News - Northern Ireland

LAST week the Bank of England's chief economist compared the bank's post-referendum financial forecasts to the famously inaccurate forecast by renowned BBC weatherman Michael Fish ahead of the UK's great storm of 1987. Looking into 2017, the Bank of England has taken a somewhat more enigmatic approach to its forecasting, saying there are "reasonable grounds" that 2017 might be a "somewhat more difficult year", but there is "nothing inevitable" about that, with it being just a "best guess".

So far in 2017 clarity seems to be in short supply. That said, one thing that is becoming clearer is that we are leaving the EU, exactly how and when remains ill-defined, but it is going to happen. And with the commencement of a new year, the smart movers will be looking forward to seeing what opportunities they can take advantage of during and after the transition.

To date the headlines have centred around the fear within the UK of what happens once we leave the EU. Surprisingly little has been made of the feelings of those on the other side of the fence. There will be significant repercussions for the countries within the EU as they are deprived of the access to the UK that they enjoyed during its membership of the European Union.

Let's not forget that the UK is the world's fifth largest economy and, as such, there are opportunities within UK borders that foreign investors, within the EU and beyond, want to take advantage of.

Is now not the ideal time for Northern Ireland to take stock and assess how we can help EU countries who want to continue accessing UK opportunities over the coming months and years as the European economic terrain shifts and the UK reverses out of the EU.

Is it beyond the realms of imagination that Northern Ireland could be one of the best opportunities for post-referendum foreign investors wanting to be well placed for the future? Northern Ireland is unique with its UK/EU land border and the region should be considered a key stepping stone to the UK for the rest of Europe.

We've already seen one unanticipated effect of the referendum as the weak pound resulted in cross-border shoppers flocking to Newry, Enniskillen and Derry in their droves in the latter half of 2016. Investors weren't slow to spot the opportunities this created, resulting in a few unexpected investments in retail developments that are well placed to meet this new demand.

Dublin is rallying for as soft a Brexit as possible and the Executive's limited comment on the matter suggests it wants the same - so why couldn't Northern Ireland be considered the UK's silver lining when being considered by foreign investors.

We don't just offer substantial cost savings in terms of bricks and mortar, foreign investors get access to a high-calibre, cost-competitive workforce. Over 4,000 people graduate each year with business qualifications in Northern Ireland and the province consistently outperforms all other UK regions in academic qualifications.

What is there not to like? Why wouldn't European companies consider Northern Ireland as the ideal location for a UK satellite office at the very least?

Of course, such vision would require stimulus from Stormont as we need to prevent our closest European neighbour from going directly to mainland UK. However, surely investment, jobs and the other inherent benefits of foreign investment for the province is something all the parties at Stormont could get behind.

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