RCSLT Calls for a 'Communication Lifeline' for stroke survivors

Survey results launched today reveal that 90% of stroke survivors believe that communication difficulties following their stroke have impacted hugely on their lives and that less people are now receiving speech and language therapy after a stroke, than in 2008.

The figures were revealed at a seminar on ‘Reshaping Stroke Services’ which was hosted by The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and The Stroke Association. An analysis of the survey was carried out by Ulster University and the results were presented to delegates today.

Speech & Language Therapist Jennifer Handforth at the RSCLT event in Belfast 

Speech & Language Therapist Jennifer Handforth at the RSCLT event in Belfast 

One third of people already receiving services also believed that they should receive more speech and language therapy to help them overcome the traumatic experience of losing the most basic skills of swallowing and speaking.

Alison McCullough MBE, RCSLT Head of Northern Ireland Office said:

“This survey once again demonstrates how crucial speech and language therapy is in supporting the recovery and rehabilitation of stroke survivors who may be having difficulty communicating or swallowing. It is worrying to see that some stroke survivors are still not receiving the amount of therapy that they need, with some saying they are not receiving any provision at all.

“We are calling for a Communication Lifeline to form a core part of stroke aftercare to ensure that stroke survivors have their communication assessed within 72 hours so that they can be given a means of communicating even at a basic level. We would also urge commissioners to ensure that the provision of specialist speech and language therapy is available throughout Northern Ireland.


Barry Macaulay, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association said:

“Stroke survivors tell us time and again how important speech and language therapy is to their recovery. The inability to communicate basic needs can be terrifying for survivors and it is essential that speech and language therapy commences in the immediate aftermath of a stroke and continues to be provided in the community on a longer-term basis to enable greater independence and well-being.                       

“This improves positive outcomes and empowers stroke survivors to communicate their most basic needs to carers and close family members right from the beginning."

“We support RCSLT’s call for a Communication Lifeline as this would ensure a uniform approach to stroke care across Northern Ireland.”


Mental health in the workplace - Employers Responsibility, by Lisa Bryson, Head of Employment Practice, Eversheds Sutherland, Belfast

Mental health is fast becoming a hot topic in the workplace. It is rarely out of the media, reflecting campaigns by health trusts, charities, even celebrities and the Royal Family.  Recent research undertaken by 'Business in the Community' has highlighted that one in four adults currently working in Northern Ireland have been diagnosed with some form of mental health disorder. 

Lisa Bryson, Eversheds Sutherland Belfast 

Lisa Bryson, Eversheds Sutherland Belfast 

According to mental health charities, these statistics do not necessarily reflect an increase in mental health problems. For example, perhaps more people are now willing to disclose such problems as attitudes change for the better. Whatever the reasons behind this trend, employers are increasingly under pressure to better manage and support mental health at work, but some are feeling ill-equipped to do so.

While managing mental health at work can be challenging, there are positive wellbeing and economic reasons for acting. These include reduced staff turnover, reduction in accidents and absence, increased morale, engagement and employer reputation.  In addition, research shows that some mental health problems are directly or partly caused by work. As a result, many employers already accept that their role goes beyond a reactive, medical response and includes proactive organisational as well as cultural measures.

The Stevenson/Farmer review, published at the end of 2017, included 40 recommendations directed at employers, government and other organisations.  The recommendations include the promotion of a set of ‘mental health core standards’ that all employers should adopt, with enhanced standards for large employers and employers in the public sector.  

The Stevenson/Farmer review core standard recommendations suggest that all employers can and should:

1.Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan that promotes good mental health of all employees and outlines the support available for those who may need it.

2.Develop mental health awareness among employees by making information, tools and support accessible.

3.Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling.

4.Provide good working conditions and ensure employees have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development.

5.Promote effective people management to ensure all employees have a regular conversation about their health and well-being with their line manager, supervisor or organisational leader and train and support line managers and supervisors in effective management practices.

6.Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing by understanding available data, talking to employees, and understanding risk factors.

Recognising that some employers feel ill equipped to manage mental health issues, the review recommends that Government should set up a mental health online information portal to promote best practice. It also notes that employers need to recognise that their role goes beyond what happens in the workplace, not least because technology and other factors increasingly blur the line between work and home life, but also because employers can play a significant role in supporting employees through major life events like bereavement, debt, and relationship breakdown, which can cause or exacerbate mental health conditions.

The Government has said it will respond to the recommendations in due course. Although new legislation is unlikely in the short term due to the present political climate, it is a possibility later down the line. Employers may find the recommendations of the Stevenson/Farmer review of interest now as they consider their own individual approach to this issue.

NI Trade Credit Insurance Chief says market insight points to further insolvencies

The head of Credit Insurance specialists, Trade Credit Brokers has warned that market intelligence on several sectors could spell out more catastrophic failure for a variety of Northern Ireland companies.

Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit and Political Risks, Trade Credit Brokers, has said that the unwelcome news won’t stop at McMullen Facades Ltd, Carillion, Williams Industrial Services, and Schlumberger. He expects more could follow, particularly in the construction and retail sectors. 

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As a specialist credit insurer, Trade Credit Brokers keeps a watching brief on companies and their creditworthiness and are often the first armed with the market intelligence that can signal that an organisation is in trouble.

This comes at the time when the Association of British Insurers have claimed in recent weeks that insolvency rates have hit their highest level since 2013, stating that there were 300 insolvencies a week in 2017 in the UK.

Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit and Political Risks, Trade Credit Brokers commented:

“The market intelligence that we are seeing shows that there are many companies out there who are on the brink of failure and are very exposed particularly in the construction and retails sectors.”

“Underwriters are telling us that they are facing a big challenge not to withdraw their support in some sectors, which indicates that there will be more insolvencies in the early part of this year.”

“The unfortunate example of the likes of McMullen Facades Ltd, Carillion, Williams Industrial Services, and Schlumberger and the potentially catastrophic impact that it will most likely have on their supply chains, shows just how exposed these businesses were without appropriate credit insurance cover in place.”

“This is a big lesson to many businesses out there who think that they could never be affected by a situation like this. These very public examples should encourage those without cover, that financial protection against an unforeseen and potentially catastrophic impact of a bad debt is vital in these challenging times, for many businesses, as they try to manage their credit risk ”.

“We encourage anyone who wants to see out any credit risk pressures that they might be under to make sure that they speak with a specialist credit insurance intermediary before it’s too late.”  



The Victims and Survivors Service in Northern Ireland has officially launched the EU PEACE IV funded programme, Shared Spaces and Services – Victims and Survivors 2017-21.

This is a project supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).

The aim of the programme is to improve the health and wellbeing of victims and survivors and will target hard to reach and marginalised individuals and communities that have suffered as a result of the Troubles/Conflict.

Since the programme commenced, VSS has developed a network of health and well-being caseworkers and advocacy support workers based within our community and voluntary partners across the region, who support victims in their local communities and deliver services and support where it is needed.

The VSS previously opened a call for applications under the Victim Support Programme and PEACE IV in November 2016. 55 organisations were successful in securing funding and this allowed for the establishment of a network of Health and Wellbeing Caseworkers and an Advocacy Support Programme in addition to the development of a number of new and innovative resilience initiatives.

Chief Executive of the VSS, Margaret Bateson said:

“We are pleased to formally launch the PEACE IV Shared Spaces - Victims and Survivors programme today. The programme has been underway since 2017 and already a significant amount of work has been undertaken to adopt a new and innovative needs-based approach to delivering bespoke services that support the unique and individual needs of victims and survivors.

“The new programme will look at how victims and survivors can be supported through a range of services, with a specific focus on improving health and well-being.

“We know we still have lots to do but we are already seeing early indications that this new approach is working, and we are seeing some real changes to the lives of victims and survivors. 

“We encourage those who need support to come forward and contact us on 02890 279100 or one of our community partners http://www.victimsservice.org/find-support-in-your-area/..”

Speaking at the event Gina McIntyre, CEO of the SEUPB, said:

“The PEACE Programme since its inception in 1995, has provided support to the victims and survivors of the troubles and conflict. This has been an integral part of each PEACE programme and is reflective of a genuine desire to fund the important work required to help alleviate the suffering caused to citizens in this region. 

“The support that has been provided under the current PEACE IV Programme recognises that victims and survivors are an extremely diverse group with very unique and complex needs. This funding support being announced today will be used to develop a number of important new services that will improve their health and well-being including a resilience building and advocacy support programme,” she continued.

NILGA host Business Breakfast on the Economy and Local Government


Last Friday at The MAC, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) hosted a business breakfast entitled ‘driving the economy forward through our local councils’.

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A presentation was given by leading economist Dr Peter Kenway from the New Policy Institute with debate from panellists including Derek McCallan, Chief Executive of NILGA, Dr Theresa Donaldson, Chief Executive of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council and Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive of Belfast City Council. The event was hosted by broadcaster, Mark Carruthers.

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Enterprise NI Chief Executive Announces Retirement

Enterprise NI has announced that Chief Executive, Gordon Gough, is set to retire as the head of the membership body.

Gordon has been the Chief Executive since his appointment in 2008 and has led the organisation for a decade. 

Gordon Gough.jpg

He will continue in post until June when a new replacement Chief Executive will take over.

The forthcoming process to find Gordon’s successor will be managed by executive search company, 4C Executive and is expected to be launched this week.

Enterprise NI represents the 28 Local Enterprise Agencies, working with thousands of entrepreneurs, helping them set up their businesses in Northern Ireland, and enabling them to grow and develop.

Nicholas O'Shiel, Chair of Enterprise NI commented:

“Gordon’s contribution not only to Enterprise NI but to the wider business sector which supports entrepreneurship, has been immense over the last decade.”

“Under Gordon’s leadership, the local enterprise agencies are deeply embedded in their local communities and contribute significantly to the economic regeneration of their respective council areas.”

“Gordon has worked tirelessly to develop the positive impact of Enterprise NI. During his time at the helm there has been a significant volume of new business start-ups developed and financially supported through a variety of programmes.”

“He leaves a great legacy and will be missed at the organisation. We wish him well in his forthcoming retirement.”

Gordon Gough said:

“It has been an enormous privilege to lead Enterprise NI and develop it as the voice of entrepreneurship.  It had been very rewarding to lead the organisation during a period where its influence and impact has grown. Our success is down to the hard work and dedication of our staff and members through some very challenging economic times. I would like to pay tribute to them for their professionalism and dedication.”

“I leave at a time when the organisation is in the best shape it has ever been in and I wish the new incoming Chief Executive well in this role.”

Upcoming Key Political and Business Events Feb - April



  • 8 February, RICS Planning and Development Conference, Belfast City Hall
  • 15 February,  Bank of England, Economic Outlook, Belfast
  • 15-25 February, NI Science Festival  
  • 22 February, Ministerial Advisory Group on Architecture on Town Centre Living, Belfast
  • 28 February, The Future of Work in NI, Solutions Summit, Waterfront
  • 1 March, Chief Executive Third Sector Conference, La Mon Hotel
  • 2 March, Management and Leadership Summit, Titanic Belfast
  • 7 March, InterTradeIreland’s annual Venture Capital Conference, Belfast
  • 8 March, Agenda NI, Digital Government, Titanic Belfast
  • 9 March, IoD NI Women’s Conference, Belfast
  • 13-15 March, MIPIM Property Conference, Cannes
  • 22 March, Ministerial Advisory Group on Architecture, Annual Symposium
  • 24 March, Alliance Party Conference, La Mon Hotel
  • 10-12 April, Peace and Beyond Conference, Belfast

NILGA critical of proposal to remove Rates Support Grant in Department of Finance budget consultation paper

NILGA, the representative body of the councils in Northern Ireland, has called for a whole system review of how NI’s annual budget of £20 billion to deliver our public services is planned and delivered.

NILGA has criticised as “anti-investment” the Department of Finance’s budgetary briefing paper idea of removing the Rates Support Grant – a fund which leverages an estimated £183 million per annum into the private sector and social economy of 7 local councils - ten times the sum itself.  

NILGA President, Alderman Arnold Hatch

NILGA President, Alderman Arnold Hatch

The briefing paper has outlined the scrapping of central government support of £17.6 million per annum (based on 2017-18 levels) - a critical investment tool assisting councils that are less well off.

In its submission to the consultation (on the broad strategic issues that will help inform decisions on a Budget for 2018-19 and 2019-2020) which closes today, NILGA has stressed that at a time when councils are the only politically functioning element of government here, there should be no proposals to cut allocations and investments which have direct impact such as the Regional Support Grant.

As many as 7 out of the 11 councils would lose out on leveraging tens of millions of pounds in economic development capabilities. This support grant also contributes significantly to developing and sustaining hundreds of jobs across Northern Ireland, creating the taxes and investment needed to sustain other parts of the public purse including roads, health and education. 

Alderman Arnold Hatch, NILGA President commented:

“We understand that this is just a proposal at present and not a settlement, but the fact that it is being highlighted at this early stage is extremely worrying.”

“Any scrapping or even reduction in this fund will have a significant impact on service delivery right across Northern Ireland. It will exacerbate a two-tier economy in Northern Ireland with most of the resources to create enterprise being consolidated in just four of our councils, curtailing the ability of the other seven who need to develop new businesses and modern infrastructure to invest in developing their districts.”

“The rates support fund also creates direct savings for rate payers. For example, in Derry City & Strabane District Council the support of around £3.75 million per annum saves rate payers on average 6-7% on their rates bill which equates to about £65 a year.”

“NILGA wants a restored and effective Stormont as soon as possible. In the meantime, the 11 councils need legislation, policies and resources to deliver services to local people whilst – in the Assembly’s absence - protecting local democracy and decision taking. We must protect mechanisms such as the Rates Support Grant”.

Derek McCallan, Chief Executive, NILGA:

“88% of NI’s £20 billion yearly budget is determined at Stormont, which hasn’t met for over a year. This compares to less than half this percentage in Cardiff and Edinburgh. We’re in real danger of not just taking catastrophic decisions on the sustainability of key public services, but also, losing our competitive advantage because of fiscal planning frozen in time.”

“Legislation is needed today to resource councils to help develop the practical services people need. It is illogical that an investment pot such as the Rates Support Grant, which has been proven to create up to ten times the original sum, is even being put forward. Arguably, this is both short sighted in terms of sustainable local government and anti-investment in terms of enterprise creation.” 

NILGA Chief Executive, Derek McCallan 

NILGA Chief Executive, Derek McCallan 

“There is mounting expectation on local councils - considering the suspension of the Assembly - to deliver additional services such as winter maintenance, all aspects of emergency planning and community level support – yet, councils are without the resources to do these things.”

“Expectations from departments, government bodies and more importantly the community itself will have to be matched by negotiated and formal funding for councils before such ideas can be designed and delivered. It is surely the time now for all levels of government – elected members and officials – to sit down, through the Partnership Panel and other task and finish mechanisms, to rewire how the public’s services are sustained and delivered in N. Ireland.”

Digital disruption in NI social care sector key to saving providers hundreds of thousands of pounds per year

BY Fearghal McKinney, Co-Founder, PickaShift App

A recent economic study by the Northern Ireland Social Care Council showed that the overall contribution to the economy of the adult social care sector was over £800m - supporting employment for over 100,000 people here. Set against the context of such a small population these are significant numbers.

It also shows that the reliance on the social care sector is high and that it is a lifeline for many. Not only do nursing and residential care homes provide much-needed care for individuals, it also assists the family members and friends of those who need support.

Fearghal McKinney, PickaShift App

Fearghal McKinney, PickaShift App

The sector provides a range of jobs in local communities right across Northern Ireland and gives opportunity to those who work in the sector the chance to gain qualifications and skills which may not always be available in other sectors.

The NI Social Care Council pointed out in their report that the impact of sustainable jobs and chance to upskill collectively in this sector helps to knit together the social fabric of our villages and towns across Northern Ireland.

High staff costs

A vibrant local residential and nursing home offer is important for local communities, but they are expensive to run due to the high input costs. These homes often face significant bills when it comes to filling shifts at short notice because of illness or holiday cover. The home does not have a choice – the shift must be filled to comply. It means they often must turn to expensive agencies.

Ensuring that a home has the right staff in place at all times is often a difficult and expensive job for home owners. The care home sector is heavily regulated to ensure standards are met by health and social care providers so that qualified staff are on duty at all times. Failure to do so has consequences for the provider.

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Against the backdrop of pressured budgets, along with the strength of agencies in the market, homecare businesses are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and increase productivity.

Technology provides solution

In December, the Adult Social Care Report ‘Power to People: Proposals to reboot Adult Social Care and Support in NI’ detailed that the use of technology in the sector is underutilised but has enormous potential to assist in the provision of care here.

As a response to this problem, we have developed a new app called PickaShift. Care homes using the app save in terms of costly administration, a bigger pool of certified available staff can benefit from more work and pay and the home owner can avoid paying the expensive agency.  Employers and staff both benefit, which ensures a consistent level of service provision for those in their care.

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The idea of the PickaShift app has been developed in direct response to the growing pressures that nursing and residential homes have found themselves in, due to a growing ageing population and the scarcity of supply of staff.

By helping to cut down on the administration process, and providing an alternative to expensive agency fees, Pickashift is helping to address these issues while also delivering significant savings. In some cases, this could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds for larger care home providers.

Gareth Planck from Eversheds Sutherland on 2018 Date Centre Growth

In 2018 data centre growth is expected to be even stronger. Gareth Planck, Partner at the Belfast office of Eversheds Sutherland outlines why having a local law firm with global reach in this area is vital.

Supporting data centre growth

Over the last 20 years, the demand for digital data has grown massively. Data centres now underpin our digital economy – for corporate IT services, digital media, financial services, mobile computing, social networking and internet access. Data centres have advanced dramatically over the past few years with outsourced data centre infrastructure in Europe likely to tip towards 40% by 2019.

The UK and Ireland are two of the most active data centre markets in the world today. With the demand for cloud storage growing, the need for local processing power closer to the customer base in Northern Ireland will become even more prevalent in 2018 as micro data centres begin to multiply. It will become increasingly important to have in place a local legal team with global connections.

Gareth Planck, Partner at the Belfast office of Eversheds Sutherland

Gareth Planck, Partner at the Belfast office of Eversheds Sutherland


This is due to fact that they will be best placed to understand the full range of tenant concerns, especially the complexities of different occupational structures (and the attendant tax and accounting treatments) and service level agreements. Data centres are energy-intensive, and electricity consumption is usually the single largest component of operational costs. We at Eversheds Sutherland also place an emphasis on thorough energy due diligence and – when handling leasing and customer contracts - clear and concise electricity charging regimes, particularly where the data centre is supported by private renewable energy sources.

Legal challenges

The legal challenges facing data centres are unique, requiring a distinct blend of specialist legal advice. The looming Brexit divorce will also add a layer of complexity and uncertainty that previously didn’t exist.

It is best if the legal team you appoint are immersed in the sector, not only understanding the legal issues but also having a deep understanding of the data centre market. For decades, we have advised data centre developers, owners, operators, funders, and enterprises that need or use them on matters associated with all types of data centres, including enterprise, wholesale, co-location and managed services facilities.

Our extensive experience in this area on a global basis allows us to anticipate and manage the many challenges that are part of developing, owning and financing complex data centres, including site selection, due diligence, tax and structuring issues, operational and regulatory considerations, leasing and customer contracts.

Consideration needs to be given to the speed and ability to build and operate a data centre as opposed to acquiring an existing data centre which is readily adaptable for use. The basis of the owner or operator occupation will differ between jurisdictions with varying implications.

As an example, freehold acquisitions represent the most flexible form of land ownership, but most costly (and sometimes the slowest route to market) whereas leasehold acquisitions give ownership for a limited period (though often on longer terms, with options to renew) and therefore can be an attractive proposition for landlords, subject to extensive restrictions and conditions.

On expiry of the lease, all interests revert back to the landlord, including ownership of buildings constructed on the land (subject of course to business tenancy considerations in Northern Ireland). Care needs to be taken in negotiating the terms of the lease to ensure the owner/operator (and its funder) has sufficient flexibility in the use and occupation of the land and buildings for the purposes of its operations, that the period of the lease is sufficient to enable full recovery of any capped costs, and that sufficient protections are incorporated into the lease for funders and key customers.

Funding data centre growth

We are also advising on the funding of data centre projects and typically a funder will have separate concerns to an owner or operator. They will want to ensure title to the land/equipment is good and marketable to enable it to take adequate security over it. They will usually want independent legal advice and complex financing documents to be put in place prior to releasing funds at closing. This could impact on the ownership structure and timescales for any development. With increasing global focus on sustainability, the energy consumption and efficiency of a data centre is a significant concern with a huge impact on operating costs.

Temperate climates offer opportunities to reduce operating costs for free air cooling data centres against their chilled water counterparts. Small changes in Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) can have a dramatic effect on energy costs (and often the costs arising from an increase in PUE will be a risk for the operator rather than the customer).

Even the most efficient data centres consume massive amounts of electricity, making energy-related strategic decisions key to successful development and operation. Interconnecting with the local grid and procuring electricity services at the most advantageous rates, including any economic development incentives, requires in-depth knowledge of the regulatory framework in Northern Ireland and practical experience in the relevant energy markets which we have.

Article first published in Business First Magazine