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Northern Ireland Science Park is building a strong knowledge economy

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New Science Park chairman Dick Milliken

New Science Park chairman Dick Milliken

New Science Park chairman Dick Milliken

The Northern Ireland Science Park, along with its new associate the North West Science Park, has now reached a critical and influential stage in their contribution to building a more advanced local economy. Dick Milliken, who has enjoyed a distinguished and successful career in local businesses, has been appointed as the new chairman after serving for a period on the board.

The Science Park estate now includes new facilities at the former Fort George site in Derry City as well as the facilities in two major buildings in Titanic Quarter in Belfast.

An important rationale for the Science Park is the ambition to encourage the spin-off of new businesses from the universities as well as from ambitious advanced level start-up projects.

The Science Park was launched nearly 15 years ago with a modest endowment of an undeveloped site at the seaward end of Titanic Quarter.

Gradually the momentum has built and now the first building, the innovation centre, operates with most of its space occupied and the second centre is busy.

The original director Dr Norman Apsley has seen his careful planning and nurturing efforts grow into a successful organisation.

Dick Milliken recognises that the Science Park is now a more mature concept which, in turn, calls for more ambitious ideas. There will be further expansion of the facilities and also a widening of the services to offer a more developed support system and network for emerging projects.

The widening and more ambitious agenda for the Science Park was well illustrated recently by the launch of the report on the progress of Northern Ireland in developing the knowledge economy.

The knowledge economy index points to important progress in different components of the index in Northern Ireland as they compare to other UK regions.

The principal achievement is that Northern Ireland, which for so long lagged behind, is now seen to be motivated to catch up.

The phrase 'knowledge economy' is not easily defined but the production of the knowledge economy index has identified a number of critical sectors which might be expected in such a concept.

Interestingly, despite its potential significance, possibly less than 5% of all existing jobs fall into this definition.

There are also important questions in how to build a knowledge economy, the inputs, and in specifying the likely outcomes. Whilst the cause and effect processes are generally easily described, the measurement of causation is less precise.

Hence the emphasis on the contribution of research and development, innovation, expanding export markets, skills application and patenting of technology is logical.

To more effectively target further improvements, there is now a case to more carefully identify how better progress might be leveraged.

Lifting the scale of local ambitions is central. Is Northern Ireland sufficiently competitive in international markets and, if not, why not?

Northern Ireland's competitiveness, at 42nd place in a world league table, lies well behind the UK average at ninth place and behind the Republic of Ireland, at 23rd place.

How might competitiveness be improved? That translates into how productive efficiency might be improved or how processing costs might be contained or reduced.

In generic terms, the authors of the knowledge economy index offer some suggestions on options. They suggest that policies should continue to stress the benefit from business expenditure on research and development. In parallel, the Science Park along with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and Invest NI are launching an 'innovation into action' policy stream.

Two further suggestions are offered. First, there is a need for a better understanding of the supply chain impact in the local economy. Second, on a parallel learning base, there should be a matched study of how the knowledge economy has developed in San Diego to offer lessons for Northern Ireland.

Building a knowledge economy will call for joined-up thinking. The Science Park has taken some critical first steps.

Northwest Bookmakers

Northwest Bookmakers is a subsidiary of Ladbroke Holdings (NI) which is, in turn, a subsidiary of the parent company Ladbroke plc. Following a purchase in 2007, this company also includes the betting businesses formerly owned by Eastwoods and McCartans.

Using the Ladbrokes brand, the company ultimately expects to further expand its presence in Northern Ireland.

The company owns 24% of the shop betting licences.

However, the directors do not foresee further consolidation in the current economic environment.

As a result of the expansion and consolidation, in 2008, Northwest Bookmakers added intangible assets (business licences and goodwill) valued at £124m to its balance sheet.

The purchase was financed by registering a credit with the parent company. A debt of nearly £130m was recorded in the accounts as owed to the parent company at the end on 2013.

Business turnover grew steadily from 2008 to 2012 at a rate of about 6% each year. In the most recent year turnover fell by over 6%.

Operating profits fell by 10% in 2013 reflecting the change in turnover. Gross profits, as a percentage of turnover rose to 8.8% in 2013, compared to 8.2% a year earlier.

Comparisons of profitability in recent years are made more complex by a series of impairment charges in 2011 and 2012 followed by a reversal in 2013 of a charge of over £1.931m, which had been deducted from the profit figures in an earlier year. The variation in impairment charges and then the partial reversal in 2013 had the net effect of increasing stated pre-tax profits by over £5m in 2013.

Large interest charges, on funds borrowed within the group, affected pre-tax profits, costing £1.1m in 2013.

Employment in the company fell slightly in 2013 to an average of 403 people, well down from the peak employment of 473 people in 2008.

Belfast Telegraph