Belfast's economy named 'fastest-growing in UK'

The economy of Belfast has grown fastest among the 30 largest cities in the UK over the past decade, it was revealed today.

It has raised itself to third place in the league of the UK’s strongest economies – just behind Edinburgh and London.

The city has seen a 99% increase in GVA [Gross Value Added] over the decade to £26,792 (€33,821) per capita per year, according to national accounting group UHY Hacker Young which ranks cities by growth in GVA – used to estimate the value of goods and services produced in an area to measure its contribution to the overall UK economy.

Edinburgh hit the top spot with a GVA of £28,432 (€35,892), London followed with £27,672 (€35,000), while the UK average was £18,145 (€22,899).

Howard Spencer, chairman of UHY Hacker Young, said: “The IRA ceasefire in 1995 and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which brought an end to terrorism in Northern Ireland, have been fundamental in establishing the peaceful conditions necessary for business to prosper.”

Increased investors’ confidence had spurred investment flows into Belfast allowing the city to engage in ambitious large-scale regeneration projects such as the Titanic Quarter and Laganside which promoted local talents in architecture and design, he said.

“Belfast’s ability to capitalise on the growing trends in the service and knowledge economy has done the rest in propelling the city amongst the most prosperous areas of the UK,” he added.

The large pool of a highly educated, young workforce available at a lower than UK average cost had done a great deal in attracting a raft of customer service, telemarketing, financial services back office operations, administration and high value added software development centres, said the report.

Competitive real estate, excellent telecoms and transport infrastructure also played a decisive role, it added.

The biotechnology and IT sectors were booming too, fuelled by academic expertise and skills provided by Belfast’s internationally renowned universities earning the city a world leading position in innovation research and product development, it said.

Meanwhile a leading figure in the UK’s physics institute said upping the numbers of graduates in science-based subjects is key to ensuring the North remains an attractive investment opportunity in the longer term.

Dr Norman Apsley, recently appointed as vice president of the Institute of Physics to chair its Business and Innovation Board, said lifting the cap on students wishing to enter Stem subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – would send a positive message to new businesses and recent visitors to the US/NI Investment conference.

He added that the emergence of recession in the Republic should focus policy minds on long-term plans to maintain economic buoyancy in the North.

Dr Apsley, who is also chief executive of the Northern Ireland Science Park, said: “If increasing exports can help to rebalance the economy, it makes sense to increase the flow of skilled, qualified young people into key export areas.

“IoP research has found that physics-based sectors exported £92.9bn (€117bn) in 2005, or 29% of the total value of UK exports.”

Lifting the cap on Stem subjects serviced both the FE sector and the broader needs of the economy, he said.

He added: “Northern Ireland’s main strength lies within its vast pool of young talent. We are among the best in Europe when it comes to the quality of our skilled young people leaving universities here.

“So lifting the cap on Stem subjects sends out the confidence-building message that the flow of highly qualified young professionals will increase at a time when the economy most needs them.”

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