI) for example reported a 3.5% rise in house prices in the second quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2018. Data from UK Finance meanwhile illustrated a year-on-year increase in all mortgage loan types in the three months to June, including a 4.1% rise in loans to first-time buyers. Future sentiment is more subdued however, with the most recent Ulster University Quarterly House Price Index describing a “slow but lethargic” market. Meanwhile, the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) has warned the Northern Ireland construction sector may have “already entered recession”. Following a survey of its members, the organisation said conditions were the most challenging since 2012. It may appear a gloomy outlook but there are emerging signs of buoyancy in some sub-sectors


of the market, notably the private rented sector.

scheme in the east of the city

The Belfast City Region Deal, an investment package that it is anticipated will amount to £1bn, will of course have a major and positive impact on the local property market.

The projects will go some way to reversing a trend which has seen the population of Belfast city centre in steady decline since 1971, now resting at its lowest level since the 1890s.

Combined with Belfast City Council’s ambitious plans to encourage 66,000 more people to live in the city centre over the next 15 years – which will require around 30,000 additional homes – there is a major opportunity ahead.

In a global context, Belfast is late to follow the ‘build to rent’ path and, although we anticipate further schemes to be proposed in the coming months and years, significant challenges must be met in order for the sector to truly flourish.

The private rented sector is responding, evidenced in an increasing appetite for ‘build to rent’ schemes with several multi-million-pound projects in the planning. Essentially, ‘build to rent’ developments are constructed with the sole intention of offering the apartments for rent, with ownership retained by the developers so as to generate long term revenue which can be held or sold on for investment. A proposal by Belfast Harbour to incorporate a 250-apartment ‘build to rent’ scheme to its City Quays development is the latest such scheme to be announced for the city. Elsewhere, Lacuna Developments and Welsh firm Watkin Jones have plans for a £15m apartment building in the Cathedral Quarter while Vinder Capital and Oisin Quinn of Aldgate Developments have proposed a £25m

For example, there has already been industry calls for greater investment in essential infrastructure, particularly sewerage and water works. There are also potential pinch points to progress within the planning and taxation regimes in the jurisdiction. Developers meanwhile will possibly seek to enhance future schemes with the addition of facilities such as concierge services, gyms or coffee shops, that may entice the demographic most likely to be attracted to city centre living. ■ With extensive knowledge of the local property market and a deep understanding of the various avenues to finance available to investors and developers, Arthur Cox is well placed to advice those operating or seeking to expand their interest in the sector. Please call 028 9023 0007 for further information from Alastair, Chris, Mark, or your regular Arthur Cox contact.

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MARCH 2019


Brexit, the Bank of England and a blow to sterling Ulster Business take a look at what impact a slowing economy, impacted by Brexit uncertainty, will have on future interest rates, and whether we’re heading towards currency exchange parity with our European neighbours




hen it all boils down to it, when speaking about the general economic landscape, the average member of the public wants to know two things – is my mortgage going to go down and how much is my jug of sangria going to cost this summer?

An unprecedented political UK and EU-wide political flux, caused by the vote for Brexit and the ensuing uproar and methods which are trying to be utilised to push it through, means we remain in a stasis of seemingly

unending uncertainty. We’ve already seen the pound collapse, on more than one occasion, against the euro and the dollar, often following the latest outburst from the man (or others) in charge (or formerly). The question is for many, are we heading towards parity with our eurozone neighbours as the political shift heads towards the cliff? We’re also trying not to use the ‘R’ word. Meanwhile, this summer, the Bank of England said it expects economic growth to be flat in the second quarter of the year, while keeping UK interest rates on hold at 0.75%. But predicting where those interest rates will go in the

coming months is something which economists would prefer not to have to put down in black in white. “Rarely has there been a time when it has been so hard to predict the future path of interest rates,” Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist with the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre told Ulster Business. “In previous decades much of what characterises the UK economy at the moment (record lows for unemployment and highs for unemployment allied to upwards pressures with respect to wages and prices) would point to interest rate increases. In fact, throughout the last decades, Bank of England rates have stubbornly remained at historic lows.” He says the Bank’s Governor, Mark Carney, has sometimes been criticised for giving too much ‘forward guidance” – and by speaking so much, so often and sometimes by “changing his position relative to earlier statements about what might happen to interest rates he seems to have upset rather than calmed the markets”. He says one scenario is a “financial and balance of payments crisis, the value of the pound slumps alarmingly, prices rise given increased import costs and capital flows into the UK falter”. He said the Bank “might respond by raising rates from their current 0.75% level”. >




Turning to currency, the pound is (as I type this) worth €1.13. But is it headed further downwards? Alan Bridle is chief economist with Bank of Ireland UK. He says “while the near-term risks for sterling remain to the downside and it is difficult to envisage a meaningful recovery in its value until some of the political turbulence subsides, there are indications that the market is already carrying significant ‘short positions’ in anticipation of possible future events”.

Dr Esmond Birnie

“Another scenario is a macroeconomic recession. As increased uncertainty leads to reduced consumption and investment spending in the UK the MPC responds by cutting rates. Admittedly, at 0.75% they cannot go down very much further.

“In due course, some of these positions will be closed out with increased volatility the only certainty. It is also worth recalling that short term movements in any exchange rate are really a picture of a playground see-saw – over time, the relative attractiveness of holding the currency at the other end will be subject to change too.”


Looking at rates, generally, Conor Lambe, chief economist with Danske Bank, says “the outlook for UK interest rates over the rest of 2019 is highly dependent on how the Brexit process plays out”. “Assuming that a no-deal Brexit is avoided, I expect the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee to keep interest rates on hold at 0.75% for the rest of this year.

“Of course, no one can say with confidence how likely those two scenarios are or the likelihood of a much more benign Brexit scenario where there is minimal impact on interest rates. “Turning to longer term considerations, while it is very obvious that UK monetary policy over the period since bank crisis in 2008 has been very unusual does this imply that we should envisage a fairly rapid return to ‘normal’? Indeed, what now is normal with respect to levels of interest rates?”

Conor Lambe

Alan Bridle

“Inflation in July came in at 2.1% and over the year to date, UK CPI inflation has averaged 2.0% – which is in line with the Bank of England’s target. In addition, the UK economy is not firing on all cylinders, with GDP having contracted in the second quarter of the year and only modest growth expected over 2019 as a whole. Given this backdrop, I think that interest rates will finish the year unchanged from where they are now.” ■


The changing landscape of SME banking disputes


ollowing some significant changes in the banking and finance industry in the last year – namely the launch of a voluntary dispute resolution scheme (DRS) for complaints brought by large SMEs and the expansion of the Financial Ombudsman Service’s (FOS) jurisdiction to include SMEs of a certain size – there are two contrasting scenarios that could reflect the shape of things to come for lenders.

Scenario one: eruption Claims management companies are rumoured to have been stockpiling complainants and the recent changes provide a comprehensive outlet for them to go “live”. The resources required to deal with this; the claims management industry’s involvement; and the outcomes, final decisions and appeals may quickly and significantly change the landscape for commercial complaints. That could however sow fertile ground for SME lending in the long run, as trust and confidence between SMEs and lenders strengthens and funding provision increases. Scenario two: tectonic shift In this scenario, as the FOS, DRS and claims management industry drive firms to manage commercial complaints similarly to retail complaints, there is a steady flow and the two areas move closer together until they share the same resources within firms, complaints handling rules and independent resolution schemes. In the longer term, formal regulation in the retail space could extend across to capture commercial lending and the merging of the two landscapes would be complete. What is likely to happen? Ultimately, the future will adopt elements of both and look different for different lenders, product areas, types and sizes of SMEs and depend on a multitude of other external factors.


Katharine Kimber

From what we have seen so far, the FOS extension hasn’t resulted in a deluge of complaints and it remains to be seen what impact the DRS will have. More likely than a sudden and dramatic increase in complaints is the steady flow reflected in scenario two. As regards the “tectonic shift”, although firms’ and the FOS’s own resources may overlap to enhance efficiencies in the longer term, the extension of regulation in the retail space to include commercial lending is still very much up in the air. Of course, there is a third scenario which we might call equilibrium but stakeholders agree this is highly unlikely given the various

risks and pressures involved. Firms will need to stay at the forefront of developments so that they can not only plan ahead on an informed and strategic basis, but also input into how the landscape should look in the future. However change comes, it will be an improvement in the long term, engendering increased trust and confidence between SMEs and lenders and creating a more efficient and robust environment for commercial lending. ■ Katharine Kimber is partner and location head for TLT in Northern Ireland and can be contacted at katharine.kimber@tltsolicitors.com or on 0333 006 0014


Resilience and opportunity in the face of uncertainty In the latest in a series of Ulster Bank dinners we headed north to Londonderry to speak with North West business leaders from across the sectors about challenges, opportunities and a post-Brexit economy


esilience and a strong sense of positivity appear to be a clear ethos among many in Londonderry’s business community and the greater North West region.

In a room filled with a wide swathe of the region’s businesses, it’s clear that while Brexit could prove extremely damaging if a deal is not secured, there remain opportunities for one of the few regions straddling the border. Developing, boosting and growing the university, thinking of the area as a ‘region’ rather than just a city – attracting those from Donegal and further afield – remains a key driver. That means a catchment grows around three times, taking in a potential workforce of around 350,000 people.

Leadership raises it head once again, and as a result, the frustration that Northern Ireland and the UK’s politicians are not listening to businesses, and that companies and industry bodies here are having to pick up the mantle and provide a voice for communities. The overwhelming concerns, setting to one side for the immediacy of Brexit, remains Northern Ireland’s lack of political representation – something which drew a few harsh words from those around the table. Regarding Brexit, the agri-sector and farming is likely to be one of the those areas most affected by changes to cross-border trading. It was clear from those in the industry that a ‘no deal’ could see businesses and farms shut

as a result. And for hospitality, retaining and then attracting new EU workers, remains the sector’s biggest hurdle. Looking towards the tech industry in Derry, which is on an upwards spiral – Catalyst’s Innovation Centre in the city playing host to some of the leading lights – companies are struggling to get the right ‘talent’ through the door, and losing workers to Belfast, the Republic and further afield. And part of that is the huge level of wage inflation – in some cases rising by around 20% among certain technology companies in Derry and across Northern Ireland, while another firm has around 25 positions currently open, but continues to struggle to get the right people through the door. And for some of those in burgeoning sectors such as technology, the sense is that firms should think big when it comes to how many people they wish to employ. Grow to a workforce of 50? Why not make it 500? The further development of the university is also key in both retaining potential students in the North West area, but also bringing in hundreds and thousands from neighbouring regions in the Republic – something which a smaller city such as Galway has managed to do, and thus, thrive. That was described as ‘one of the fundamental building blocks’ of growing a small city. It’s also not about ‘fighting against Belfast’, but making the city both an attractive place for locals to stay, study and work, and attract



Guests at the Ulster Bank dinner which was held at the City Hotel

those from neighbouring regions to the North West. Infrastructure is a topic never far away from the debate when dealing with Derry. And while the roads and public transport system is improving, the consensus is the city’s airport – which is subsidised – remains a crucial link to the rest of the UK, the Republic and further afield. With Brexit, Derry potentially has a chance to see a silver lining in otherwise dark clouds. If a deal can be struck to maintain freedom of movement and trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic, Derry would be one of the few areas in which a city here hugs the border. “We could come out of this better than we came in to it,” one business leader told guests. will continue on, adapting and surviving. The city and its businesses have a strong air of positivity. The Derry region, while on the wrong end of the table when it comes to unemployment levels and other economic metrics, ranks highly on personal wellbeing and happiness indexes. One leader in business for around 40 years remains positive that, regardless of what Brexit will bring – negative or positive – companies


The Derry and Strabane City Deal will bring a total combined chest of around £100m to the region, providing a much needed economic boost, which could include the establishment of a new university medical education and innovation hub. Looking further and beyond Brexit, securing a trade deal is key to ensure the region prospers

and potentially strengthens its relationship with bordering counties. It’s also about further job creation, developing the university and a clear economic strategy. The key message, however, is that Derry and the North West is a city and region which has endured tough times before, but there remains a strong sense of survival and a resilience among businesses and the community as a whole. ■



Family business: how to plan for the future As a family business, planning for the next generation isn’t easy. But Martin Cowie, partner, private business lead at PwC, looks at all the options open to you when considering succession and the next steps for your company


ere in Northern Ireland we have a proud heritage of family-owned businesses. Businesses that have grown and developed with every generation, morphing and flexing their products, services and working practices to remain competitive.

And it’s not easy. Family businesses, no matter what their size have a unique – and often volatile – mix of personal family dynamics, business strategy and ownership criteria that can create an emotionally charged environment. This can make decision-making, not to mention day-to-day management, challenging. Let’s add succession into this mix. To steal a quote from Oscar Wilde: ‘The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.’ Joking aside, as the current generation ages and the next generation are looking to their future – be that in the business or not – succession can present as a real headache. Planning for succession and business continuity between generations isn’t easy. And with personal agendas, it’s

understandable that the sensitive nature of passing a life’s work to ‘the kids’– is one conversation many want to avoid. But it can’t be avoided forever – one day the question of succession will be upon family business owners regardless. The more progressive businesses are discussing this on a regular basis and giving themselves plenty of time to plan for the future. There are a few things that all family business should be thinking about if you are passing or receiving the baton. Consider a family constitution Many family businesses I’ve worked with recognise that a little structure can be extremely helpful when it comes time to discuss sensitive issues. Family constitutions are a great starting point and, whilst not a panacea for every problem, can prevent potential family conflict in the future. It sets out the rights, values, responsibilities and rules applying to stakeholders in the family business and provides plans and structures to deal with situations which arise in the course of the family business operation. For example, how you handle conflict resolution; what happens when a shareholder dies, divests or divorces; and what’s the plan for managing succession of board members? Creating a family constitution is not a guarantee of business success. It won’t make conflict go away in the family. Instead, a family constitution is a living, documented mechanism to reduce the ill effects of conflict and uncertainty. It should force the members of the family to consider what is most important to them and, critically, how


to live out those values in their personal and professional lives. Keep talking The powerful combination of the wealth of experience of the current generation and the new ideas and visions of the next generation can pay dividends. Very often there can be a disconnect between the current and next generation’s priorities. The next generation often wants to make their mark – possibly to overhaul the existing business model, develop new products and services, or explore new technologies. Embracing that enthusiasm early on will build trust and mutual respect. Make plans for succession, don’t drift into it. It’s important for founders and owners to have a strong idea of where they want the business to be in the future and that could mean the next two decades, not simply three to five years. Defining both a business plan and a succession plan provides protection in unforeseen situations and means a more effective transfer of wealth to the generations that follow. Perhaps the next generation wishes to pursue a different career, perhaps there is no clear successor. Succession discussions may be difficult but, to protect the future of the business, they shouldn’t be avoided. Let them earn their stripes The next generation need to earn their stripes and having spoken with many next gen, it’s clear that they do feel the pressure to prove themselves in their own right. One of the best ways to do this is formal training and qualifications earned outside the family business, coupled with work experience. Don’t


Martin Cowie

always be in a rush to embed them in the family business. What they learn from other organisations and that life experience is incredibly valuable when they return to the fold. Consider appointing a non-family nonexecutive director (NEDs) NEDs can bring a different dimension and challenge function to the family business board as well as relevant experience and access to influential networks. They can help owners separate the company needs from the family needs, in a non-emotive


way. They bring objectivity, an ‘outsidein’ point of view and can be invaluable in helping smooth the transition to the next generation. Our latest Family Business survey revealed that only 12% of family-owned businesses thrive and survive beyond the third generation and an all-too-frequent pitfall is a lack of innovation. Fresh thinking from an outside source can make the difference. No good company can survive without multiple perspectives at the table and non-family NEDs are certainly an attractive option.

Family businesses deal with a host of complex challenges that other businesses don’t. The key to having a successful business which is family-owned comes down to the way you manage the family. Everyone in the business is playing multiple roles – mother, chief executive, brother, trustee – and critical decisions can have lifelong implications. Outside advice can help people to see beyond the intricate web of family relationships, and give space to fresh ideas and creative thinking. Preparing the path ahead is essential and at the heart of this is communication. ■



Growing in the alternative lending market Conor Devine MRICS has grown his GDP Partnership business significantly in the last eight years, and is now lending around £3m each month to Northern Ireland businesses. And despite uncertainty and choppy economic waters, he’s predicting further growth ahead


n the space of just three years, Conor Devine’s businesses have facilitated more than £150m of new loans to businesses right across Northern Ireland.

GDP Partnership, formed by Conor and James Gibbons, has been on the go since 2011 and includes two businesses – GDP Equity Experts, a debt solutions team, and alternative lending business Clearpath Finance. “In the last three years Clearpath Finance has facilitated more than £150m of new business loans into the Northern Ireland economy which is something we are very proud of,” Conor says “Up until the summer of 2018, we didn’t really see any impact on this business from Brexit, however around that time we noticed the high street banks were starting to pull back from lending to the SME community, and certainly over more recent times, all of our lending partners in that business, would now have huge concerns around Brexit, what might happen, and what impact it might have on the ability of borrowers to honour their commitments. “At the moment we are facilitating in the


region of £2m to £3m of new business loans every month, from a wide variety of lenders, mostly from the alternative space. “We have also seen an uplift in the amount of funding we are placing on behalf of our private family office clients, which has been another interesting development in the last 12 months.” That’s happening with the unease and uncertainty since the vote for Brexit – now more than three years ago. “I do get a sense quite a number of things are on hold right now, and when we do get a solution and some clarity around Brexit, many of these deals, will be pushed through which will hopefully be followed with quite a bit of activity in the lending market right across Ireland and the UK,” Conor says. With debt advisory business GDP Equity Experts, Conor says over the last 18 months “business has started to become really active again”. “The uncertainty that has come with Brexit, deal or no deal, has certainly increased the workload for this part of our business,” he says.

Looking at the landscape and challenges ahead, Conor, like many in the business community, says a lack of working Executive remains the biggest obstacle. “This is a major issue for a range of reasons and in particular from a business perspective, our ability to attract genuine foreign direct investment (FDI),” he says. “Businesses like stability and generally don’t like to invest in areas certainly where there is no working government. “I would have real concerns at present as we have seen a number of international firms pack up and leave Northern Ireland in the last few years “In relation to Brexit, it’s very difficult to quantify the actual impact of this but suffice to say it has been hugely negative. “One of the other major concerns I have always had around Brexit, was that Northern Ireland firms might feel the need from a risk mitigation perspective, to invest in their operations in Europe, for example in the Republic of Ireland. “The bottom line being we need more of our


James Gibbons and Conor Devine

indigenous private companies investing in NI and to attract more FDI as opposed to our more successful companies deciding to invest in the Republic of Ireland. One way me might be able to stop this trend developing further is to make sure we can guarantee the business community certainty and some form of continuity, and that has to start with having a working Executive at Stormont.” With his business Clearpath Finance, Conor says the market is opening up when it comes to lending, with companies utilising alternative sources. “We know that the UK’s alternative finance


sector continues to grow at break-neck pace, with the total value of the alternative finance market in the UK coming in at £6.2bn at year end 2017, according to data compiled by the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance,” he says. “It is believed that the market has continued to grow given the number of new entrants including technology banks and platforms over the last 24 months. “A perfect example of this is when we started our own business in 2016, we had one alternative lender on our books, and the concern I had at that time, was really how successful I would be in persuading other

lenders to follow suit and invest in the NI economy through local SMEs. “Fast forward three years and we now have more than 50 different lenders on our own books at our headquarters in Belfast. This is obviously very good news for our local economy and continues to provide our local businesses with the liquidity they need to grow their businesses.” ■ Conor Devine MRICS, is a founding partner of GDP Partnership which owns GDP Equity Experts and alternative lending platform Clearpath Finance, based in Belfast, Dublin and Manchester. For more information visit www.gdpequityexperts.co.uk and www. clearpathfinance.com



Unemployment levels reach record low in NI


orthern Ireland’s unemployment rate has reached a new record low as the level of employment here is also on the rise.

The latest official stats from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) show the unemployment rate fell to 2.8% between May and July this year. That’s down from a previous low of 2.9% earlier this year. Meanwhile, the number of people aged between 16 and 64 increased by 0.7% during the quarter, reaching 72%. And while Northern Ireland’s rate of economic inactivity remains significantly higher than in other regions, it decreased to 25.8% during the same period. The overall NI unemployment rate sits below the UK average of 3.8%, with the Republic of Ireland on 4.6% and the EU average 6.3%. “The total number of seasonally adjusted employee jobs in June 2019 was estimated at a record high of 778,890,” according to NISRA. “This was an increase of 1,380 jobs over the quarter and 14,020 jobs over the year.


“The number of confirmed redundancies, 1,777, in the most recent 12 months was lower than the previous 12 months (2,881). There were 121 confirmed redundancies notified to the department in August 2019, an increase from the total of 109 notified in July 2019.” NISRA says that “businesses and households continue to report improvements in the labour market, with the unemployment rate estimated at the lowest on record, the employment rate at the second highest on record and employee jobs at a record high”.

warning signs in the economy which shouldn’t be ignored. She said “while the positive employment figures should be welcomed, demonstrating the adaptability of Northern Ireland SMEs who continue to create jobs in a difficult climate, there are other warning signs that all is not well in the local economy”. “Data released has shown that business startups in Northern Ireland have decreased by 15% in 2018.

“Businesses reported via the Quarterly Employment Survey that employee jobs increased over the quarter and year to a record high of 778,890 jobs.

“Meanwhile, other research has shown output is down across all sectors of the economy, with manufacturing and construction particularly hit.

“This continues a period of quarter on quarter growth from December 2015. Although increases were seen in all broad industry sectors over the year, the services sector continues to account for the majority of growth.”

“In this context, FSB has called on the Chancellor to bring forward an emergency budget to help stimulate the economy, by using measures such as cutting VAT and employers National Insurance contributions.

Responding to the jobs figures released, which show that private sector jobs are at an all-time high, while the unemployment rate is at its lowest on record, FSB NI policy chairwoman, Tina McKenzie said that there are other

“However, the best way politicians can rebuild confidence among local businesses is to find agreement which avoids a no-deal Brexit and restore devolved government so decisions can be made and key projects advanced.” ■

Commercial property & construction Sponsored by

MARCH 2019



Challenges and constructing the next generation How is the construction and property sector faring in Northern Ireland, and what’s being done to attract and train the next generation of top, talented workers across the industry? John Mulgrew finds out


s Belfast’s commercial landscape continues to grow on an almost month-by-month basis, it remains an industry with its own unique challenges ahead.

Almost two thirds of Northern Ireland construction firms believe the industry at home will worsen in the next 12 months, while a quarter believe it will stay the same.

overcoming perceived misconceptions about the industry. There’s already been somewhat alarming figures and language coming from the economists, and from the construction sector itself – even going as far as speaking of growing fears of local construction recession. “The skills challenge facing the local construction sector is nothing new,” David Fry, executive assistant director of the Construction Employers Federation told Ulster Business.

Since the recession in 2008, the success stories among Northern Ireland’s biggest construction firms have largely been outside these shores, with giants of the industry such as Graham and Gilbert Ash carrying out the majority of their larger contracts in Great Britain, or further afield.

“Survey after survey since the recession of 2008 has shown a steady decline in the numbers engaged in the industry as well as the number of new entrants.

But what does that mean for the next generation of workers within construction, civil engineering and property? Like other industries, it boils down to a skills shortage, a clear and direct path to employment, and

“There are, of course, a number of fundamentals at play. That includes the perceived attractiveness of the industry as a career, uncertain workstreams, competition against other sectors where work is more


sustainable and pay, although not necessarily true, more attractive, the industry’s growing mental health challenge and the rate of retirement among existing workers.” David says while the industry faces “massive hurdles in order to deliver on the ambitions of Government and the needs of our society and economy”, much of its work is focused on making sure that the steady stream of work for contractors is there. “While it will be forever impossible to ‘buck’ the market, we can unquestionably achieve greater sustainability in public sector investment (which still makes up over half of construction turnover locally) by taking bold decisions on how we fund our public services, how we open up new channels of investment, and how the private and public sectors can better work together to de-risk projects to get them off the ground.” One of those who is now working to develop >





Karen Pollock, Noel Lavery, Richard Kirk, Jenny Green and Robert Magill

workforces of the future is Richard Kirk. The former regional director of the Institution of Civil Engineers, he’s now behind Workplus – helping groups of employers meet their talent demand through apprenticeships. “There was a need in the business community, for small and micro businesses to work together,” he told Ulster Business. “When Stephen Farry was Employment Minister, he was very clear on his strategy, like countries such as Germany and Austria – occupational areas and development.” Richard is now working on the “demand side” of the employment equation, working with industries to develop apprenticeships in a raft of roles, including professional and technical. “On supply side, I have good connections with schools. It’s about making parents, teachers and careers advisors aware – this is how you can continue your education and get in to work. No fees, a salary, and the first step.” So far it’s helped create around 100 apprentices across a range of roles, including


quantity surveying, fintech, HR and accounting. The next step is moving towards a ‘UCAS’ system – used by students to applying for universities colleges – for apprenticeships, allowing young people and their parents greater, clearer, access to what’s out there. The criteria allows everyone from a 16-yearold just finished school, to someone seeking a career change, the ability to begin an apprenticeship. “There are different entry and exit points, and it’s not just a cul-de-sac,” Richard says. “You could leave school after 16 with five GCSEs, start with a company, then progress on, getting a foundation degree and then a master’s.” Looking closer at the construction and property sector, David Fry also says part of the responsibility of the organisation and firms within it is helping to reverse or change any negative perception of the construction sector – promoting the industry as “one which has tremendously worthwhile and fulfilling careers that are well paid and provide anyone with the opportunity to go the whole way

from, apprenticeship to setting up your own company”. “Great work is already being done by organisations like Workplus which, through its growing variety of employer-led apprenticeship programmes, is directly meeting industry’s needs as well as targeting young people in the right way and at the right time. “The further evolution of this kind of model is critical – however crucial to this is the need for the industry to have greater awareness as to its own role. “Gone are the days when industry could say that it was the role of Government alone to provide it with the talent that it needs. In the modern economic model that is evolving, the sector has to be the driver. It has to look subjectively at how it currently funds training, recruitment and upskilling. “It has to critically consider how the current main contractor/supply chain relationship impacts on this. If it does not, then the sector must also realise that no one is coming to save it.” ■


Landscape for surveying is evolving in NI By Richard McCaig, associate director with Osborne King


am sure we have all been at a social event and asked ‘what do you do?’. My response, ‘I am a chartered surveyor’ is regularly greeted by ‘oh’ followed by a blank stare and instant regret that they asked. When I expand and say that I sell and let commercial property, mostly offices, there is a look of relief and in most cases a follow on regarding the latest press announcement of a new build scheme.

I wouldn’t say I always wanted to be a chartered surveyor, but I always had an interest in property. Like many people there was a family influence with my father running his own quantity surveying practice. Often what was presented as a trip to the north coast on a Sunday was often a site inspection in disguise, much to my mum’s despair. The traditional career path to surveying in Northern Ireland has typically been A-levels followed by an RICS accredited degree course at Ulster University. Like many I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do, but thankfully I steered away from a more general business degree. I always had a general interest in property and combined with my A-level choices of business studies, IT and geography, the then titled property investment and development degree course at Jordanstown at least seemed interesting. It was a four year course with the third year being a placement in commercial practice, which I completed at Osborne King and was fortunate enough to be offered a full time position once I had completed my degree. Since I started my surveying career some 12 years ago, the wider employment opportunities in Northern Ireland have changed massively. Many of my peers having graduated in 2007 walked straight into the financial downturn and as a result headed to London, Dubai etc for job opportunities that simply didn’t exist here. With NI having now become an established location for the tech sector and many global brands setting up office functions here, it’s fantastic that university graduates have the opportunity of world class employers such as Allstate, First Derivatives and Kainos on their doorstep. That in turn brings challenges for surveying in terms of attracting talented people to the profession and ensuring that local firms can recruit effectively. Ulster University is still the most typical route for graduates into commercial property with the ‘real estate’ degree attracting in the region of 25 students each year at present. The


university staff work hard to retain good links with commercial practice and the changing needs of employers. It is now also more common for students to start out at Belfast Met completing a two year foundation degree which allows them to progress into the second year of the various built environment courses on offer at Ulster University. Additionally, the university now offers a Master’s degree which allows those holding a degree in another subject to change career paths and work toward becoming a chartered surveyor on completion of the course. Osborne King have already recruited from both of these avenues in 2019. Generally I think commercial property suits people who are relatively practical and good people skills are important. All of the typical pathways have an element of practical working experience within the course. In my opinion there is no better way to work out if you actually like what the job entails, but also it gives you direct contact with employers from the outset. I enjoy the fact that each property is different, so while my day to day work can be similar, it’s never the same. Working within the commercial property sector exposes you to a wide range of industries, businesses and projects which keeps things interesting. Personally, it’s great to have first-hand involvement with the expanding office sector and the growing number of occupiers in NI. ■ Richard McCaig MRICS is an associate director with Osborne King. He can be contacted on 028 90 27 0000 and richard.mccaig@osborneking.com or follow on Twitter at @OsborneKingNI


NI businesses urged to act now to continue receiving personal data after Brexit


igital Secretary Nicky Morgan is urging businesses to get ready for Brexit and act now to continue receiving personal data legally from the EU or European Economic Area (EEA). When the UK leaves the EU, it will become what is known as a ‘third country’ under the EU’s data protection laws. This means that UK and EU/EEA organisations will need to take necessary action to ensure that personal data transfers from organisations in Europe to the UK are lawful. The benefits of taking action now means UK


organisations won’t be at risk of losing access to the personal data they need to operate such as names, addresses or payroll details.

need to update your contracts with European suppliers or partners to continue receiving this data legally after Brexit.

Businesses and organisations should review their contracts relating to these personal data flows. Where absent, they need to update their contracts with additional clauses so that they can continue to receive personal data legally from the EU/EEA after Brexit.

“So I am urging all businesses and organisations to check and ensure they are ready for Brexit.

For most organisations, this will not be expensive and will not always require specialist advice. Digital Secretary, Nicky Morgan said: “If you receive personal data from the EU, you may

“There are simple safeguards you can put in place by following the guidance available. UK and EU businesses should get on the front foot and act now to avoid any unnecessary disruption.” ■ To understand what you need to do, go to gov. uk/brexit-personal-data to get ready for Brexit


Listed Belfast building to become new boutique hotel By John Mulgrew


listed Belfast building could become a new hotel and restaurant as part of wider plans for a £500m revamp of the city centre.

Tribeca Belfast, formerly Royal Exchange, will see UK developer Castlebrooke planning to redevelop much of the north side of the city centre. It’s made a number of amendments and changes to the development, most notably revising back from a formerly retail-led scheme to one with fewer shops. As part of the revised plans it wants to turn the listed former Assembly Rooms building at the corner of North Street and Waring Street into a new 50-bedroom hotel, with a restaurant and bars. That would involve knocking down part of the newer extension to the building, including the rear part of the former Northern Bank and the adjacent 7-9 North Street to “accommodate the new extension to form the proposed boutique hotel”. “The proposals for the existing building are similar in scope to that which was included as part of the extant approval. It is proposed

What the wider Tribeca plans could look like

to conservatively repair the existing historic fabric of the former Northern Bank,” a design statement says. A feature of the proposed extension is “that the interface with the rear (north) elevation of the existing listed bank building will be improved by setting back the footprint of the proposed extension so that the north west corner of the original building is readable”. The scheme includes the re-use and adaptation of the existing building as well as an extension on the footprint of the existing 1950s extension on North Street. The extension will be set over five floors, with

a rooftop bar, while upper floors are set back with metal cladding to the facades to “reduce the overall massing of the building and reflect the roofing materials or upper story treatment of surrounding buildings”. And following the resubmitted amendments, Castlebrooke says more than 80% of respondents backed the revised scheme. Tribeca Belfast includes development around Royal Avenue, Donegall Street, North Street, Garfield Street and High Street. Castlebrooke Investments says it is now committed to bringing North Street Arcade back into use in a new format, with space designed for independent retailers. This summer the developer ran a fresh public consultation amid revised plans for the scheme, which included significantly reducing a huge 27-storey building to around 10, retaining additional facades and dropping plans for an underground car park. Earlier this summer, Neil Young, chief executive of Castlebrooke Investments, said: “We are very pleased to be able to reveal our proposed amendments to our outline planning application for Tribeca Belfast, changes which we feel demonstrate that we have listened to feedback from the city.” ■



Economist John Simpson assesses the future of the Belfast Region City Deal and what impact the huge investment injection could have on the city and the wider area


he Belfast Region City Deal gained official support from six Northern Ireland local authorities, the Stormont administration (in the absence of an Executive) and the UK Treasury. Together, a near £900m budget has been promised to secure the delivery of 20,000 new and better jobs over a 15 year period.

The intention is that the full budget should be allocated during the next 10 years and then implementation would follow over the longer period. The ambition for the City Deal is dramatic and wide-ranging. However, it must be seen in the wider context of many other features of development policies which alongside the City Deal are only part of the evolving structures.

City Deal: £900m budget won’t solve all the issues facing NI

It identifies 22 projects to which the interested parties have now made commitments. They have the potential to be ‘game changing’ for jobs, living standards and competitive outcomes. The 22 projects have been identified and agreed by the local authorities in a non-contentious agenda.

This will represent a form of priority setting from existing funds. The £350m from the Treasury will be an addition to the NI Block grant, over and above the Barnett formula.

The projects will, in part, be financed by the financial contributions from the local authorities, supplemented by scope for contributions from the private sector, as well as from the Stormont budget and the UK Treasury.

At this stage, the budget administrative arrangements for the City Deal have not been finalised. Governance of the City Deal is still being developed in co-operation with the UK Government, Stormont officials and the local authorities.

Local authorities and Stormont will make their contribution from their current budget resources.

The City Deal is a welcome (net) increase in funds for priority developments and represents a more focused effort to invest in projects that


will make a difference to jobs, productivity and real incomes. However, when placed in perspective, the full deal will increase core development programmes across the Belfast City Region by about £60m a year. The deal will add possibly up to 20% on top of other projects that will be taking place. The deal is therefore well worth having, but will still leave other planned priorities awaiting decisions, some from the private sector and also in part from other Stormont or local authority budgets.


Arguably, while many of the projects will be financed from existing Northern Ireland public sector funds, the real addition to the local economy is mainly in the ÂŁ350m which has been promised from HM Treasury. This money will supplement funding for the 22 projects. Seven are designed to encourage innovation, drawing heavily on the local universities; three are targeted specifically on incentives and mechanisms to promote an economy equipped for the evolution of digital processes, and 12 identify development ideas to enhance the vitality of specific areas. Eight of the latter group have a tourism and


regeneration dimension. All of the projects will be assessed, in addition to their other merits, for their ability to contribute to improving education, skills and employability for people living in Northern Ireland. While no budget estimates have been released (and they may only exist in a generic form), the demonstrable impact of the BRCD will be easiest to see in the extra Glider route across Belfast, the Newry Southern Relief Road, the regeneration programmes for Bangor Waterfront, Carrickfergus Castle and city centre regeneration in Newry.

The programmes involving the scientific and digital expertise of the universities may be critically important but, in their early stages, specific investment or scientific advances will emerge more slowly. However, the university boffins must be challenged to produce feasible and attractive revenue earning projects. One positive first step has been taken: a leading German institute has been asked for proposals on how to develop a major digital strand reaching across many of the City Deal projects can be launched. The momentum of the City Deal is, slowly, emerging. â–



Declan Billington MBE with Jenny Pyper, Jamie Delargy, Richard Rodgers, and Stephen Cross, at the Policy Eye NI Event, in partnership with Cleaver Fulton Rankin

Developing an energy vision for 2050 An in-depth review of Vision 2050 and examining some fresh options for a new Northern Ireland Strategic Energy Framework


host of delegates gathered at Titanic Belfast for a major conference organised by Policy Eye Northern Ireland and Cleaver Fulton Rankin, to network, learn and debate the key issues facing the energy sector in Northern Ireland with a specific focus on the potential content of the Department of the Economy’s Strategic Energy Framework. It is clear that the energy system is going through a period of major change. Transition is essential to decarbonise our energy usage


and ultimately lessen the impact of climate change. With falling renewable generation costs and increasing digitalisation, electricity is at the forefront of this shift. Renewable sources accounted for 44% of electricity generation in Northern Ireland for the year to June 2019 compared to just 5% a decade ago. However, the intermittent nature of renewables brings new challenges with the balancing of our energy generation becoming as important as maintaining sufficient generation for security of supply.

In transport, after more than 100 years of the internal combustion engine, we have commenced a gradual but inexorable shift towards electric vehicles. The UK government has pledged that the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2040. Agriculture in Northern Ireland accounts for a larger proportion (27%) of greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of the UK (10%). The predominance of agriculture may create opportunities via the widespread capture of biogas as a result of the advances in anaerobic digestion technology – and in turn feeding

ENERGY this biogas into the existing gas network. A lack of consumer engagement and the inability in large parts of Northern Ireland to offer viable and affordable alternatives has meant that 67% of homes are still heated by oil. Further development of the gas network, the introduction of heat pumps and district heat networks and energy storage must be considered in order to reduce the carbon emissions of our heating. It was stressed repeatedly at the event, which took place on September 11, that against this backdrop the energy sector in Northern Ireland desperately needs the Executive to provide a clear strategic energy vision for the future. Richard Rodgers, head of energy at the Department for the Economy, emphasised the need for a holistic approach to decarbonisation of energy in Northern Ireland and encouraged stakeholder contribution from across the energy sector to the Department’s call for evidence. He highlighted that several executive departments are responsible for policy areas which will have a bearing on the future energy strategy. This holistic approach must take full advantage of new smart technologies as they emerge by encouraging innovation and the facilitation of the ongoing transition towards a more decentralised, democratic and digital energy future. Whilst there was agreement that consumers must be at the centre of the energy transition, Jenny Pyper, chief executive of the Utility Regulator, noted that 60% of energy Stephen Cross, director and head of energy at Cleaver Fulton Rankin

Delegates at the event which took place at Titanic Belfast

consumers are disengaged, many of whom are the most vulnerable in society and who would benefit most from being pro-active in their energy choices. Consideration must be given to how any proposals in the new Framework will be paid for and who will pay for it, together with options for improving levels of energy efficiency. Private investment in the development of new energy infrastructure and assets will only be encouraged with long-term policy certainty and stability. Declan Billington, chairman of the CBI NI Energy Forum, stressed the need for a clearly articulated long term strategic vision supported by detailed ten-year delivery plans. Business has the experience to play a significant role in the complex and farreaching decisions required to unlock investor confidence. Stephen Cross, head of the Energy and Renewables team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin, said: “What is clear is that no more time can be wasted in the creation of a Strategic Energy Framework for Northern Ireland. We risk falling

further behind the UK and Ireland who have both published innovative and far-reaching strategies for the decarbonisation of energy. This inevitability will lead to under-investment and the risk of higher prices for consumers and business. “A functioning Executive must be established as soon as possible. It will need to be bold in its approach to decarbonise energy in Northern Ireland and consider financial support and tax incentives to improve Northern Ireland’s economic competiveness. “Action must be taken to further expand the gas network, invest in the electricity grid and further integrate into I-SEM by approving the development of the North-South Interconnector.” ■

Energy and Renewables team Cleaver Fulton Rankin’s Energy and Renewables team is made up of dedicated practitioners specialising in energy regulation, corporate M&A, commercial real estate and environment and planning. We work closely with our clients to provide expert advice to achieve commercial objectives. The Energy and Renewables team is widely acknowledged for its expertise and ability to provide practical advice to clients across the full spectrum of legal issues in this sector. We advise several of Northern Ireland’s major energy generators and suppliers, alongside other utilities and have worked on the majority of Northern Ireland’s major (ie 10MW plus) operating wind farms and solar farms, either for developers or funders.




Belfast Primark rebuild could take up to four years, says boss


rimark boss Paul Marchant has said it could be up to four years before the fashion retailer is ready to reopen its Bank Buildings store.

Speaking just over a year after the devastating fire that rocked Belfast city centre, the chief executive said: “We are now going through the process of working very closely with Belfast City Council and the heritage department in Belfast to rebuild Bank Buildings to its former glory. “We are probably three to four years away from being able to cut the ribbon on our Bank Buildings’ door.” Despite the long-term nature of the project, Primark began trading in the city centre again in December, when it opened a new modern extension built behind the fire damaged store. In April, the budget fashion retailer moved to secure its presence in Belfast by opening a second city centre store at Fountain House on Donegall Place, previously occupied by New Look. “It was a really emotional time for all of us,” Mr Marchant said. “It was devastating


for us, devastating for our colleagues and devastating for the city of Belfast.

product offer. “We have quite an aggressive expansion plan for our services.”

“I think it made us realise we had a real obligation to get up and trading back in Belfast as quickly as we could.” The Primark boss also heaped praise on the staff in Belfast.

He said that beauty services such as nail bars and brow bars were a natural fit, given the company’s expansion into its own label makeup and beauty ranges.

“We want to just say that our store team in Belfast did the most amazing job in that in that shocking situation — we evacuated that store in two and a half minutes. I cannot speak highly enough of the way they responded.”

The Dublin-based company which is known as Penneys in Ireland and as Primark internationally, is 50 years in business this year.

Meanwhile, the chief executive confirmed that Primark will introduce services such as cafes, nail bars and beauty studios in a significant number of new and existing stores. The retailer has enjoyed huge success with its biggest ever store opening in Birmingham, which has a Disney cafe, Disney shops, a Harry Potter shop, a men’s barbers and full beauty studio. Mr Marchant said: “I would think a significant number of our stores will be planned going forward with a beauty or food and beverage offer or maybe both,” he said. “We see it as a really important enhancement to our existing

Mr Marchant also addressed concerns that fast fashion chains such as Primark fed into socalled disposable fashion. This trend has come under fire as an unsustainable attitude toward clothing. “I think the phrase disposable fashion is a really bad one, that you can wear it once, you throw it away,” he said. “We absolutely do not produce clothes that we want people to throw away, we want to produce clothes which genuinely have a longevity and can be worn over many, many, wears. “We believe that just because we offer great value, it doesn’t make our products any more disposable than anybody else’s.” ■

Food, drink & agriculture MARCH 2019


Darren Clarke at The Open in Portrush



Time to Open things up? We’ll drink to that A government consultation on relaxing Northern Ireland’s licensing ahead of The Open drew fresh attention to the issue of the region’s ‘outdated’ laws, and opened up a renewed conversation across the industry. John Mulgrew speaks to those wanting to see change


t certainly wouldn’t be fair to say that the drinks industry’s main body in Northern Ireland has only raised the issue of our somewhat antiquated licensing laws just in recent weeks. Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, has – along with many in the industry – have warned that a lack of flexibility in its sectors laws, from opening hours to restricting breweries from selling their products onpremise to customers, are harming the industry and reducing the ability for Northern Ireland to grow its burgeoning tourism sector. And Northern Ireland’s increasingly varied beer, cider, gin and whiskey makers have also turned their attention to the Republic, where a change in the law in 2018 now allows craft breweries and distilleries to sell alcohol on their premises. That’s something lacking here in Northern Ireland. What happened over the summer was that a consultation, designed with an event like The Open golf tournament in Portrush in mind, examined allowing the Government to designate a ‘special event’, which would have greater flexibility in how and what hours it sells alcohol. The hospitality sector as a whole did not support the Department for Communities


having the ability to have the power to designate a ‘special event’, with 76% opposing it. The industry’s previous objection was primarily based on the fact that they did not benefit the wider hospitality industry. Since then, Colin Neill says it has “received written confirmation from the five main political parties that legislation will be a priority on the restoration of the Assembly”. Turning the attention to letting breweries and distilleries sell directly from their premises to the public, Colin Neill says it is “acutely aware of the many disadvantages which craft brewers and distillers currently experience here as a result of outdated licensing legislation”. “Our campaign has been ongoing and prior to the collapse of the Assembly in 2017, Hospitality Ulster had secured provisions in the Licensing Bill which went right to committee stage and would have allowed brewers to sell their produce to visitors on-site and at recognised events throughout Northern Ireland if passed. “We know it has been very frustrating for them as they are producing award-winning beers, gins and whiskeys for example, but are ultimately constrained by the environment we are currently in.”

“Despite this set-back, we are continuing to lobby for modern licensing legislation to be introduced which will benefit those right across the hospitality industry including craft brewers and distillers. We have secured written commitment from the five major NI parties to modernise the legislation on the re-establishment of Stormont.” One of those seeking a major change is William Mayne – founder of Bullhouse Brewing, based in Newtownards. He’s also planning to open up a new site in east Belfast, amid plans filed. “As brewers in Northern Ireland we face several unique challenges. We are prohibited from selling directly to the public,” he told Ulster Business. “We are unable to sell draught beer to the vast majority of public houses due to restrictive ties which are inextricably linked to the surrender principle. We are prevented from selling into the Republic of Ireland market without a distributor. “I call on the Government to begin an immediate review into the link between the surrender principle and the monopolisation of the draught beer market in Northern Ireland. In 2006 the NIO lunched a consultation to rescind the surrender >



Gareth Irvine, founder of The Copeland Distillery

principle and bring NI licensing into line with England and Wales. I would like to see the current government bring this to the table once more.” Gareth Irvine is founder of Co Down’s Copeland Distillery. It’s a business which has grown to produce a range of gins, including a classic, rhubarb and blackberries, and raspberry and mint. He says our licensing laws “have again become a major speed bump in the diversification and growth of our business”. “We recently invested in a new site for The Copeland Distillery in Donaghadee, and although our core business activity at present is the production of spirits, a large part of why we built this distillery was to increase our workforce as we introduce new business activities such as distillery tours, our visitor centre and shop as well as many own-branded and private events.


“In recent months, we have found the laws in Northern Ireland a barrier to many of these aims and quite unsupportive of what The Copeland Distillery, and many other local alcohol brands, aim to do for the region. “Tourism is growing in Northern Ireland and so we must be reactive and flexible in order to provide premium and sought after experiences and ensure that law moves in tandem with industry.” Darren Nugent is co-founder of Ion Distillery and says the “explanation as to why we cannot sell our spirits directly to the public frequently pushes the puzzled look into the realms of disbelief”. “The reason lies in our antiquated and simply not fit for purpose licensing laws that were drafted in a different era and have placed our small craft drinks producers at a serious commercial disadvantage. “In all other jurisdictions across these islands – and in truth in most other countries that grant

small scale alcohol production licences the link between production and the ability to sell to the public is a given. “The American and UK craft beer boom of the 2010s was fuelled by the tap room phenomenon – the ability of small producers to display and sell their products to the general public at their place of production. “Worse still our current laws mean that producers can not sell their products at markets, fairs or events without applying for a temporary events licence or even sell online from their own premises, cutting off most revenue streams available to producers in other parts of the UK and Ireland. At Ion Distillery – along with all other small craft drinks producers in Northern Ireland have been lobbying for years for revisions to our current laws – not to garner any unfair advantage, but to level the playing field and bring our trading conditions in line with everywhere else and the 21st century.” ■

Fitzwilliam named AA Hotel of the Year in NI



he Fitzwilliam Hotel in Belfast has been named AA Hotel of the Year in Northern Ireland – a decade after opening its doors to the public for the first time.

Located next door to The Grand Opera house on Great Victoria Street, it affectionately known as ‘The Fitz’ by locals, it is the epitome of style and excellence. On September 23, at the AA Hospitality Awards 2019, the hotel was awarded as AA Hotel of the Year Northern Ireland. Throughout the last decade, the Fitzwilliam has continuously invested in improving the offering available to customers, both in terms of product and service levels. That has included a £5m investment in new bedrooms, two meeting rooms, and a stunning new penthouse suite.


In addition to guestrooms, meeting facilities, and incredible food and drinks, the hotel has the added benefit of 10 years’ experience. The team is committed to making sure each guest experience is personal and memorable; whether you are visiting for a quick business lunch in the bar, a board meeting, cocktail masterclass or overnight stay.

Speaking about the award, Cian Landers, general manager, said: “This means so much to us and is testament to the efforts of the fantastic team we have here at The Fitzwilliam Hotel, and the continuous effort to ensure we go above and beyond in creating a special experience for all our guests. I am extremely proud of our entire team whose hard work has made this possible.”


Parking giant’s plans for rapid NI expansion APCOA Parking Group, Europe’s leading parking operator with almost 50 years of industry expertise, has recently increased its presence in the Irish market by undertaking a major acquisition in Northern Ireland. We hear about the firm’s plans for growth here


elfast City is changing and its transportation network and parking strategy have a key role to play in supporting its growth.

Innovative use of technology to make parking ‘smarter’ and promoting better use of city centre space will contribute to creating the right environment for business investment and the lifestyle of residents, commuters and visitors. The need for effective parking planning reaches beyond Belfast city though as parking issues are common in towns across the country. Parking planning is not just about the provision and management of spaces – the majority of parking acts require some sort of enforcement system to ensure effectiveness. As an experienced parking operator, APCOA can work with the public and private sectors to contribute knowledge and expertise to the planning and implementation of effective parking strategies. An on-going investment in developing parking technology also offers new ways of improving services to clients and the public.

locations and it will enable them to service all counties in both countries. APCOA’s existing business in Northern Ireland operated a number of sites including two city centre multi storey car parks in Belfast city centre. The NCPS subsidiary PEA brings a further c.80 locations, primarily in the greater Belfast area with key sites such as the Titanic Quarter, numerous NHS hospitals and trusts and the Odyssey. APCOA sees this investment as strengthening their position in Northern Ireland and providing a platform for increased growth. Combining the existing APCOA expertise and customer base across both countries, this acquisition now makes APCOA a leading mobile parking operator in cashless parking providing convenient, cashless and costeffective payment options to nearly 200,000 parking customers. Both APCOA and NCPS see this as a real opportunity to broaden the strength of services to clients and to improve capabilities by bringing together the best knowledge, systems and operational practice.

In August, APCOA acquired the business of Nationwide Controlled Parking Systems (NCPS) in Ireland, including subsidiaries Parking Enforcement Solutions (PEA) and Mobile Research Solutions.

Kim Challis, regional managing director for APCOA UK & Ireland, said: “The businesses complement each other well across different geographies and business sectors and both have strong management and operational teams.

The combined operation resulting from the acquisition sees APCOA’s business in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland double in size to cover more than 1,750 site

“There are opportunities to share innovation and technology solutions from both companies across the whole business, and also to benefit from the on-going investment and business


experience that comes from APCOA UK & Ireland being part of a larger European group. We’re really excited about the opportunities ahead.” Neil Cunningham, managing director of APCOA in Ireland, explains why he sees the acquisition as a positive move for the business in Northern Ireland. “This investment strengthens APCOA’s ability to offer countrywide services and gives us a stronger base for future growth. Colleagues in both companies have a keen focus on customer service and we’ve brought together two experienced management teams. “I’m also delighted that Jason Ballard, founder and chief executive of NCPS and PEA, will continue to work with us for the next six months to support the smooth integration of the business. Combine those factors with the wide range of services and innovative technology we can offer, the possibilities for further growth in Northern Ireland look very strong indeed.” Philippe Op de Beeck, chief executive of APCOA Parking Group, says the company “profited from healthy organic growth last year”. “In addition, we are currently strengthening our focus on strategic acquisitions. “The group recently acquired Onepark A/S in Denmark, after having bought another smaller Swiss company early last year. With every acquisition, we have pursued a clear strategy: not to become a property owner. Thanks to its

APCOA offers an extremely wide range of parking solutions, including ● Parking consultancy services

Advising clients on developing the best operational parking scheme including considerable experience in multi-storey car parks

● Car park design, build, finance and operation

End-to-end, tailored and cost-effective services covering everything from planning, implementation and day-to-day operation

● Car park management

Providing professional management, staffing, and day-to-day operation of car parks, including data analytics and information

● Paid car parking controls

Options for fixed time or flexible parking controls – such as pay and display, pay-by-bay, pay-onfoot, barrier-control

● Mobile payments

Secure, convenient, cashless and cost-effective parking by text, IVR, phone, app, web and direct to a user’s mobile phone bill or credit with parkbytext 2Bill

● Technology services

The latest technology services including vehicle recognition, automated car space booking, variable messaging and signage

● Enforcement services

Helping to prevent unauthorised parking and assisting with payment recovery; and offering a self-enforcement option

● Car charging points

Providing e-mobility stations to enable owners of electric and hybrid vehicles to re-charge while they park


consistent ‘asset light’ business model, APCOA has established itself as a reliable partner, maximising the value of both private and public property owners’ assets. “At the same time, APCOA offers consumers a range of products and services that are increasingly digital and that span the entire market.” These acquisitions have enabled APCOA to expand its presence in each market and position itself for further profitable growth. ■ APCOA Parking Group has almost 50 years of industry expertise. With its 5,000 employees, the company manages approximately 1.5 million individual parking spaces at more than 10,000 locations in 13 European countries. These include parking spaces at 1,800 city and shopping centre locations, 400 hotels, 150 hospitals and 58 European airports.




The Greengrocer’s range showcasing top NI produce Henderson Wholesale has developed a new produce category, The Greengrocer’s, creating a new brand boasting some of Northern Ireland’s best and brightest suppliers


enderson Wholesale has developed its fresh produce category with 18 local suppliers to create a new brand, The Greengrocer’s.

Last year, the company embarked on a full analysis, review and refresh of their produce offering, looking at every aspect of the business from the suppliers, products and branding through to in-store execution. The result was the new brand, The Greengrocer’s. Made up of more than 110 products, most of which have been newly developed, the range, which the group has invested over £100,000 in, is available in-store now. A wider range of convenience products like prepared sliced and diced vegetables, packaged leaves and salads join a new range of stir fry and microwavable packs. Neal Kelly, fresh foods director at the Henderson Group, says the range is central to the group’s ‘Famous for Fresh’ strategy. “In 2018 we received over 13 million cases


into the fresh warehouse, in 2019 we expect over 14 million,” he said. “After a review of our produce offering in 2018, we decided to create a new brand that would represent the collaborative relationships we have with our suppliers and customers. The Greengrocer’s range is packed with quality products that have been chosen for their innovation, taste and freshness to help our retailers’ sales growth in this category.” The quality assurance team, led by Joanne Cunningham, carries out checks on all products, taking into consideration the appearance, size, weight, brix levels and Leah McQueen, Aimee McPoland and Joanne Cunningham of Henderson Wholesale’s quality assurance team

pressure. Weekly shelf tests are completed in house and ‘blind’ benchmarking is carried out monthly against other retailers. This helps to ensure that only the very best produce makes its way to the shelves of ‘SPAR, EUROSPAR, and VIVO branded’ stores in Northern Ireland. Fresh Fields and William Orr & Son are two of Henderson Wholesale’s longest serving produce suppliers which have been supplying to the Henderson Group since the early 1980s. Mark McKee and Richard Orr tell us more about their businesses. ■


Fresh Fields Mark McKee says: “Fresh Fields is a family firm. The family has been in Comber since 1962 and my wife and I started Fresh Fields in 1989. We are traditional vegetable farmers. It’s a family company involving myself, my wife and my brother who are the directors and my sister who is our quality assurance. We employ people from the local area. Our business is very seasonal and we grow all of our crops in Northern Ireland. “Shoppers might be surprised to hear how our carrots are grown; In the early season, we cover them with fleece to keep them warm, then, come July, they’re uncovered to get the best of the summer sun – and rain. “We’ll have a small harvest in summer, but come winter, we’re harvesting carrots and parsnips every day.

Noel McGregor, Henderson Wholesale and Mark McKee, Fresh Fields

“When you go into your shops and see Northern Irish carrots on the shelf, whatever

time of year it is, we are looking after that carrot.”

William Orr & Son Richard Orr says: “William Orr & Son is a third generation family farm business. We grow potatoes for the Henderson Group. “Up until recently I saw the biggest innovation in the sector being around packaging and the introduction of compostable packaging or at least recyclable. The biggest innovation I think in potatoes at the moment is going to be back to basics. “You’re going to get more people interested in where it’s from, the story behind it, why it’s unique, the variety itself and how you grow it. I think that the most important factor of all will be the quality of the product and the flavour.” Darren Dickson, Henderson Retail, Richard Orr, William Orr & Son, Noel McGregor, David McCallion, Henderson Wholesale





major redevelopment of a waterside area in Belfast has taken a step forward after almost 10


The Odyssey Quays scheme would see much of the area around the Odyssey Pavilion and SSE Arena developed. It was originally awarded planning permission around a decade ago. The mixed-use scheme could include almost 800 apartments, two hotels, along with a raft of retail space, offices, cafes, bars and car parking. Now, an application has been made on behalf of Odyssey Millennium Limited, a ‘proposal of application notice’, which typically precedes a planning application. The proposed renewal of outline planning permission, which was first submitted in 2009, includes mixed-use development including a maximum of 798 residential units, two hotels,

Name: Louise Haughian Business: Bank of Ireland UK Position: Migration and service capability manager

Early plans for what Odyssey Quays could look like

Odyssey Quays takes first step forward in a decade leisure facilities, community and cultural uses, cafes/bars/restaurants, public open space, multi-storey car parking. Elsewhere, Belfast looks set to get a new 276-bedroom hotel amid freshly submitted plans for a development across from Titanic Belfast. Plans have now be submitted for the large hotel, which will include conferencing facilities,

rooftop bar and restaurant, at the Hamilton Dock site. JMK Group is behind the scheme and the hotel would the company’s first investment into Northern Ireland. While an operator for the hotel has not yet been announced, the group has developed a series of Holiday Inn hotels across the UK and Ireland, as well as Seraphine hotels.

The Smart Commuter

What service do you use? I use the NI Railways service as I commute weekly to Belfast and the Enterprise service when I’m travelling to Dublin. What type of ticket? I can buy my Enterprise ticket online, and I have bought a monthly NI Railways ticket at the station. But now I also have the mLink app which suits my needs much better now with our ways of working policy, that way I can buy a three-day flexi ticket when I need to. Why do you choose public transport? It is a much more convenient way to travel and takes the stress out of the prime time journey. The walk to and from the station is a really great way to add to your daily step count. How do you spend your time on board the service? If I’m travelling with friends we usually have a good catch up. When I’m alone I tend to listen to music or a podcast. If I’m able to I can work on my laptop on the Dublin service.


What’s your go-to breakfast ‘on the move’? I like to have breakfast before I leave home, so that’s usually porridge. I do like a good coffee on the go. Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone considering switching from car to public transport? Leave that nice car at home (or at the station) and swap today, it is a much more convenient way to travel. www.translink.co.uk

Health at work MARCH 2019




I like to ride my bicycle Some of Northern Ireland’s most forward-thinking firms are encouraging their staff to walk, cycle or bus it in, while others boast top-end in-house gyms, sports teams and fitness classes. We look at some of those taking workplace health and happiness seriously


ow do you encourage your workforce to opt for a healthier and greener way to make it in to work? If you’re the boss of one of Northern Ireland’s biggest businesses, you lead from the ground up.

“Our cycle to work scheme is incredibly popular with over half of our employees availing of the scheme so far and we were thrilled to recently be declared champions for the ‘Active Travel Challenge’ in the largest workplace category.

John Healy, managing director of Allstate Northern Ireland, is a fan of cycling in to work – a two mile or so trip from home to the office. He also makes use of the city’s public transport, if the weather is off.

“Allstate NI is committed to further encouraging our staff to cycle to work and setting the pace in terms of health and wellbeing in the workplace.”

The idea of physical health and mental wellbeing in the workplace – whether it’s walking to work or receiving support when you walk through the door – is becoming an ever-increasing part of the foundations of a modern company and happy staff. And some have gone to serious lengths to ensure they are ahead of the pack when it comes to their staff’s happiness and wellbeing.


Over at Catalyst, Northern Ireland’s largest and leading technology hub, Novosco is now one of the fastest-growing tech firms. A quick walk around its main office and you’ll soon become aware of how much time and effort has gone in to thinking about staff welfare and health. The first thing I spotted was a fully kitted out gym on the way in.

“Health and wellbeing in the workplace is something which we take very seriously at Allstate Northern Ireland,” John Healy told Ulster Business.

“Health and wellbeing has always been an important part of Novosco’s culture,” managing director, Patrick McAliskey, said. “We encourage and support our team to improve their health and wellbeing through a range of initiatives, including having a gym on site, having regular deliveries of fruit, and offering our team Westfield Healthcare.

“It is important to our organisational success that employees are fit and healthy, and we have introduced initiatives to address this. We recognise the benefits of cycling in particular for improved physical and mental wellbeing.

“The design of our offices also supports our approach to health and wellbeing with a library, a virtual reality room, a coffee dock, and quiet pods for members of our team to make private phone calls for instance. >



“We also have a range of spaces for team working and we’ve spent a lot of time getting the lighting and the acoustics right. We want our team to have a good work-life balance, but we also want them to be happy in the office so that they want to come to work, they want to be in work, and they are motivated to deliver excellent results for our clients.” The ethos is changing. Business in the Community, for example, has championed for members and companies to make changes by adopting workplace-based campaigns designed to improve health and wellbeing in the workplace. That includes initiatives such as an eight-week workplace challenge delivered in partnership with Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS) and sponsored by Westfield Health – a programme aimed to encourage workers to increase their activity levels throughout their working day by making small changes to their routine. And other organisations are also thinking clearly about mental health in the workplace. That includes Inspire Wellbeing. It promotes and supports mental wellbeing throughout society, providing services to people with experience of mental ill-health through supported housing, day support, floating support and advocacy services. Belfast financial services firm FinTrU is one company which is hard to ignore, with involvement in everything from fitness, sports teams and even fishing clubs. “Physical and mental health are inextricably linked so the culture in FinTrU promotes and encourages getting active in whatever way is best suited to the individual,” a Sinead Carville, executive director human resources at FinTrU, said. “To date, FinTrU’s staff led clubs include football, yoga, walk and talk, high intensity interval training, squash, running club, tag rugby, GAA and fishing to name just a few. Physical and mental wellness at FinTrU is managed under the TrU Wellness umbrella. “Within FinTrU, we actively encourage our staff to get involved with our various sports and


Allstate NI managing director, John Healy

social clubs and events. All clubs and societies within FinTrU are set up and managed by the employees. “TrU Wellness is an employee lead initiative with a focus on educating employees and putting positive initiatives into action. The goal is to raise awareness about how to maintain good mental and physical health and how to ensure a great work/life balance.” Flexible working space business Glandore is another firm which puts health high on the agenda. “At Glandore, we focus on wellness in mind, body, life and finances through our Glandore Wellness Programme, which is provided for free to all members. We offer a range

of modern and innovative services that will evaluate, engage and energise our members to create a healthier workplace,” the company says. “The programme is delivered through monthly webinars, onsite seminars, exercise classes, pamper days and more, and today 87% of employers in Glandore buildings are committed to workplace wellbeing. “Promoting a culture of wellbeing in the workplace not only benefits employees but it has a strong connection to costs, driving the company bottom line. We also host regular health screenings with VHI for our members, Indian head massages, reflexology and member breakfast mornings with a focus on healthy treats and dietary friendly options.” ■


To promote wellbeing is to promote passion, purpose and productivity


illionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is renowned for his view that “the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.”, and he has often attributed the success of his global business empire, Virgin, to his conviction in his corporate philosophy that “people are our greatest asset”.

He’s not alone in his belief in cultivating a healthy company culture: research has shown that health, wellbeing and engagement in the workplace is slowly but surely working its way up the list of priorities for many employers in Northern Ireland. One of Northern Ireland’s leading IT companies for SMEs, Nitec Solutions, is one such company that has always strived to do right by its employees. Nitec’s director of operations, Michael Hutchinson, says: “At Nitec, we pride ourselves on our commitment to our staff’s wellbeing. We know we have a highly committed team and we have recognised that by taking good care of them, they in turn go the extra mile for us on a daily basis to take good care of the business. Simply put, whenever it comes to staff wellbeing we operate on the basis of the credo “if the request is reasonable, the answer is always, yes. “Workplace wellbeing is part of Nitec’s daily culture, from the small things like free fruit and Friday treats to our occasional cinema trips and recently celebrating our 20th anniversary milestone with a weekend retreat for all the team at the luxurious Lough Erne Resort in Enniskillen. “In addition, we have an open working environment that means two-way communication is encouraged, and both our monthly company and team meetings give staff an opportunity to hear about the latest updates and business activities and spend some time connecting with their fellow team members on a personal level.”


Nitec directors Gavin Woods, Nigel Mulholland and Michael Hutchinson

The results from CIPD’s 2019 Health and Wellbeing at Work survey revealed that mental ill health and stress are two of the top causes of long-term absence, with stress-related absences triggered primarily by high volumes of work, management style and workplace relationships. However, the rise in private sector organisations prioritising their staff’s wellbeing has led to a drop in average absence levels, with 2019 seeing the lowest level of absences ever recorded by the survey. “We take a strategic approach to our staff’s wellbeing.” Michael says. “We appreciate stress isn’t restricted to just their work life but also to their home and family life, which is why we encourage flexible working. It’s a small thing to enable staff to work from home, take time for appointments, dropping the kids off at school and all sorts of other ‘life’ moments, and yet we’ve seen an abundance of benefits – we have a happier, more satisfied and productive workforce, who are fully

committed to our company and its goals. In turn, our company performance has improved, absenteeism is low, and we have great staff retention, therefore reducing our turnover and hiring costs. “As an Investors in People-accredited company, we’re committed to creating a mentally healthy workplace, where people feel valued and supported. At Nitec’s core, we’re about making life easier for our clients, and for us to do this it starts by making life easier for our staff in any way we can. “From the high end machines we provide them with that boost up in 10 seconds, to the continual training and development opportunities, we’ve come to recognise that by committing ourselves to our team, we’ve created a healthier work culture and a more productive and enriching work life that encourages our employees to commit to us in return.” ■


A word from

The Wise The column with an ear for experience...

Name: Professor Terri Scott Position: Principal and chief executive, Northern Regional College How did you start out in business? I’m in the business of education, following a family tradition. I have three sisters (and four brothers) and the ‘girls’ all followed our mother into careers in education. I started my career as a computing lecturer but subsequently took on a number of different roles at the interface between education and business. These included supporting enterprise and innovation at Ulster University, managing director of clients and entrepreneurship at Invest NI and other leadership roles in education before taking on my current role as principal and chief executive of Northern Regional College. What have you found the most challenging during your years of business, so far? Throughout my career, I have faced a multiplicity of challenges arising from fluctuating political landscapes and the concomitant financial pressures and uncertainties. The current political environment presents daily challenges for leaders in education to deliver the requisite skills for a world class economy, notwithstanding all the logistical, strategic and operational challenges that leading a college and managing change in today’s climate presents. On a personal level, my biggest challenge was undoubtedly coping with a family illness and negotiating through the dark times. How would you describe your management style? I don’t have a single management style. I’m conscious of the need to be flexible and to be able to adapt to a variety of situations. In my different leadership roles, I’ve been privileged to work with extremely talented people which has enabled me to build strong teams, nurture creativity and empower staff. I maintain an open door policy (although with six college campuses in four council areas, at times, this is a virtual door). I consider myself to be approachable, empathetic and I appreciate receiving feedback.


What would you change if you could go back and do it all again? Retrospective wisdom is only useful if it can be applied going forward. I used to think it was commendable to be described as a workaholic but not anymore. Learning from hugely respected and successful leaders has taught me not to be afraid to ask for help, to value family time and to build recreation into my schedule. I’m still learning how to put this all into practice but better late than never. Have you done it all on your own? How would you like your business to be remembered? Absolutely not. Achieving any success is always a team effort. I’ve had the good fortune to work with and for exceptionally talented and enterprising colleagues. The dedicated team at Northern Regional College are in the business of changing lives every day by delivering top quality education and training. The support from my family has been phenomenal. My husband and our three children have always been there for me to give sound advice, share the good times and keep me grounded. I would like Northern Regional College to be thought of as successfully delivering on its goal of providing students with life-changing, supportive and innovative experiences, equipping them with the necessary skills to meet the needs of local industry and employers, enabling them to compete in the changing global employment market. What piece of advice would you give to a 20-year-old you? Two pieces of advice, firstly, find someone you admire to provide wise counsel and inspiration and to support and challenge you in equal measure, and second, never stop learning. Every day really is a school day.


Surveys warn of NI recession ahead Two economic reports point to a slowing NI economy and fresh indications that we could be headed towards recessionary territory. John Mulgrew examines the impact of Brexit uncertainty as the countdown to the UK’s exit enters its final weeks


orthern Ireland’s private sector has slumped for the second quarter in a row as back-to-back surveys raise fresh concerns of entering recession.

heading towards, or could already be, in recession. It was the construction and manufacturing sectors which fared the worst.


All four sectors recorded declines The dreaded ‘R’ word first in business activity during raised its head in the last August, with the sharpest NI growth being few days with the latest reduction in the construction forecast by EY Ulster Bank purchasing sector. Overall, economic managers’ survey. The August business activity stood at 45.4, poll was the sixth consecutive where 50 means no change. “The month which recorded contraction latest PMI provides further evidence that across Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s private sector has entered, or is entering, recession,” Richard Ramsey, chief While not an official economist Northern Ireland, Ulster Bank, said. measurement of overall economic output, Following that, and concerns already raised by it presented a the Construction Employers Federation, EY’s picture that Economic Eye warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit Northern outcome could see 2020 growth Ireland dip to 0.6%, thus placing is NI into recession.


Business activity in August, according to the PMI

Richard Ramsey



EY has slightly revised downwards its economic forecast for Northern Ireland in 2020, from 1.2% to 1.1%, having enjoyed steady growth despite there being no Executive in place.


Predicted NI growth during 2021, without a ‘no deal’ Brexit

Its chief economist, Neil Gibson, says “a ‘no deal’ Brexit has the potential to push Northern Ireland into recession and to lead to a contraction in the labour market, which so far has consistently proven wrong some of our gloomier predictions.” “Although estimates of a ‘no deal’ impact vary considerably, they all suggest there will be a cost in the form of disruption across the island. There is no doubt that the resilience and adaptability of businesses will be tested, but their resilience thus far without a functioning Executive and in the shadow of Brexit

uncertainty offers encouragement.” The forecast says in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit Northern Ireland would fall into recession with economic retraction of 0.6%in 2020, however this would increase to 1.0% in 2021.

It says “the Republic of Ireland will narrowly avoid a similar fate, however 2020 GDP would dip to 1.3%, before growing to 2.1% in 2021. “EY also predicts that a no-deal would result in 60,300 fewer jobs across the island by 2022 (41,500 in RoI and 18,800 in NI).”

adaptability may be the difference between survival and closure for some.” According to Richard Ramsey, the most concerning elements of August’s report “are the pace of deterioration in business conditions within the construction and manufacturing sectors”. Construction orders plunged to an 81-month low and have now been falling consistently for 12 months. “Within manufacturing, both output and orders continue to fall markedly, and significantly this is now impacting on staffing levels. Manufacturers posted their fastest rate of job losses in over seven years during August.

Michael Hall, managing partner, EY Northern Ireland says that “firms must “It should be remembered though that the be ready to react quickly when deterioration in the employment picture is clarity finally emerges over the coming from a position of considerable labour nature of the UK’s exit from market strength. Indeed, many firms the EU. Low levels continue to cite skills shortages as a of preparedness, barrier to their hiring intentions. particularly among The lack of hiring in some smaller firms, is cases is therefore not for the not surprising want of trying. How much the NI given the level economy could of uncertainty, but “If the PMI’s sentiment shrink with nimbleness and indicator is correct though, ‘no deal’ the labour market will likely deteriorate further over the months ahead. Northern Ireland firms are now their most pessimistic since this started to be tracked almost three years ago.


“This is particularly the case in the construction sector, with services the only sector where activity is not expected to be lower in a year’s time.” ■

Neil Gibson




Claes Peyron: Boosting NI business branding and attracting talent


Claes Peyron of global employer brand giant Universum speaks to John Mulgrew about how firms here can attract the best people, NI business being ‘too humble’ and the future of data and analytics


orthern Ireland’s top indigenous companies can tackle longrunning skills shortages and bring in the best people to work for them by utilising technologies and data to boost their brand and become more attractive employers.

research into the private sector here in spring next year.

That’s according to Claes Peyron, managing director of Universum for Nordics, UK and Ireland. It’s a business which uses data and surveys to find out what potential employees are after, and the perception they have of some of the world’s biggest firms.

“We have research in Northern Ireland and the Republic and we are now kicking off a big piece of research for students and professionals,” he says.“It’s driven by the skills shortage.”

Now, the company is working in Northern Ireland and the Republic, in a bid to assist some of our top indigenous businesses, and those who now call here home.

We help companies around the world to become more attractive as employers, to target the right people

Universum works with 1,700 businesses in 40 markets across the world and employs around 400 staff – with clients including industry giants such as Facebook, IBM and Microsoft. “We help companies around the world to become more attractive as employers, to target the right people,” Claes told Ulster Business. “We come from data point of view. Our core is surveys and research among graduates and professional people, and then we help companies understand the preferences of those groups, how to attract and recruit, and how they are perceived. “As an employer you may have your own view how you are seen in the marketplace, but not the right one. We help companies close the close the gap and what they need to do.” The company is now working in Northern Ireland, and is due to present significant


And he cites Northern Ireland’s own skills gap as something which the company, and its data, can try and tackle to help alleviate the shortage of the right employers here.

Claes highlighted the latest survey from BDO and the NI Chamber – which shows a majority of companies here are finding it difficult to recruit the right people. “(They are) finding difficulties in recruiting. When that is present, certain things happen. One, HR becomes a much more important role, and they need to step up, having conversations in employer brands and attracting people differently. We are seeing those conversations happening in Northern Ireland. “We can support… based on data and facts, attracting the correct target groups. In Northern Ireland, it’s about finding ways to get people from NI, who live in England and Scotland, to come back and realise that there is a real opportunity.”

“Based on my time in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland I think we can see a quick shift to taking this significantly more seriously. When it comes to perceptions, it’s quite similar. “There are certain things we find across markets – people want to work in companies where they can learn, where there is professional development, and learning is there, and a company that is innovative.” Claes was visiting Belfast to speak to Northern Ireland businesses at a recruitment event in the city. “We also see an additional thing which is increasing in Northern and in the Republic, it’s inspiring purpose – it varies a lot,” he says. “For some, it’s a bigger thing… my guess is that many indigenous companies have been too humble and haven’t communicated in the right way. “For local companies to compete for the right talent, they need to step up and be a bit more bold.” As for Brexit, he says “without a doubt” it will have an effect on companies and their ability to recruit, but that the underlying skills shortage remains. He says the use of analytics and technology offers up a “big opportunity” for Northern Ireland firms. “Indigenous companies can work on employment value proposition. The key reason is standing out from the competition.” “There is a lot of discussion about tech talents, but we work across all industries – from teachers, nurses, to people with a business degree and engineers. It all depends on these specific needs of employers.” ■


NEWS IN BRIEF Peter Keeling

Firm highlights Brexit recruitment concerns A Northern Ireland pharma analytics company has said it fears Brexit could hamper its ability to attract talent in the future. Diaceutics plc, which has premises in Belfast, Dundalk and other locations around the world, yesterday reported a loss of £2m for the first half of 2019. That was up from a first-half loss of £1.4m in 2018. But revenues at the firm, which listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) earlier this year, were up 34% to £4.4m. The company said the losses followed costs of £1.4m related to its initial public offering. It

also repaid £3.3m in loan and bank facilities. Staff numbers also grew from 57 to 89 at the business, which advises pharma companies on their medical testing so that they can deliver more personalised medicine. But the firm said it was concerned that Brexit may hamper its ability to attract well-qualified people from overseas locations to its laboratory and data analytics roles.

The Mills Selig team in Belfast

Mills Selig marks 60 years in business Commercial law firm Mills Selig has said it’s gearing up to hire more staff after marking 60 years in business. The practice’s directors celebrated the milestone last month with staff and clients. The firm now employs a total of 50 people. Managing director John Kearns said: “Our team has grown exponentially over the last number of years, but we’re not stopping there. “We have ambitious plans and are committed to growing our team by a further 50% in the coming years.

Roger Whiteside, chief executive of Greggs outside his Donegall Square West store in Belfast

Greggs opening new Belfast store Greggs looks set to open a new store in the heart of Belfast city centre, it can be revealed. The bakery and sandwich chain has submitted plans for signage at a unit at Great Northern Mall at Great Victoria Street, close to the main bus and train station. Greggs already has a series of stores in Belfast, and now has 16 stores across


Northern Ireland as a whole. The chain initially focused its attention on Belfast, opening seven stores in as many months. But in the past 18 months, the food company has spread across Northern Ireland at a rapid pace, adding stores in Ballymena, Bangor, Newry, Lisburn, Coleraine, Larne and Portadown.

“Our team of lawyers are the best in the business. Our strategy is simple, we provide a personable, proactive and exceptional service to our clients to ensure we achieve the best outcome. We pride ourselves on being business focused advisors. We’re local, we know and understand the business landscape inside and out.” Clients include First Derivatives plc, and DCC Energy, which it advised on the sale of an oil terminal in Belfast, and a separate disposal of its oil distribution business.


Ladbrokes is new Down Royal sponsor Bookies Ladbrokes has been unveiled as the new sponsor of Down Royal’s November Festival of Racing, as part of a threeyear partnership.

Denis Murphy

Tech entrepreneur given Catalyst award A top tech entrepreneur has been named as Catalyst’s Innovation Founder for 2019 by a panel of leading judges. Denis Murphy, who is co-founder and chief executive of cloud service company Anaeko, has more than 20 years’ experience in IT and mobile telecoms, founding and managing a number of locally based tech companies including Apion and Mobile Cohesion. Now in its 10th year, the Bank of Ireland UK sponsored Innovation Founder award celebrates Northern Ireland’s rich history of innovation and is awarded to a person who has achieved success in founding, leading or building a celebrated local innovative business.

The six figure deal, the largest in Down Royal’s history, will see Ladbrokes taje on title sponsorship of the first grade one champion chase of the National Hunt season, with a prize fund of €140,000 (£125,000). The two-day festival is the highlight of the racing calendar at Down Royal and has an exceptional role of honour including great chasers such as Kauto Star, Beef or Salmon and The Listener. Emma Meehan, chief executive of Down Royal Racecourse, said: “We are delighted to welcome Ladbrokes to our growing family of key sponsors and partners and look forward to working with them over the next three years.” And Nicola McGeady, head of PR at Ladbrokes, said: “Ladbrokes has a long and proud association with top-class horse racing and we are thrilled to be embarking on this exciting new sponsorship of the November Festival of Racing at Down Royal.”

His current business, Anaeko is a cloud integration company with a focus on data management and analytics. It employs 50 people across two sites in Belfast and Enniskillen. Mr Murphy said: “It is a great privilege to receive the Innovation Founder award. I am honoured to be included within such a distinguished group of entrepreneurs who have contributed so much to Northern Ireland.”

Emma Meehan and Nicola McGeady

Duty-free shopping between UK and Ireland Duty-free shopping will be allowed for people flying or sailing between Ireland and the UK after a no deal Brexit, it has been announced. It could mark the return of the so-called ‘booze cruise’ where day-trippers take the boat to the UK in order to stock up on cheap alcohol and cigarettes. The price of a packet of 20 cigarettes will be as little as €3 for people travelling from the UK into the Republic of Ireland. Irish Finance


Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed the move on foot of decisions taken in the UK. He said excise and VAT free sales on purchases of tobacco and alcohol made at duty-free shops, subject to quantitative purchase limits, will be allowed if a Brexit deal is not achieved. This may be an unexpected upside of the UK’s exit for consumers but it will impact on money available to the Government through taxation.

It comes after UK Chancellor Sajid Javid revealed that he intends to reintroduce dutyfree shopping for passengers travelling to EU countries if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on October 31.




How is business? Business for Bathshack in general has been good. We are continuing to invest in the company, recently opening our fifth showroom and new warehouse in Lisburn, as well as investing in the development of a new website to help further develop our e-commerce business. We have plans to open physical stores in Great Britain in the next 12 months, as well as adding additional stores in the Republic of Ireland. Our workforce has now increased to 50 employees and we’re hoping this figure will increase over the next year. The market is slightly stale at the moment though and the uncertainty around Brexit doesn’t help. How did you get started in the industry? I started in the kitchen and bathroom industry when I left school 18 years ago. I worked in all areas of the business but developed a skill for designing kitchens and bathrooms. In 2010 I began building my own website with a view of selling online, beginning with bathroom supplies as these were the products I had access to and I saw a niche in the market; no-one else in the sector was selling bathroom ancillaries online. Although it started as a part-time venture, working evenings and weekends, within the year I had committed all my time to Bathshack. I started marketing the company at self-build exhibitions in the Republic of Ireland with nothing more than my laptop and me, where other companies had beautiful bespoke bathrooms in their exhibition space. Compared to these other companies however, we were competitively priced and could turn out orders quickly which worked in our favour. Within time, traffic started to pick up on our website and more customers were visiting. As a result of this increased footfall, we opened our first showroom in Dargan Crescent, Belfast in 2013 and since then, we have expanded our product range and grown into a multi-million-pound business. Typically, who are your clients or customers? Our client base at Bathshack is very diverse ranging from retail end


users to plumbers, building contractors, architects and bathroom re-fitters. Starting out as an e-commerce business gave us access to a wide client base across the UK and Ireland and we have enjoyed significant growth in Great Britain in recent months through our website. Do you enjoy what you do, and what in particular? I really enjoy what I do. Like everyone, I have the occasional day where things don’t go exactly how I would have liked, but I love the buzz of being in a fast-paced growing business where you constantly need to think. My real passion is in product development and sourcing new products, although this can involve a lot of travelling, visiting different countries to view new factories which can be challenging when you have a young family. What is the most difficult part of your job? I think the most difficult part for me is trying to be patient. Like most entrepreneurs, I want everything to be perfect, now. I want more showrooms and want to grow faster but I keep being reminded that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ so I need to practice patience. What are the challenges facing your sector, and the economy in general? Brexit. Everyone is sick of hearing about it, but until we know what we are really dealing with, there is going to be uncertainty in the market. This is causing the market to stagnate and making it much more competitive, some see this as a good thing but not if quality suffers as a result. ■

Motoring By Pat Burns

Sponsored by


The fully loaded Astra Griffin


auxhall’s top selling Vauxhall Astra is now available as a fully loaded, high specification Griffin edition. It joins the best-selling Corsa Griffin that launched last year and Vauxhall has expanded its Griffin range to include the Mokka X Plus and Adam models. The Astra Griffin makes one of Northern Ireland’s best-selling cars even more appealing. An array of standard features make every journey a pleasure including 18-inch bi-colour alloy wheels, a seven-inch colour touchscreen, electronic climate control, auto windscreen wipers, heated front seats and heated steering wheel. Customers can choose between two engines, a 1.4-litre Turbo (150PS) petrol and a 1.6-litre CDTi Start/Stop (136PS) diesel. Similarly, with its rugged looks, the Mokka X Griffin Plus stands out on the road. But it’s not just about stylish design, the Mokka X Griffin Plus is packed with standard features including 19-inch alloy wheels, electronic climate control, rain sensitive windscreen wipers, heated front seats and steering wheel. The Mokka X Griffin Plus is available with either a 1.4-litre Turbo


(140PS) petrol or a 1.6-litre CDTi (136PS) diesel engine.

then corrupted into Fawkes Hall, later Foxhall and ultimately Vauxhall where the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were opened in 1661.

The compact Adam Griffin city car is the perfect car around town. Like all Griffin Editions, it’s kitted out with plenty of standard features including sports suspension, cruise control, 17-inch black alloy wheels, a seven-inch colour touchscreen and satellite navigation. The Adam Griffin is available with a 1.2-litre petrol (70PS) engine.

In 1857 Alexander Wilson set up a business making marine engines, the Vauxhall Iron Works, named after its location near the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and in 1903 it began manufacturing cars before Vauxhall Motors relocated to Luton in Bedfordshire in 1905.

Completing the Griffin range is the Corsa Griffin. Standard spec includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation, air con, heated front seats and heated steering wheel. Customers can select any of four Corsa Griffin models, either in three or five door body style, with a 1.4-litre petrol engine rated at 75PS or 90PS.

Vauxhall adopted the Griffin as its logo in 1915. The chief engineer and designer, Laurence H Pomeroy, offered the prize of two guineas for the design of a new symbol. The brief was for a heraldic design and the prize was won by a young apprentice called Harry Varley who proposed the image of a griffin, a mythical creature depicted on the coat of arms of Fulk le Breant, driving a ‘V’ flag into the ground.

The Vauxhall name and its Griffin logo both have a fascinating history. The 12th century Plantagenet mercenary, Fulk le Breant, was granted lands by King John and it was his property that became known as Fulk’s Hall,

Once the Griffin had been selected, the logo itself proceeded to evolve over the years, with the design becoming progressively simpler and more graphic. ■


XC90 goes Hybrid for 2020


olvo has introduced a series of upgrades for the seven-seat XC90, making its flagship luxury SUV an even more appealing proposition with new styling details, additional equipment, upgrades to petrol-electric plug-in versions and the debut of a new mild-hybrid powertrain. On sale now, the 2020 model year XC90 range is the first to offer Volvo’s new mildhybrid engine range, in this case a diesel designated ‘B5’. This combines Volvo’s established 2.0-litre 235hp diesel engine with a 48-volt battery, a KERS kinetic energy recovery system and an integrated starter generator. The system improves fuel economy – by up to 15% in real-world driving – and produces lower NOx emissions than the outgoing D5 XC90 it replaces. Energy captured by the KERS system when the car brakes or decelerates is stored as electricity in the battery. This is used to supplement the engine’s performance when accelerating and to power ancillary functions such as the headlights and audio system. The technology will be applied to petrol engines


in the XC90 line-up in the coming year. The B5 also gets an updated automatic transmission, which brings improved fuel efficiency and superior gearshift quality. Acceleration from a standstill is sharper, too, thanks to a greater torque capacity in the lower gears. The B5 also breaks new ground for Volvo by using a brake-by-wire system. The XC90’s T8 twin engine petrol-electric plug-in hybrid powertrain has been revised, with an increase in the high-voltage battery’s capacity from 10.4 to 11.8 kilowatt hours. This increases the car’s electric-only driving range from up to 21.7 to a maximum of 28.6 miles. The styling changes focus on detailing, with new grille and lower front bumper designs. The air intakes also have a fresh look and new alloy wheel designs have been introduced. All XC90 versions also now come with integrated roof rails and dual integrated exhaust tailpipes as standard. Across the board, the XC90 is now fitted with two USB ports in the cabin as standard. Momentum-grade models add power

adjustment for the front passenger seat and the T8 twin engine versions are now supplied with a purpose-designed bag to store the recharging cable. The XC90 has an impressive standard specification that perfectly expresses the model’s status as a luxury vehicle. Key features include the Sensus nine-inch multimedia touchscreen with voice-activated control, navigation system and access to the Volvo On Call connected services platform. City Safety equips the car with extensive systems to warn of and help avoid many common accident risks, and to provide optimum protection if a collision does happen. Other equipment fitted as standard includes a power-operated tailgate, LED headlights, a rear parking camera and keyless entry and start. Like every other new Volvo, the XC90 also benefits from a data SIM card, which provides access to up to 100GB of data for 12 months. On-the-road prices are from £52,235 for the T5 Momentum, while PCP and PCH agreements are both available from £499 a month. ■


Compact SUV with Spanish flair


he Ateca is Spanish car manufacturer Seat’s first compact SUV. Designed to capture all the Iberian flair, individualism and quality that characterises one of the most stylish brands on the market. This is not just an exercise in looking good, the Ateca is every inch a capable, technically advanced vehicle that fully embraces Seat’s ‘Technology to Enjoy’ maxim.

and affordable and well-suited to modern motoring life.

access to infotainment, connectivity and navigation.

The Ateca provides a host of new technology features that help make driving safer and less stressful. The latest generation park assist and a 360-degree array of cameras around the vehicle make for easier manoeuvres and eliminate the driver’s blind spots.

The Ateca offers an impressive breadth of choice, not least in a range of advanced petrol and diesel turbocharged engines that span a power spectrum from 115 to 190 PS. A new 1.0 TSI 115 Ecomotive unit kicks off the line-up, with official emissions and fuel consumption figures from 119 g/km and 54.3mpg.

As part of the VW Group, the Seat Ateca is based on the same floorplan as the Tiguan but is more than a match for it’s sibling, as well as the very popular Hyundai Tuscon and Kia Sportage that are so popular here in Northern Ireland. It benefits from exceptional packaging to deliver a specious cabin and one of the largest load areas in its class – 510 litres even before you move the rear seats and up to a maximum 1,604 litres.

Radar-controlled front assist and city emergency braking with pedestrian protection – standard on all models – are constantly scanning the road ahead for collision risks, sounding warnings and triggering emergency braking if need be. More sophisticated features such as adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist and – for the first time in a Seat – emergency assist. This detects if the driver has become inactive – possibly in a medical emergency – and brings the car to a straight-line halt with the hazard lights illuminated.

Throughout the car, Seat has raised its quality levels even higher, while at the same time nailing down lasting value for money. The result is car that is highly desirable

The Ateca makes great use of the media system with its simple touchscreen controls and full link smartphone integration functions to provide seamless and easy


There is also a 1.4 Eco TSI 150 petrol unit, which again reaps the rewards of efficient design and engineering, and a 2.0 TSI unit with 190PS, matched to a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission. The diesel choices are a 1.6 TDI with 115PS and a 2.0 TDI with 150 or 190PS and the option of DSG. Both versions of the 2.0 TDI and the 2.0 TSI 190 are offered with 4Drive all-wheel drive as standard. On these models, the Seat ‘drive profile’ adds two further options for snow and offroad, letting the driver prime the car’s handling and performance at a turn of the ‘driving experience’ button on the centre console. ■



The ultimate in comfort?


itroen’s new flagship model, the C5 Aircross SUV, is claimed to be the most comfortable model in its segment. The C5 Aircross features the Citroen advanced comfort programme which includes progressive hydraulic cushions suspension and advanced comfort seats.

The C5 Aircross SUV also boasts modularity with three individual sliding, folding and reclining rear seats, and best-in-class boot space. It is also equipped with 20 driver assistance systems (including highway driver assist and grip control) and six connectivity technologies such as wireless smartphone charging). The new C5 Aircross SUV excels through its comfort and spacious interior thanks to the Citroen Advanced Comfort programme. It features two major innovations: Citroen’s new suspension with progressive hydraulic cushions and advanced comfort seats with their unrivalled ability to offer top ride comfort, the result being an outstanding experience for all passengers.


The new C5 Aircross SUV delivers unique modularity in the segment derived from Citroen’s know-how in the world of MPVs, with three individual, sliding, folding and reclining rear seats and best-in-class boot volume of 580-litres to 720-litres (depending on second row seat position). The new C5 Aircross SUV features a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and an eightinch touchscreen, plus 20 latest-generation driver assistance technologies. These include highway driver assist, a level-two autonomous driving system, as well as six advanced connectivity technologies. The new, ultra-connected model can be equipped with wireless smartphone charging and ConnectedCAM Citroen. Powered by efficient and high-performance petrol and diesel engines ranging from 130hp to 180hp and the Citroen brand’s new EAT8 automatic gearbox,

The range is available with a range of highperformance latest-generation Euro 6.2 engines. They are equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox or the eight-speed EAT8 automatic gearbox. There is a choice of PureTech petrol and BlueHDi diesel engines producing either 130bhp or 180bhp. All feature stop and start technology. New Citroen C5 Aircross SUV is available from launch with grip control with Hill Descent Assist for off-road adventures in complete safety. New C5 Aircross will be the first Citroen model with PHEV Plug-In Hybrid technology, arriving in early 2020. Available in three highly specified trim levels Feel, Flair and Flair Plus, the C5 Aircross is powered by a range of efficient, highperformance PureTech petrol and BlueHDi diesel engines, and offers the latest generation EAT8 fully automatic gearbox. Prices start at £23,225. ■


Ford and Volkswagen models top NI sales


ord and Volkswagen models were the top sellers across Northern Ireland showrooms this summer, fresh figures show. The number of new cars sold in Northern Ireland dropped to 3,394 in August, down more than 8% compared to August last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

In Northern Ireland, Ford sold 108 Ford Fiestas. The company also held joint second spot, selling 99 Kugas, while 99 Volkswagen Tiguans were also sold. The only other part of the UK which experienced a reduction in new car sales during the same period, was England, which saw figures drop by 1.6%. At the same time, new car sales this year up to August to date have also fallen – from 38,407 last year to 37,989 this year. However, the figures have also revealed that the Northern Ireland new car market experienced the smallest drop in sales this year to date compared to the rest of the UK.


Ulster Bank chief economist, Richard Ramsey, said the statistics show that consumer confidence remains weak and it is likely to be affected by the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit. “New car sales are traditionally viewed as a key barometer of consumer confidence,” he said. “Despite the labour market being the strongest it has ever been, consumer confidence remains weak. “There was a notable fall of 307 vehicles on the corresponding month in 2018. Indeed, August 2019 represented the weakest August in seven years. Taking a look over the longerterm reveals a familiar trend – new car sales in Northern Ireland have been broadly flat or falling for the last five years.” Eight months through 2019, local dealers have notched up 37,989 new car sales. “This is down marginally on the corresponding period last year and marks the weakest January-to-August sales volumes in six years. “By comparison, the first eight months of

2006 and 2007 saw 49,328 and 51,866 new cars sold. “Currently, new car sales in Northern Ireland over the last 12 months are running at just over three-quarters of 2007 levels.” Mr Ramsey said that record highs in employment and lows in unemployment in 2006/07 were accompanied by robust consumer confidence. “Today, however, this is not the case,” he said. “Despite strong wage growth and record labour market performance of the positive variety, consumer confidence appears to be lacking. “Weakness in retail and consumer sensitive sectors, outside of tourism, is expected to be a key theme going forward. “Brexit uncertainty and deteriorating economic conditions at home and abroad provide additional headwinds.” The latest figures from the SMMT also revealed that Ford Fiesta was the UK’s most popular car during August, as well as the year to date. ■



Sonia Armstrong has been appointed as head of business development for Business in the Community Northern Ireland. She will lead the membership team in supporting member organisations to drive their responsible business agenda. Eamon Clarke has been appointed as the age at work programme manager for Business in the Community Northern Ireland. He has several years’ experience in the third sector, specialising in employment and support services. Suzi McIlwain has joined Business in the Community Northern Ireland as communications manager. She is responsible for raising awareness of corporate responsibility issues among businesses in NI.

Sandra Williams has been appointed chairwoman of the Fairhill Shopping Centre Traders’ Association. Sandra is store manager for the centre’s Starbucks store and has worked in retail for more than 40 years. Jack Chan is now group aftersales assistant manager at Shelbourne Motors Group. With more than 15 years’ industry experience, he will be responsible for the development of all service and parts departments across the firm. Donnelly Group has appointed company stalwart Paul Harvey as Land Rover sales manager at its new £6m Jaguar Land Rover showroom in Dungannon.

Ryan Cuthbertson has joined Hamilton Architects as a project architect on new healthcare and education schemes. He has three years’ post graduate experience in the residential, healthcare and transport sectors. Lucy Ashe joins the Hamilton Architects as senior architect after gaining 13 years’ post graduate experience with practices in London and Northern Ireland, delivering projects in the aviation, mixed use commercial and high-end residential sectors. Emma Murtagh is now a senior architect with Hamilton Architects. She will be working on major education sector projects, including Canterbury Christ Church University.



Stephen Allen has been appointed to the position of corporate banking relationship director with Barclays in Northern Ireland. He is a chartered accountant with 20 years’ experience. Richard Crawford is now general manager with Shelbourne Motors. He will oversee the running of the Nissan franchise at Shelbourne Motors Portadown to include sales and aftersales with a major focus on customer service. Lisa Keys has joined Pinnacle as commercial director. Ms Keys is an experienced senior leader with a breadth of experience across a variety of sectors including charity, commercial organisations and professional services.

Bryony Chapman has taken on the role of account manager within the Massive PR team. She will take a strategic lead in the development of client projects, acting as the first point of contact for a full portfolio of consumer and business clients. Andrew Molloy joins Hamilton Architects as project architect on a range of important conservation schemes. He has extensive experience in the conservation and heritage arena, as well as many domestic, commercial and public sector projects. Hamilton Architects has appointed Andrew McKee as a technologist to work on a range of diverse projects in the education and health sectors. He holds a degree in architectural technology and management from Ulster University.

Tanith Panayotou has been appointed business development manager at The Merchant Hotel. She will develop and nurture long-term relationships with new and existing customers. Mark Priestley is project architect at Hamilton Architects and has more than 20 years’ experience. His role is heading up teams delivering large scale education, health and commercial projects. Dawn Hesketh has joined public relations firm MCE as a client director. She will be responsible for a portfolio of accounts across the tourism, retail and leisure sectors as well new business development.





1. Welsh international rugby union referee Nigel Owens is pictured (third from right) at KPMG’s Belfast office. He visited the firm recently to talk about the importance of inclusion and diversity, reflecting on his own experiences in the world of rugby. 2. Paul Keenan of Volume Fitness and Craig Stewart, senior asset manager of Lotus Property announce the arrival of the new health and wellbeing facility set to open at The Junction Retail and Leisure Park, representing a £100,000 investment. 3. Newtownabbey-based Harvey Group has announced that Richard Craig is to take over the reins of the business from its founder, Brian Harvey. Pictured is Richard Craig and Brian Harvey.


4. Women in Business chief executive Roseann Kelly with Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Victor Chestnutt pictured as the organisations announced the beginning of a new partnership this year. 5. The Colu team pictured at an event they hosted for city merchants ahead of the launch of Belfast Coin. Pictured is Chris Bunce, Belfast sales manager with Richard Cherry, general manager, Colu UK and Leona Mills, Belfast Community marketing manager.






PHOTOCALL 6. Pictured announcing Expleo’s fourth Tech Team Cycle Challenge and plans to raise £100,000 for NSPCC Northern Ireland are Rob McConnell, Expleo, Catherine Nuttall, NSPCC Northern Ireland and Irish cycle champion John Madden. 7. Balmoral Golf Club lady’s captain Eleanor O’Neill and captain Donagh Finnegan at the club’s annual charity day, which took place in August. It was held this year in aid of Addiction NI and Juvenile Golf Development.


8. John Crawford, take home trade channel manager for Diageo NI with Lyndsay McKernan, SuperValu, holding a rugby limited edition Guinness Draught eight pack, marking the roll out of Diageo’s new packaging which will see the removal of plastic from multipacks of Harp, Rockshore, Smithwick’s and Guinness.


9. Henderson Wholesale has been awarded Silver Accreditation against the Investors in People standard. Pictured are Henderson Group’s joint managing director Martin Agnew, head of the academy, Justine McGreevey and group HR director, Sam Davidson. 10. Holiday offer website Holiday NInja has joined forces with NI Travel News. NI Travel News director Jonathan Adair is pictured with and Jordan McCluskey, founder of Holiday NInja.







11. Robyn McMurray, senior communications manager at Morrow Communications is joined by Cancer Focus NI skin cancer prevention officer, Bernadette Miller, and Fiona Anderson, senior communications executive at Morrow Communications, during the charity’s visit to its offices. 12. Hamilton Architects has appointed two new partners. Senior partners Paul Millar (front right) and Mark Haslett are pictured with new partners Graeme Ogle and Michelle Canning. 13. Gander, a mobile platform that displays ‘reduced to clear’ food products, has partnered with Henderson Technology to bring this sustainable technology solution to life. Pictured is Darren Nickels, head of Henderson Technology with Paola Cringle, Gander.



14. SSE Renewables has launched a new education and training programme, the ‘Learning for Life’ Skills Fund. Pictured is Laurence O’Kane, chairman Workspace, Georgina Grieve, chief executive of Workspace and Mark Ennis, chairman of SSE Ireland. 15. Ian Sheppard, NI managing director, Bank of Ireland UK joins RUAS operations director Rhonda Geary and operations manager David Browne to announce Bank of Ireland as headline sponsor of The Royal Ulster Premier Beef & Lamb Championships.





PHOTOCALL 16. Lidl has added 11 new products from four local producers which go on sale across all 200 Lidl stores. Pictured are Connor Morgan, Oh So Lean, Steph Fulton, Wee ChoCo, Declan O’Donoghue, Erne Larder and David Grant, The Little Meat Company. 17. Red Brick House Nursery School in Bangor has invested in the purchase and development of new after-school care facilities, with support from Ulster Bank. Pictured is Martine Hanna, senior relationship manager at Ulster Bank, and Julie Morrison. 18. Andrew Willis, AW Control Systems with Bill Montgomery of Invest NI. The firm is creating 16 new jobs and building an additional production facility to support its growth plans.



19. Paul Nesbitt and Thomas Glackin (right), directors at Linen Bundle with Jenna Mairs, Whiterock Finance. The linen firm has secured a £400,000 investment from the Growth Loan Fund II which will see it create four new jobs. 20. Bengal Brasserie owner, Luthfur Ahmed (centre) with staff members Taz Husain and Veer Rana as they prepare for their week-long celebration to mark the restaurant’s 30th birthday on Belfast’s Ormeau Road.







21. Law firm Mills Selig is celebrating a landmark 60 years in business. A host of top business leaders, and clients joined the firm at Cafe Parisien. Pictured are John Kearns, Emma Hunt, Chris Guy and Adrian Kerr, Kiera Lee, Anne Skegg and Anna-Marie McAlinden. 22. The Slieve Donard Resort and Spa is the latest commercial customer to connect to the natural gas network as part of a major expansion project by Phoenix Natural Gas. Pictured is Michael Weston, Slieve Donard and with Olly Mars, Phoenix Natural Gas. 23. JN Wine founded in Crossgar Co Down has acquired independent London wine retailer, Highbury Vintners, in a move that will expand the award-winning company’s footprint in the UK and Ireland market. Pictured is James Nicholson.


24. Commercial Motor Products Ltd (CMP) has appointed Donnelly Group to supply a new fleet for the wholesale distribution company. Pictured are Mark Curran and Peadar Toal of CMP, with Chris Donnelly, Donnelly Group and Mickey Daly. 25. Serious PR founder and managing director, David McCavery is pictured after it announced a merger with Beattie to form Beattie Ireland. He is pictured with Joanne Spence, Beattie Scotland director and Laurna Woods, chief executive of Beattie.






PHOTOCALL 26. Danske Bank has held a Planning for Brexit event for more than 100 Northern Ireland business leaders. Pictured are Grant Thornton’s tax partner Peter Legge, along with Danske Bank’s Conor Lambe, John-Paul Coleman and Shaun McAnee. 27. Shelbourne Motors has announced a pre-tax profit of £1.2m in 2018 – a 28% increase on the previous year. Pictured is Richard Ward, Paul Ward and Caroline Willis, from Shelbourne Motors. 28. Forest Feast ‘Super Fruit Shapes’ ambassador and rugby star, Rory Best, is pictured with his children Richie, Penny, and Ben, enjoying a snack from Forest Feast’s new kids’ range.


29. Translink’s Glider is celebrating one year in service. More than two million additional passengers used the link between east and west Belfast. Pictured are Harry Connolly, Chris Conway, Lord Mayor of Belfast, John Finucane, Kerrie Sweeney and Chris Armstrong.


30. Bloc Blinds has secured a listing of its new roller blind in select stores of the family-run interiors chain Harry Corry. Harry Corry’s Gareth Corry is pictured with Bloc Blinds founder and managing director, Cormac Diamond.






The Chairman He may have missed a meeting at Number 10, but the Chairman still made it over to the Big Smoke in one piece


hen you’re rubbing shoulders with some of the best in Northern Ireland business, a sticky day in the bastion of politics certainly provides a suitably apt backdrop. But, the normally frenzied buzz around Central Lobby and the chambers sat idle on this day in which the great and the good gathered to both highlight Northern Ireland’s business credentials, but also act as a platform to ensure our political elite are aware of what a ‘no deal’ could mean for everyone living here. Trade NI, which includes Stephen Kelly, Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill, hosted the event at the Pavilion, showcasing their Vision 2030 plan. Their day also included a rather swanky visit to both the Irish Embassy and Number 10 itself. The gathering of bosses, politicians and dignitaries at Westminster formed the single largest Northern Ireland business delegation to descend on Parliament.


I should note, despite my lofty chairman credentials, my invitation to Mr Johnson’s Downing Street soiree appears to have been misplaced. So, no opportunity to meet the man face-to-face and ask him whether a serious deal will manifest to save the all-Island economy from catastrophe. Those attending included Vicky Davis and Kevin Kingston of Danske Bank – one of the event’s lead sponsors, John Hansen of KPMG and Allstate’s John Healy. Secretary of State Julian Smith made one of his first appearances to a large number of business bosses. But he decided not to furnish the room with details of how Brexit negotiations were progressing. Others turning out included Michael Bell of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, Paul Allen, formerly of Tayto who took over Genesis Crafty last year, BDO’s Brian Murphy, Flybe’s Ken Harrower, along with PR bosses Chris Brown and Arlene O’Connor. Meanwhile, former BBC journalist and broadcaster, Maxine Mawhinney, played host for the day. The general sense in the room? A year on from a similar delegation and visit, the tone was certainly more frustrated. Some crafting their words carefully, others, less so.

Meanwhile, over at the ponies more than 100 Northern Ireland chartered accountants came together for a Day at the Races, sponsored by Hays. The event was organised by the Ulster Society’s Young Professionals Group. Those turning out in style include Sarah Cull, Hannah Murtagh, Elaine McCullagh, Luke Fuller, Zara Duffy and Richard Gillan, and Lorraine Nelson, Maeve Hunt and Sinead Fox-Hamilton.

It was the turn of all things fabric at the fantastic backdrop of Portview Trade Centre in east Belfast. Luxury flooring specialists The Rug Company hosted its first Irish event, showcasing Thompson Clarke’s talented design team, and putting together a carefully curated display of hand-knotted wool and silk rugs all paying homage to the skill and craftsmanship befitting of their creators. More than 160 guests in attendance from across Ireland which included top clients, interior brands such as Zimmer and Rohde Fabrics, Colefax and Fowler, and Osborne & Little. Those turning out included Emma EllesHills, Lindy Clarke and Sara Thompson, alongside estate agent boss Simon Brien and Simon Robinson RPP Architects.

Finally, and a flashback to the beginning of the month, it was the turn of Belfast’s best beer festival. Once again, Carlisle Memorial Church played host to ABV – the talents of Michael Kerr, Felicia Matheson, Darren Nugent, Rosie Kerr and a plethora of others. Hundreds turned out for the sold out weekend, which saw some of the rarest and greatest variety of brews to arrive in these shores. ■


Simon Brien and Simon Robinson RPP Architects

Stephen Kelly and Colin Neill

Secretary of State Julian Smith at the Trade NI event

Guests attending the Trade NI delegation at the Irish Embassy in London

Vicky Davis, Kevin Kingston, John Hansen and John Healy at the Trade NI event

Guests at the Trade NI event at Westminster

Lorraine Nelson, Maeve Hunt, Sinead Fox-Hamilton and Zara Duffy

Emma Elles-Hills, Lindy Clarke and Sara Thompson


Pictured at Down Royal are Sarah Cull, Hannah Murtagh, Elaine McCullagh, Luke Fuller, Zara Duffy and Richard Gillan


Quay Street, Galway




An electric trip to the west of Ireland Eilis O’Hanlon takes a trip west and explores what Galway has to offer, and pays a visit to one of the Irish city’s neighbouring islands, Inis Mor


hen Virginia Woolf visited Galway in May 1934, she found it to be a “wild, poor, sordid” place, with nothing much of interest for a snooty English gentlewoman save for “two great bookshops”. The bookshops are still great, but everything else about the city has changed beyond measure.

Galway is now a cool, vibrant, cultured, cosmopolitan place with a laid-back and welcoming vibe. I went there with my daughter on a three-day jaunt in early summer, and neither of us was ready to leave when the time was up. The g Hotel, where we were staying, is within walking distance of the city centre. It’s built on a stately scale, even if it does look fairly unassuming from the outside. Don’t let that fool you. Once through the door, the surroundings open up into five-star luxurious elegance. Galway-born, globally famous milliner Philip Treacy oversaw the interior style, which has lots of glass and bold colours. His flamboyant taste is unique, and it really does make a statement. The attention to detail extended to the cakes waiting in our room. That alone would have been enough to officially win us over. The jury’s out on whether I could resist torture, but cake? Not a chance. The luxurious bathroom, which was provided with a complimentary range of high-end ESPA skincare and beauty products, sealed the deal. Of course, if the opportunities for eating are up to scratch, then any short break becomes a delight. Thankfully the days are long gone when guests used to endure rather than enjoy eating in hotels, but I was still slightly concerned about what they might give us to eat, because we’re both vegans.


There was no need to worry. Everything was delicious and painstakingly thought out, from the crispy tofu in coconut sauce at dinner that first night to a breakfast treat of avocado toast next morning. The staff were friendly and attentive without going overboard, not least at the spa, to which we headed for some self-indulgent pampering. A few days in the west of Ireland is never going to be long enough to see and do everything, but the winding streets and enticing little shops in Galway are the perfect place to start, nowhere more so than in the famous Latin Quarter with its cobblestones, pubs, and colourful buildings. It comes even more alive at night; but again, I have to say that the best thing about it is the food. There is no shortage of places to eat, and they cater for all sorts of palate. The city seems to have embraced veganism with a vengeance. Particularly recommended is TGO (The Gourmet Offensive) in Mary Street, an informal cafe and take- away that specialises in vegan street food. I had falafels, my daughter loved the seitan spice bag, and the brownies did not disappoint. With only three days to visit the area, we obviously had to prioritise, but a trip to the Aran Islands was top of the itinerary. Virginia Woolf never made it to the islands because the weather was too rough. We too were warned that the ferry over might be a bit bumpy, but it couldn’t have been smoother. Soon after leaving the mainland, we were on Inis Mor. The weather had stayed fair, so, after browsing through a few artsy-crafty shops, we did what any tourist worth their salt should do and hired bikes. There are quite a few bicycle hire outlets to choose from and they all seem to be the same price — €10 (£9) for the day.

Before long, we were cycling along the coast road to the ancient fort of Dun Aengus, once described as “the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe”. Dun Aengus is well worth the time, though be warned that, having parked the bikes, there is a bit of a walk involved in order to get there. You also need to pay to get in. Returning to the ferry, the clouds which had been hanging overhead all day finally made good on the threat of rain, and soon it was pelting down. Out came the raincoats, and a leisurely ride turned into a race to the bike depot before we were totally soaked. It wasn’t a brief shower either. It was a bit worrying, though, because next day we’d planned to hire bikes from Jonathan Powell’s shop All Things Connemara in Clifden. Electric bikes, to be precise. Don’t judge us. It’s hilly there. (For those who insist on going pro, there are non-electric bikes to rent too.) There are plenty of cycle routes round the area, of varying lengths and difficulty, and Jonathan helpfully offers easy to follow maps to them all. The roads took us past herds of cattle and sheep grazing in stone-walled fields, along a spectacular coastline with high cliff paths and steep mountainous tracks which demand that you stop and stare. Checking out of the g Hotel at the end of our stay was definitely a wrench. Virginia Woolf herself left the west of Ireland with a plan to buy a house there, though she never did. We left with a less ambitious plan to return at the first opportunity. Next year, Galway is set to be European Capital of Culture for the first time. You’d have to be mad not to be there. ■



Dell Ireland boss: how I learned that business jargon is not all bad Northern Ireland man Mark Hopkins is Dell’s new Ireland country manager. He speaks to Adrian Weckler about some of the challenges the tech giant is facing and the road ahead 96



hink of the longest-standing multinational tech companies in Ireland – it really comes down to just five or six that have deep roots.

we still have the same size numbers. We’re actually growing in Ireland.” Mark faces other issues common to some of the big tech firms here. Because the company is run as an all-island (and pan-European) firm, a no-deal Brexit means serious potential problems.

Apple, Intel, IBM and Microsoft are certainly there. And then there’s Dell. The company once as closely associated with Limerick as Tim Cook’s iPhone firm is with Cork, or Intel is with Leixlip, has been in Ireland for 28 years.

Put simply, the transfer of data in and out of the UK from Ireland could be legally problematic and open to sudden disruption if challenged. Is Dell ready for this?

But while Dell EMC employs around 5,000 people here, Dell Technologies actually has 6,000 people in Ireland under all of its umbrella firms, including VMWare and Pivotal. That makes whoever runs the company one of the bigger country managers around. Northern Irish boss Mark Hopkins has just assumed that mantle, after former chief Aisling Keegan took a step up to become vice president and general manager of consumer and small business for Dell in Europe. Mark has spent most of the last 20 years going from big company to big company. A sevenyear stretch in Microsoft was followed by eight years in British Telecom before joining Dell less than two years ago. Aside from their sheer size, I put it to him that all three tech and telecom giants are known for their highly repetitive levels of business jargon. Mark is no stranger to jargon, as one of his first Dell pronouncements illustrated. “As emerging technologies accelerate the pace of change within all sectors, there’s a significant opportunity to help drive business transformation and generate real results for customers here in Ireland,” he said soon after he got the job. I can’t resist asking him whether he’s ‘passionate about transformation’. “Absolutely,” he says with a grin. Is this a real answer or a wink? Moreover, is business jargon a particularly Dell thing? “I think sometimes within the industry we can be guilty of using jargon,” he says. “But I think


the sentiment behind that is very real. I think the opportunity is there, certainly in the last four to five years. I’ve never seen anything like the pace of change that we’re currently seeing. And I think genuinely that the opportunity is there for the companies to…” At this point I cut him off, aware that we’re straying into the danger zone. I’m not sure whether Mark’s answer is a clever parody or a real point. What is real is the challenge Mark faces for Dell to stay on top. It is still managing the after-effects of a megamerger with VMWare. In Ireland, that has meant consolidation and transfers between some of the businesses. The most recent accounts for 2018 show this in action. Dell Direct, which handles sales and support in Cherrywood, saw employee numbers slide to 936 from 1,107. But Dell Products, which is involved in the sales and distribution of Dell technology around Europe, saw staff numbers increase to 919 from 846 in the same period. And there are other moving parts. “Some of those are company transfers,” says Mark. “As we continue to evolve to the new structure that was set up three years ago, you’ll see transfers from one side to another side. But

“Planning has been ongoing for some time,” he says. “As an international company, we’ve got options from a supply-chain point of view. We’re set up so that if we need to get goods and products moved around between the UK and Ireland, we can do that. But every company’s going to have to look at that and turn to the customers, the markets that they serve and have their own contingency plans.” Standard contractual clauses, likely to be leaned on by many companies after October 31, may only be a temporary reprieve. Mark has other things on his agenda. He takes a particular interest in education and technology’s role in it. Does this mean selling Dell kit into the sector? “It’s more in terms of the research and development functionality that we have here,” he says. “It’s something I’m very passionate about, making sure that we open that up and not just from a selling point of view. It’s making use of the collaboration and the skillsets that we have in Ireland and beyond, to open that up to the research and development sector. Look at things that we’re doing with the University of Limerick, opening up our AI, virtual reality and augmented reality research.” Mark references Ulster University, too. “That’s not a ‘sell to’ activity,” he says. “That’s something we bring to life and actually help the research and collaboration between government, academia and industry. Because none of us can do it alone.” ■


Uncovering the 9-5 NAME: Cormac Quinn POSITION: Founder, loyalBe

7.45am I get up and get ready for the day ahead. Shortly after 8, I grab a coffee and return to the house where I use Trello to organise my to-do list – it’s one of my ‘pinned’ tabs that are always open. (My other pinned tabs are Google Calendar, Gmail, Jira, and Coda.) I then dig into some smaller tasks that I can get through pretty quickly. I tend to stay away from my emails until later in the day, unless it’s something that requires urgent attention. 9.30am I listen to a podcast while I walk to the office – it takes less than 20 minutes. My team and I are currently based in the Ormeau Baths startup hub which is ideal for us – it’s conveniently located, it’s filled with other aspiring startups, and the desk arrangement allows us to sit in close proximity to each other, allowing us to work together effectively. We won office space there in 2018 as part of Propel and haven’t left. 10am The team and I usually have a stand-up around this time to share what we have done in the previous day and what we will be working on today. Sometimes this is done through Slack if the whole team isn’t present. The team often expresses how useful this is – allowing everyone to be on the same page and to know what each other is working on is crucial to helping us move quickly as a startup. 10.30am Now is when I usually check my emails and pick up something else from my daily to-do list. Depending on the day it could be code reviews, acceptance testing, reviewing marketing content, updating investors, liaising with clients and more. I will usually try and schedule meetings for this time, if possible. It allows me to get them out of the way early in the day. It could be anything from conducting


usability tests, to a sales call, a partnership meeting, or a catchup with Danske Bank to discuss our trial or something entirely new. 1.45pm Time for a quick lunch. I try to bring lunch with me, but I often fail and end up grabbing a meal deal from Tesco on the way into work – it’s quick and filling. 2pm I usually go to the gym three times per week (if work permits). I have a membership with the gym right next door, and I find that around 2pm is an ideal time to go – the lunchtime rush is over and most people are back at their desks. I do strength training and finish it off with a quick swim. I love swimming because it allows me to be completely free from technology, plus it’s great exercise. 3pm Back in the office and I try to have a clear

schedule for the rest of the evening so that I can get through some of the meatier tasks that require deep concentration. It could be coding a new feature for our platform, building an email campaign, creating a pitch deck, whatever it is, I usually have my headphones on. 7pm Depending on how hungry I am, I will leave the office at around 7pm and make dinner at home. After, I will usually get stuck back into work. I sometimes don’t feel up to this, however, and end up relaxing with something on Netflix instead. I’m currently watching the Chernobyl mini-series, which is fantastic. 10.30pm I try to read for 30 minutes each day as I love to learn and before bed is usually the best time. I’m ashamed to admit that more often than not, I will reach for my phone and watch YouTube or read Hacker News/Reddit instead (at least it’s mostly educational content).

Profile for Ulster  Business

Ulster Business - October 2019  

Ulster Business

Ulster Business - October 2019  

Ulster Business