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Strong leadership crucial to keep our top talents and provide stable future

By Joanne Stuart

Published 28/06/2016

Joanne Stuart, director of development at Catalyst Inc, formerly the NI Science Park
Joanne Stuart, director of development at Catalyst Inc, formerly the NI Science Park

They say a week is a long time in politics, but since the result of the referendum was announced on Friday, the weekend has seemed like a long time and has given an indication of the instability that will ensue.

As a Remain voter, I was hugely disappointed by the result, especially as only around 37% of the population voted for it. But the result stands and it is now incumbent on all of us to ensure that we negotiate the best deal for Northern Ireland, especially given that the majority of those voting here wished to remain in the EU.

There are a number of challenges on the horizon and it will require strong leadership to navigate our way and look to how we can create opportunities.

We have seen determined leadership in Scotland and we need the same here. Northern Ireland has a strong resilience built up through the years of the Troubles and we have many innovative and creative businesses that give us a good foundation to build from.

However, with the rise in the number of people - particularly the young - applying for Irish passports, we must ensure that our talent is not lost.

In the short-term, with a weaker pound, there will be benefits to exporters. Our goods will be cheaper to buy and there is an opportunity to gain market share. There is also an opportunity to boost our tourism sector.

On the flip side, imports will be dearer, with fuel expected to rise in the coming weeks. This provides an even bigger incentive to get our energy costs down by using local resources.

Last week, Catalyst Inc (the new trading name for the NI Science Park), announced ambitious plans to advance the knowledge economy in Northern Ireland and after Friday's result even more priority must be given to nurturing our indigenous entrepreneurship.

We must accelerate the growth of our innovative companies and support for our entrepreneurs to create and grow companies that are producing world leading, competitive products and services and creating high quality jobs.

This will require us to keep and nurture indigenous talent, keep all business links open to key markets and develop new ones.

Free movement of labour has enabled companies in Northern Ireland to access skills that were not available at home. There are concerns about what will happen to these staff once the UK leaves the EU and how companies will access the skills they need to grow.

The knowledge economy relies on high quality research and ideas. For 40 years, the UK has passed to the EU the responsibility of big science and long lead time science-research for business, for example, European Space Agency, Horizon 2020.

How do we support our universities, to replace the millions of pounds in research funding received from European sources?

It is reassuring to hear the Irish government underpin the importance of the common travel area and the border provides an opportunity for NI to continue to be a gateway to Europe and the UK to outside investors.

Is there potential for NI to be a special European economic zone, given our land border?

Our businesses are used to adapting to change, but ultimately they thrive in a stable environment. Our Executive needs to show strong and joined-up leadership, working in collaboration with the key stakeholders in the NI economy to develop a robust plan for our future and the negotiations with Westminster, Dublin and Brussels.

Joanne Stuart is director of development at Catalyst Inc, formerly the NI Science Park

Belfast Telegraph

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