COMET (Councils of the Metropolitan Region) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Draft National Strategic Reference Framework. The six local authorities comprising Comet are Belfast, Carrickfergus, Castlereagh, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and North Down. The Comet group is currently addressing a number of strategic issues across the metropolitan sub-region.
COMET broadly agrees the position set out in the draft document in terms of issues 1 –13 on the UK position. We will therefore restrict our response to how to concentrate funding in Northern Ireland and the issues faced in the Metropolitan Region.
1.1 Without doubt one of the main issues facing the Northern Ireland economy is the productivity gap with the rest of the UK.
1.2 The productivity gap requires a focussed approach to issues such as innovation, skills development, Research & Development and entrepreneurship.
1.3 The Metropolitan Region is the key economic driver in Northern Ireland and as such we feel that infrastructural and business development support will be crucial to enhance economic performance in the province.
2.1 Business start-ups continue to rise, however lag behind the UK average. 2.2 The start a Business Programme delivered by ENI needs to be improved in line with the recent PWC Evaluation. In addition, linkages with the FE sector should be developed and enhanced. 2.3 Entrepreneurship is increasingly cited as a key factor in developing the private sector. We need to be looking beyond the start a business programme to capture and evolve entrepreneurs. 2.4 There is a clear need to re-enforce entrepreneurship in schools by encouraging young people to consider self-employment as a viable career option. A range of programmes to support enterprise development in schools should be promoted.
3.1 Wide acknowledgment that a knowledge-based economy embedding high levels of innovation and creativity is a key priority. 3.2 Utilisation of Universities and FE Colleges to develop Centres of Excellence focussed on providing in the Universities case Research (R&D) and in the case of FE Colleges exploiting the potential for Development (R&D). I don’t think these are mutually exclusive. Innovation comes in a variety of forms which can be delivered by both universities and colleges.
3.3 Local Council delivery in Business Support could be based on the Centres Excellence model complimenting each area with specialist expertise.
3.4 Local Authorities could invest in activities to improve business performance at a local and sub-regional level.
3.5 Development of key ‘added value’ areas to encourage private sectoral Development, bio-technology, nano-technology, environmental services etc. Clustering of new technologies into viable business /technology parks utilising the Metropolitan Region to have complimentary sectors within the sub-region.
3.6 Sectoral development will be important with the decline of traditional industries. Workforce skills will be an important factor in attracting new sectors.
3.7 Creating CPD programmes not based on academic content but in experiential mentor based ‘real life’ learning scenario.
Transport and Infrastructure
4.1 Joined up approach to the transportation infrastructure across Government Agencies.
Enhancement of Local urban planning including traffic flow, sewage etc.
4.3 Ensuring the technological infrastructure meets the future needs of business.
4.4 Ensuring quality of transportation network, with a focus on the key transport hubs of Belfast International, Belfast City and Dublin airports, the key ports on the island and rail and road links between Belfast and Dublin
5.1 Skills development is another area that will require partnership working with DEL, the FE Colleges and universities to deliver a high quality, flexible workforce, linked to the needs of business.
5.2 Local Authorities can engage in workforce development forums and connect the Colleges with business needs.
5.3 The creation of credible alternatives to University Courses, utilising practical experiential learning in skills development, creating a flexible workforce that is employable with creative and innovative skills. 5.4 An enhanced and growing private sector will attract more homegrown graduates and slow down the ‘brain drain’ from Northern Ireland. 5.5 There is much need also to address the high numbers of people in Northern Ireland with no or low skills or qualifications, particularly around pre-pre-vocational training with respect to soft skills including self esteem and confidence building.
Protection of the urban and rural environment.
Waste Management, recycling and landfill issues are key priority. Renewable energies are also a high priority.
Planning, greenbelts, housing development, controlled planning in local areas are also areas for consideration.
Local urban regeneration, ability to plan areas to suit the community and preserve town/cityscapes.
Preserving local identities and communities.
COMET agrees that the ERDF programme should be a single programme under the Competitiveness and Employment Objective.
COMET also agrees the three priority areas; increasing investment in research and development and promoting innovation, enterprise development and improving accessibility and enhancing the environment.
Given the changes that will take place under RPA, there is a need to ensure that these priority areas interface with the Local Authorities to ensure that delivery is effective at a local level.
The Metropolitan area is already the key driver in economic development in Northern Ireland, and we are committed to delivering effective programmes to enhance the objectives detailed through the ERDF priorities.
COMET agrees that the ESF programme should be a single programme under the Competitiveness and Employment Objective.
COMET also agrees the two priority areas; helping people into sustainable employment and improving workforce skills and adaptability.
Identification of barriers to employment for entry or re-entry to the labour market will be essential to develop effective programmes aimed at improving access to the workforce. Life skills, childcare and other enhancements will be important aspects to effective programming.
Given the influx of migrant workers, a minority programme to help assimilation into our society and into the workforce may be necessary. There are many examples of this through transnational partnerships, who have had and are having experience of these issues.
ESF should also be utilised for those in employment to raise their skill levels, increasing productivity and flexibility.
There seems to be a lack of government recognition of the rural economy. Diversification of rural businesses should be encouraged and specific focus on rural business development and rural tourism is required to underpin the broader concept of rural development.
Enhancement of the rural environment and linking this to business opportunities.
Growth of the tourism sector including dedicated programmes of assistance for local product development ( including events) and tourism business development. The opportunities afforded to the Comet region ( in terms of water-based tourism and related hospitality and infrastructure development), of the re-opening of the Lagan Navigation are clear. The ultimate goal is to connect this waterway through to Lough Neigh to the Ulster Canal through the Erne-Shannon waterway and on to the inland waterway network across the Republic of Ireland, creating a new tourism product of National significance, North and South.
Marine and Coastal Development, utilisation of coastal infrastructure, environmental protection of our coasts, importance of ports, utilisation of the coast fortourism potential.
Cross Border Developments; developing linkages (Dublin corridor), Glasgow, encouraging SME cross border development and procurement, joint tourism initiatives and investment techniques.
International linkages; outward looking region, business co-operation, best practise learning and applications, targeted tourism packages, E-governance andinnovation and technical developments. Opportunities for the new Territorial Co-operation programme.
COMET as the representative partnership of Local Authorities in the Metropolitan Region is broadly in agreement with the Draft National Strategic Reference Framework and the priorities and objectives therein. We recognise the need for economic reform with the enhancement and strengthening of the Private Sector as a key objective to deliver a more flexible and competitive economy. Issues of productivity need to be addresses and skills development needs to be a cornerstone of a more dynamic workforce. Although this position paper represents a collective , initial Comet response, appendices one – three outline additional comments provided by individual councils with respect to their own strategic priorities.
RPA will create opportunities to deliver a more holistic and coherent response to most of these issues, the new Local Authorities should have the ability to shape local delivery and ensure accountability.
We have also indicated other areas for consideration, examining a more outward looking region and the relationship of other EU funds such as Territorial Co-operation and how this could complement the ERDF and ESF Programmes. Tourism and the Rural Economy are also an important facet for potential development. Community Wellbeing is another important area through RPA and Local Authorities will have a major role in creating sustainable communities.
This response is by no means exhaustive we would welcome any further opportunities for further consultation in all or detailed aspects of this submission.
Response from Western Economic Strategy Team (WEST)
Received 17 May 2006 17 May 2006
Mr Rufus Rottenberg