A thriving economy is at the heart of every vibrant, harmonious society. And a thriving society is at the heart of every vibrant, harmonious economy, writes Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council.
The two go hand-in-hand, with each helping support the growth and development of the other. They are co-dependent. With that in mind, any efforts by the public sector to grow the economy cannot be undertaken without the support, backing and partnership of the private sector, and vice versa.
Private sector businesses are the wealth creators while the public sector should be the enablers which help them to achieve that aim.
The realisation that such an approach is necessary wasn’t always apparent to all public sector bodies, but it is one which we at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council base our decisions on when it comes to setting out plans to grow the economy in the borough.
We know that if we are to create the right conditions to enable businesses to flourish then we need to involve them in the decision-making process. That is why we work closely together to find out what they need to grow their companies, to sell more products and services, to hire more staff and, ultimately, to create more wealth.
It could be infrastructure, property, access to skills or a host of other factors; we make sure we find out exactly how we can enable the wealth creators to operate at their optimum.
Armed with that knowledge we then make sure we are doing everything within our powers to make the right decisions in how we focus our efforts and spend the public money which we have responsibility for.
It sounds simple but it is a relatively novel approach which we at Mid and East Antrim have placed at the centre of our policy since the council was formed – for me, new look local government in action.
This is an area brimming with talent, Innovation, ambition and entrepreneurship – an exceptional place.
We are focused on raising GVA in the borough and across the region by enabling the wealth creators to do what they do best.
Although carried out by a public-sector body, this is very much a private sector approach, one which we know works and which we’ll continue to adopt.
The councils of today need to think and operate like the most efficient businesses, being prudent in how public money is spent and ensuring excellent return on investment.
To that end we’ve recently bolstered our senior team with the addition of two directors who typify that strategic private and social sector approach to help us accelerate our effectiveness as enablers.
John McVeigh has been appointed Director of Support Services with responsibility for leading the development of service improvement and value around services to citizens.
He has extensive commercial and public sector experience in driving improvement and business innovation and will work alongside the Council’s senior management team to lead the design and implementation of the borough’s Transformation and Modernising Services programme for citizens.
Katrina Morgan has been appointed Director of Community with responsibility for delivering the Council’s Community Plan, as well as the delivery of the Council’s leisure strategy and wellbeing agenda.
With a specialism in business improvement and transformation of services, she will work alongside the Council’s senior management team to enhance the borough’s community offerings for all its residents and visitors.
They will help bolster our alignment with the private sector to ensure we’re offering the best support we can, not just to business but also to the social economy and community.
These have huge potential in this borough and we’re determined to make sure we also cultivate an environment for the likes of co-operatives and social enterprises to flourish.
Our Community Plan, Putting People First, is instrumental to our vision for Mid and East Antrim, prioritising key themes of sustainable jobs and tourism, good health and wellbeing, progress in education, community safety and cohesion and our environment.
Again, we’re acting as enablers.
Our elected members are champions of this type of local government transformation and the borough has already benefited massively.
On countless occasions they have demonstrated unwavering political leadership, working together to drive the growth and development of our borough.
For example, we have been the driving force in a bid to win a Heathrow Logistics Hub for Northern Ireland as part of our development of the Belfast Region City Deal.
The airport’s planned third runway represents one of the largest manufacturing undertakings and opportunities in a generation and is worth £187 billion. Heathrow has been pioneering these hubs where components of the airport will be pre-assembled before being transported in consolidated loads to the airport.
“The councils of today need to think and operate like the most efficient businesses, being prudent in how public money is spent and ensuring excellent return on investment.”
Procuring a hub for Northern Ireland could deliver an economic boost of £5 billion and create 5,000 jobs for Northern Ireland plc. When you factor in the financial spin-off from a successful bid, including the vast supply chain benefits, this would be a complete game-changer for our region, allowing our wealth creators to do what they do best – with local councils fulfilling the vital enabling role.
Meanwhile, the Belfast Region City Deal proposals also continue apace – plans which are expected to deliver up to £1 billion of investment to Northern Ireland. It consists of six councils: Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council; Ards and North Down Borough Council; Belfast City Council; Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council; Mid and East Antrim Borough Council; and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, all working in partnership with central government and, critically, the private sector as wealth creators.
The city deal will deliver a huge boost to the region’s economic fortunes by uncovering the challenges facing the region and highlighting the most pressing needs through a process of discovery by the councils with the private sector, politicians, universities and colleges.
The Councils’ development and investment plans are moulded around these findings and become enablers to support businesses to grow, to become more efficient and to flourish.
A similar but more sector specific approach has been taken with the launch of our Manufacturing Taskforce, one which will help recoup the economic losses felt by the closure of the likes of JTI Gallaher and Michelin in the borough.
The plan in this case is to use the expertise and skills of companies in the area to help deliver change and further economic expansion.
More than 100 representatives from manufacturing companies, from industry bodies and from the public sector have been brought together by the Council to map the sector’s future path to renewed success.
A number of initiatives have already been agreed – such as the setting up of a HR manager’s forum, a local Buyers and Suppliers network, establishing an integrated industry, inspiration and innovation Campus (i4C) on the St Patrick’s Barracks regeneration site in Mid and East Antrim – while others are being worked through, but all are targeted at re-establishing the borough’s reputation as the engine room of the Northern Ireland economy, all within the umbrella of our overarching integrated economic strategy, Amplify.
Tourism is also a big part of our economic growth strategy and the council is working closely with the local hospitality industry to make sure the brilliant assets we have in the borough help to draw visitors.
For instance, we’re planning Carrickfergus town centre regeneration, working with our partners in the Department for Communities to achieve a sizeable increase in visitor numbers to Carrickfergus Castle; we’re promoting and investing in the Causeway Coastal Route, including The Gobbins, which has enjoyed a bumper summer with more than 20,000 people visiting so far this season.
These are just some of the examples of how we’re acting as enablers to the wealth creators in the private sector.
We know it works for the good of society, the good of the economy and the good of everyone, and we’re determined to set an example for other councils around the world to follow.
I am so passionate about the hugely exciting journey we are on, and I will continue to provide all of the support, direction and leadership required to realise our ambitions to rejuvenate and reenergise the economy in Mid and East Antrim and Northern Ireland.
T: 0300 124 5000