Northern Ireland’s emergence as a financial and technology hub

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Did you know that the world’s biggest tax and audit firms are investing in Northern Ireland?

Just last month there was the news that Grant Thornton was expanding its operations in Belfast, bringing its total number of staff to 400, while early last year EY (formally Ernst and Young) announced it was to create 486 jobs.

In contrast to what was once home to many manufacturing companies, now a high proportion of new firm arrivals in the region are in financial and legal services. Belfast also boasts the presence of two of the world’s big four: PriceWaterhouseCooper has three units dedicated to training, technology and international survey, while Deloitte set up its technology centre in 2013. All in all, it’s a good time to be an accountant in Northern Ireland…

The route to recovery

Much like its Republic counterpart Dublin, Belfast is shaping up to be a hub for technology, with data and cyber security operations also based there. And in return, it’s not just Northern Ireland that is seeing an increase in financial jobs, Northern Trust also announced the creation of 400 new jobs at its Limerick offices this year. There is a sense that as the all-island economy improves, both north and south can consider themselves worthy competitors for foreign direct investment from the financial and technology industries.

In fact the Grant Thornton announcement makes a particular mention of the fact that jobs are being created against competition from its offices in the Republic and the UK. Invest Northern Ireland, the regional business development agency created by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is focused on making the region a competitor on the global stage, and has aided these investments with millions of pounds in grants.

While it may be a contentious issue, Northern Ireland may also be moved by the corporate tax cuts laid out in George Osborne’s budget. In order to continue to compete, it’s been advised the government look at cutting the devolved tax rate. If they then decide to undercut the Republic’s competitive corporate rates, this could lead to further increase in cross-border competition for the attentions of global giants.

Young and home grown talent

What’s most promising is the jobs that have been created by these firms have included a high proportion of graduate positions as well as high skilled positions. With ‘generation emigration’ being a key concern in many Irish counties, it’s good to see opportunities for young talent close to home, who not so long ago may have been forced to move elsewhere.

Yet amidst all this corporate courting, there is likely to be concern that reliance on foreign investment isn’t enough. Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar recently stated that the “future of Ireland’s economic recovery will be built on the backbone of SMEs”. Meanwhile Northern Ireland is showing signs of success in this area, as recent research found that more SMEs get to £1m in turnover in the first three years than anywhere else in the UK.

Kayleigh Ziolo is a freelance journalist and writer based in Ireland.

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