Professor Francesca Medda believes that a progressive Northern Ireland must join forces to plan a clear strategy for future infrastructure.
For infrastructure to become a significant lever of growth in Northern Ireland, there needs to be a clear, consistent financial proposition to attract investors, according to Professor Francesca Medda.
As economic adviser to a number of UK Government departments, Medda suggests that a link should be found between several projects which should then be packed into a portfolio for investors. They should not, she says, be allowed to choose individual projects.
For example, the UK has developed global centres of green finance with projects such as the Energy Efficient Investment Fund, a public-private partnership (PPP) with over £100 million of investment, and the Green Deal, an innovation-friendly financing scheme.
The University College London academic says she can still see a “piecemeal approach” being used in Northern Ireland.
Medda remarks: “We are talking about, first of all, a region where you need joined-up thinking between all of the different departments.”
When that co-ordinated approach is in place, this will “have an effect and will capture the increased value.”
Despite the Investment Strategy, the leading researcher believes that Northern Ireland lacks a ‘to do’ list for investment opportunities and a way of prioritising those projects.
“If I had an idea, a wishlist for example, for a green Northern Ireland, I wouldn’t know how to prioritise. Would I say: ‘Ok let’s start with this road and then this bridge?’” she queries.
Asked how long it will be until Northern Ireland catches up with Great Britain, she replies: “That is another question because some of the decisions have to be very strong decisions.”
She believes political leaders need to have the courage to say: “Ok, we are going to direct all of our policy in this way.”
Branding Northern Ireland in a new way can “create a scene” for how Northern Ireland clearly sees itself in the future: “If a government is elected with an agenda that is very progressive, or has a clear idea, that means the people are behind them and they are ready.
“But the options are not there all the time and we have to be very fast, very concrete. I’m sure it is possible.”
She cites Scotland’s digital economy strategy as an example.
Medda also contends that municipal bonds could work for Northern Ireland as a way of connecting many towns and cities and “not just Belfast.” She also highlights crowdsourcing as a way of starting a project and connecting with the people. It “speeds progress” and is a way of getting the public on board: “For example, the crowdsourcing of Moovit. With Moovit, you can just download an app and wherever you go in the world, you have the public transport information.”
In conclusion, Medda advises: “If you want to create a new identity, we need the people to be onboard. This is fundamental because our consumers are also our producers sometimes.”