Allstate teams up with National Cyber Security Centre to encourage young women to pursue careers in cybersecurity

(Second from left):  John Healy, vice president and managing director, Allstate Northern Ireland with the participants of the CyberFirst Girls Defenders course hosted at Allstate’s Belfast offices. The CyberFirst Girls Defenders course is a key part of the U.K. government’s National Cyber Security Programme. Fifty girls aged 13-14 attended the programme.

(Second from left): John Healy, vice president and managing director, Allstate Northern Ireland with the participants of the CyberFirst Girls Defenders course hosted at Allstate’s Belfast offices. The CyberFirst Girls Defenders course is a key part of the U.K. government’s National Cyber Security Programme. Fifty girls aged 13-14 attended the programme.

Allstate Northern Ireland has teamed up with the National Cyber Security Centre to provide a week-long programme aimed at encouraging more young women to pursue careers in the booming cybersecurity industry.

The CyberFirst Girls Defenders course is a key part of the U.K. government’s National Cyber Security Programme and provides a broad range of activities designed to give young people the support, skills and experiences they need to pursue a career in cybersecurity. Fifty girls aged 13-14 recently attended the programme, hosted at Allstate’s Belfast offices.

The girls spent the week receiving valuable introductions to the tools, knowledge and skills required to build and protect small networks and personal devices, all while residing at Queen’s University Belfast.

John Healy, vice president and managing director, Allstate Northern Ireland said:

“At Allstate, we are committed to inspiring the next generation of cyber professionals and promoting gender diversity.”

“It’s an exciting time for the tech sector in Northern Ireland, specifically for cybersecurity. This is a real growth industry with the potential to boost the Northern Ireland economy, and we want to encourage women and girls to be a part of it.”

The tech sector in Northern Ireland has experienced rapid growth recently, with a report finding that turnover from digital tech companies has reached £1.3bn. A significant and vital part of this growing industry is in the area of cybersecurity.

The U.K. is a world leader in cybersecurity, and many industry firms are headquartered in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the cybersecurity industry is on course to generate combined salaries of over £70m each year and employ almost 1,700 people.

Despite the growth in the sector and the opportunities this growth presents, women’s representation in the sector remains low. The U.K. government has created the CyberFirst Girls Defenders course as a way to encourage greater participation among young women.

Comment from Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit NI, Willis Towers Watson on latest PMI figures

Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit and Political Risk, Willis Towers Watson

Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit and Political Risk, Willis Towers Watson

Reacting to today’s PMI figures from Ulster Bank, Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit and Political Risk, Willis Towers Watson, has said that businesses should take heed of the warning signs and make sure they are protected:

“This morning’s latest PMI figures for June are extremely concerning. They confirm what we’ve known for some time – that the Northern Ireland economy is in a worrying downturn. The new figures show that exports are down, new orders are down, and manufacturing output is falling at its fastest rate since the recession over a decade ago and Credit Insurance pay-outs are at their highest level since 2009.”

“Brexit uncertainty is, without doubt, a factor but it is clear that the private sector overall is in a weak and perilous state. This survey has shown key industries like manufacturing, retail and construction are experiencing a pronounced slump. This evidence-based report reveals the economic cycle here has now turned after six years of growth.”

“The likelihood is that we’ll now start to see instances of bad debt creeping up as Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) increase across the economy’s key sectors, which puts enormous strain on a company’s cash flow. Business owners need to be confident that their supply chains, suppliers and debtors, are all as risk free as they can be. Now is the time for businesses here to be proactive and take action to protect themselves from harm. Supply chains are always at risk of bad debt and a weak local economy puts businesses and business owners at risk of failure.”

“We advise that small businesses in Northern Ireland either put in place contingency plans or review their existing plans to incorporate Credit Insurance as soon as possible. Having Credit Insurance in place can act as a barrier against business failure and help protect your business from the catastrophic effect of bad debt and supply chain disruption.

“Over 80% of businesses in Northern Ireland fall into the SME bracket. They are extremely prone and exposed to insolvencies and bad debt. Industries like construction are at particular risk and the future of the local sector does not appear optimistic. It is crucial, then, that the businesses that make up the backbone of our local economy insulate themselves from economic volatility and decline.”

Brown O’Connor Communications Weekly Look Ahead - Week Commencing 8 July 2019


Forward Look

  • The Northern Ireland Office has brought forward legislation to extend its legal power to delay the requirement to hold a fresh Assembly election until 21 October 2019, with a further extension possible until 13 January 2020. MPs will debate the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) 2019 Bill on Monday 8 July. The bill also includes an obligation on the Secretary of State to publish a progress report on efforts to restore an Executive in NI on or before 21 October, which must be laid before Parliament.

  • Labour MP Conor McGinn, originally from South Armagh, has criticised the government and has said this is an attempt to block any amendments being inserted which would change abortion and same-sex marriage laws in Northern Ireland. The Electoral Commission also criticised the decision, saying it was “very concerned” and that voters’ rights must be “properly considered”. The government has said it is a “sensible contingency plan” in the absence of a devolved administration.

  • Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy has expressed frustration at the slow pace of political talks at Stormont, saying they have gone into “go-slow” mode. The talks aimed at restoring the NI Assembly continued this week but are expected to pause next week for the annual 12 July celebrations.

  • Responses to a public consultation on government proposals to deal with the legacy of the Troubles are expected to be published on Friday 5 July. The Stormont parties viewed the document on an embargoed basis on Thursday afternoon. It is a summary of responses to the proposed legacy plan, rather than a statement of government policy.

  • Jeremy Hunt has said he would decide by the end of September whether there is a “realistic chance” of reaching a new Brexit deal with the EU. The Tory leadership candidate said he would deliver a provisional “no-deal Brexit budget” in early September and then give the EU three weeks.

  • Centre-left Italian politician David Sassoli has been elected as the President of the European Parliament. German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has been nominated as President of the European Commission. Christine Lagarde has been nominated as the head of the European Central Bank and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has been nominated as European Council President.

  • Theresa May has ordered a review into devolution which will recommend how to improve inter-governmental relations to protect the Union. Lord Dunlop will review how Whitehall interacts with devolution and one issue he is examining is whether Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales should continue to have separate Cabinet ministers.

  • The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will meet on Wednesday 10 July to discuss historical institutional abuse.

  • Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell will give the annual James Connolly Lecture at Féile an Phobail on 5 August.

  • The Local Government Awards Northern Ireland were launched this week. The awards will recognise brilliance across 9 different categories from local councils in Northern Ireland.

  • The Derry Chamber Annual President’s Dinner will take place on 11 October at the Everglades Hotel, Derry, hosted by Claire McCollum and Neil Delamere.

  • The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education and the Integrated Education Fund have been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

  • US Vice President Mike Pence will visit Ireland in early September.

Other stories this week

  • Conservative Party leadership hustings took place on Tuesday 2 July at the Culloden Hotel. Candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt fielded questions from Northern Ireland Conservative Party members.

  • Former Economy Minister Simon Hamilton was announced as the new Chief Executive of Belfast Chamber of Commerce. The DUP will choose a replacement to be co-opted into the Strangford constituency in the coming weeks.

  • The Alternative Arrangements Commission came to Belfast this week to present its interim report on the Irish border to business leaders and other local stakeholders.

  • Maire Hendron signed in as an MLA this week, replacing Alliance leader Naomi Long as MLA for East Belfast.

  • Latest income stats from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency say average household disposable income in NI is £480 per week, an increase of 3% from the previous year.

  • The European Parliament sat for the first time since the May elections on Tuesday 2 July.

  • The Department of Finance, Department for Infrastructure and Department for Communities held an Innovation Lab on town centre regeneration this week. It discussed issues surrounding business rates, the urban environment and town planning.

  • The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee held two sessions this week, one on welfare reform and one on tourism.

  • Chancellor Philip Hammond has warned there would be a £90 billion hit to the Treasury if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. A cross-party attempt by MPs to try and block a no-deal Brexit by cutting off spending to government departments was rejected this week by Speaker John Bercow.

  • Women and Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt has called Northern Ireland’s abortion laws “appalling” and has said that she expects the government to take action to amend them if a court rules that they are incompatible with human rights rules.

  • Sinn Féin President Mary-Lou McDonald reshuffled her party’s Dáil front bench team. Former President Gerry Adams has been made Spokesperson for Irish Unity and Seán Crowe is now Spokesperson for Brexit.

  • £2 million is to be made available for 10 projects under the latest round of the Small Business Research Initiative Challenge Fund from the Department for the Economy and Department of Finance.

  • Brendan McAllister has been appointed the Interim Advocate for Victims and Survivors of Historical Institutional Abuse. The Interim Advocate will operate until the Statutory Commissioner for Victims and Survivors of Historical Childhood Abuse has been appointed, in line with the recommendation in the Hart Inquiry report.

Upcoming key political and business events

  • 8 July, Queen’s University Association London Summer Drinks Reception, London

  • 8 July, 4th Annual Sir George Quigley Memorial Lecture, Angela McGowan, Dublin City University

  • 10 July, Votes for Citizens Abroad Campaign Launch, Dublin

  • 12 July, Oireachtas Summer Recess begins


Hospitality Ulster reacts to Irish Cabinet expected approval of MUP on alcohol

Reacting to the news that the Irish cabinet is expected to approve plans on Minimum Unit Pricing of alcohol within the next two weeks, Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster said:

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster, Chief Executive

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster, Chief Executive

“Both the current and future potential of the hospitality sector is being damaged with outdated legislation due to the lack of a functioning government in Northern Ireland.”

“Again, the Republic of Ireland is taking a progressive approach in tackling harmful drinking with the introduction of MUP, whilst at the same time recognising the importance and responsible role the pub and restaurant industry plays in society and the tourism offer.”

“The latest research in Northern Ireland shows that only 6% of the population consumes 44% of the alcohol, predominantly at home, with the negative consequences placing a huge strain on the health and social care system here, whilst our pubs are closing at an alarming rate, yet, we still do nothing about it.”

“The Irish government is being responsive to one of the biggest health issues facing society and must be commended in its plans to introduce a ban on below-price selling of alcohol by the middle of next year.”

“There is a clear need for Northern Ireland to modernise its liquor licensing legislation and introduce Minimum Unit Pricing to reflect the needs of the modern market place and tackle the misuse of alcohol. We simply cannot continue with no decisions being made and the political paralysis stopping our industry from growing and developing. We are regressing through inertia and having to live with the consequences of the fact that the Assembly and Executive isn’t in operation.”

“Minimum Unit Pricing must form part of the overall legislative change that needs to happen in Northern Ireland.”

Legislation to devolve greater powers & resources to local government must be a priority for a restored Assembly

NILGA Chief Executive Derek McCallan

NILGA Chief Executive Derek McCallan

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) has urged Stormont leaders to commit to devolving greater powers to local councils in Northern Ireland in any future restored Assembly.

The call came as NILGA’s Central-Local Government Political Forum met for the fourth time last week. The forum, made up of MLAs and Councillors from the five main parties and 11 councils across Northern Ireland, brings together councils, departments and strategic partners in business and wider society, to address key public services issues and forge solutions to matters of common concern.

In the Assembly’s absence, the Forum provides opportunity for policy & forward planning development and is crucial to councils who are facing unprecedented pressures on their budgets and resources.

The Forum, which met at Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, held discussions with representatives from the Department of Finance and the Department for Communities about the development of new rates proposals, climate action, regeneration, community planning and the Code of Conduct. Its existence serves to sharply highlight the increasingly unsustainable position the continued absence of an Assembly has left local government in.

The 11 local councils are now the only democratically elected and fully functioning part of government currently fulfilling all their duties, and unfinished business is piling up, including elements of the Local Government Act over four years since it was made law.

As such, the strain on local government is greater than ever. Local government is ready and willing to work where the Assembly is stuck in a stalemate. However, local councils need greater finances, powers and resources to best meet the demand from citizens and to be able to do their jobs more efficiently.

Any new Programme for Government must now prioritise granting further powers and resources to local councils to ensure strong and effective representation across all levels of government in Northern Ireland.

New NILGA President, Cllr Frances Burton commented:

“It is important that our local communities get as much affordable investment through our councils, whether this is for jobs and skills, infrastructure, community planning or leisure. Therefore, we urge all government departments and a restored Assembly to support local councils in every manner possible, as part of the Programme for Government, bringing their resources to the table, for local people and places. This is urgent, now more than ever.”

New NILGA President Cllr Frances Burton

New NILGA President Cllr Frances Burton

Chief Executive of NILGA, Derek McCallan added:

“NILGA wants to see a working and sustainable Legislative Assembly and Executive up and running as soon as possible, but until that happens, local councils need to be given greater powers and resource to get things done.”

“During the continued political impasse, councils are taking on more and more responsibility for their communities. The government needs to realise that – with negotiated resource transfers - local people and local councils possess the ability and solutions we need to address our economic, social and legislative deficits.”

“During the continued political impasse, councils are delivering more with less, taking on the likes of major infrastructure work as well as substantial, community led, preventative health work.”

"Coupled with the burden of meeting arbitrary targets, councils, the smallest part of the public sector, are being asked to take on more responsibility as the only functioning level of government in Northern Ireland, without the offer of additional resources required.”

The business of getting people more active, more often

Gareth Kirk is NI Regional Director of Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) which operates all of Belfast City Council owned leisure centres and swimming pools.

It is almost impossible these days to walk down the street without seeing a gym or an advert for one. The fitness industry is responding to a growing demand for high-quality, accessible gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres. A growing number of people have a regular paid- for gym membership and are proactive about maintaining their physical health through regular activity.

Gareth Kirk

Gareth Kirk

A recent report by industry experts Leisure DB on the state of the fitness industry shows that it is stronger than ever before with increases in members, gyms creating greater market value. Belfast is demonstrating huge growth in this sector, both in private sector and publicly owned and operated gyms. Public sector gyms are stabilising and recording growth for the first time in three years, which is being attributed to an increase in the use of new technologies that we have invested heavily in at GLL. Things like customer self-service stations and the removal of cash environments.

GLL runs 14 of the Belfast City Council owned leisure centres, seven of which have their own swimming pools. As the operator, our job is to fulfil the aspirations set out in the Belfast Agenda to get more people, more active, more often and to create leisure centres of excellence, where the most modern gym facilities are offered at a price point that is affordable for everyone.

Since we took over the operation of Belfast city’s leisure facilities, we have seen a continuous increase in membership rates by 7% year on year which is above the average rate of growth found in our GB counterparts. In addition, there has been a 24% increase in people taking up swimming lessons in the city, compared to an average of 11% in GB. Factors that have helped make this a success include ensuring the price of an adult swim is right (at £3.50 we are cheaper than the UK average and NI average). This is set to grow with six new pools due to open in the city over the next year.

This is indicative of a huge level of investment. Our partner, Belfast City Council is rolling out a major leisure transformation programme worth £105 million that will regenerate the leisure estate and make Belfast one of the best served cities in terms of leisure facilities. The ambitious Leisure Transformation Programme is a city-wide investment, on a scale you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. It consolidates a huge leisure portfolio, ensuring the estate remains fit for purpose for the many generations of Belfast citizens who wish to enjoy it.

Olympia Gym.jpg

The first leisure centre to complete and open under this leisure transformation programme was Olympia in 2017. This investment has not been in vain, with Olympia recently being recognised as the best leisure centre and spa in Northern Ireland and Wales by ukactive.

The next three centres to follow in this leisure transformation programme will be Lisnasharragh (formerly the Robinson Centre) - to be completed in the autumn of this year, and then both Brook and Andersonstown in 2020.

The driving force behind this investment is to get more people using local leisure centres and we are already greatly encouraged by early results we are seeing across Belfast.  


Bouncing back after a catastrophic business failure – how credit insurance can provide the vital lifeline

By Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit Insurance, Willis Towers Watson in the Belfast Telegraph

Sometimes in business things don’t always work out. The accumulation of bad debt coupled with wider negative economic circumstances can speed up a collapse or closure, regardless of the perceived success of a business.

Nigel Birney - Head of Trade Credit Insurance, Willis Towers Watson

Nigel Birney - Head of Trade Credit Insurance, Willis Towers Watson

Often, this stressful event can put many entrepreneurs and former business owner managers off getting back into business for life. With over 80% of businesses in Northern Ireland in the SME bracket, this is worrying as they often don’t have the resources or a large financial buffer to help weather that final storm, effectively putting their lights out.

But some businesses and business owners do try to make a comeback. Those who are most resilient are smart enough not to be stung twice and will put all the protective measures available to them in place so that they never suffer the same failure as before.

Cashflow is the lifeblood of all businesses and previous business failure can often mean that access to finance for the new company to restart is less forthcoming and alternative sources are hard to come by. We usually find that this is a normal and understandable response from banks and other commercial funders as they don’t want to take on the risk of a repackaged new venture that has had legacy financial problems with cashflow and loan repayments. It’s a normal reaction, however, it does nothing for the previously scarred business owner who want to get back at it again.

One potential way access to funding can be secured is by taking out credit insurance to improve the credit risk management process. Having your sales ledger protected through credit insurance can provide additional security and reassurance for a bank or financial institution, especially if you want to trade in export markets. Having a strong level of protection in place against bad debt, unlike the previous catastrophic period, provides financial protection and very significant market intelligence on prospective and existing customers, therefore enabling better informed commercial decisions.

Credit insurance gives a financial institution the comfort that you have created a safety net for yourself and your business by putting appropriate and robust risk management procedures in place. Not only that, but suppliers who supply goods, products and raw materials to your business can also feel reassured knowing that you have taken the necessary steps to future proof the financial integrity of your company and that they have a better chance of getting paid and getting paid on time.

Credit insurance also assists significantly in the safe growth of a business by enabling  access to real time information on the financial health of your customer or prospective customer, which allows you to trade with confidence knowing that should an unforeseen bad debt occur, your business will not be adversely affected.

Most of the major credit insurance underwriters also provide a fully integrated international debt collection service. This is particularly useful if you are exporting and require assistance to collect an overdue debt from an overseas buyer as it is extremely unlikely that a local solicitor or debt collection company could assist with collecting a debt or taking legal action to recover a debt in a foreign jurisdiction.

A failed business venture can be bitterly disappointing, especially when it’s through no fault of your own. But it shouldn’t deter many from bouncing back better and stronger than ever. There are lifelines and guidance out there for business owners to protect themselves from being burned again. Credit insurance is one vital way of shielding small businesses from harm in the future and gives business owners (and banks and other lenders) confidence that they will be secure going forward.

Trade NI Sets Out Proposals for Business Rates Reform at Key Meeting

At the start of the two-day key Department of Finance Policy Lab at PRONI looking at reform of Business Rates in Northern Ireland, Trade NI has set out its proposals for change.

Trade NI which is the alliance of Retail NI, Manufacturing NI and Hospitality Ulster is taking part in the two-day meeting of business organisations and senior Civil Servants.

TRADE NI: Colin Neill, Stephen Kelly, Glyn Roberts

TRADE NI: Colin Neill, Stephen Kelly, Glyn Roberts

 In a joint statement the three CEOs of Trade NI, Colin Neill, Stephen Kelly and Glyn Roberts said:

“We very much welcome this fundamental review of business rates and hope that it will deliver the step change needed to fix the current broken and antiquated system”

“Fixing Business Rates is Trade NI’s top priority in terms of the hospitality and retail sectors” 

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“We also want to see the targeted approach to small business rate relief, which was put forward by the last Finance Minister, Rethinking Rates as a vital starting point. These proposals include enhanced rates relief for the mainstays of the high street-independent retail and hospitality businesses”

“However, in terms of our manufacturing members, we have a very clear red line that the current industrial de-rating must not be changed. This is a key element in supporting thousands of jobs across the supply chain and is vital to the future of the local manufacturing sector.”

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“In addition, we also need to ensure that any new system of business rates includes incentives for business growth. We will be outlining proposals for a Green Rate Relief Scheme to incentivise businesses to invest in green technology, enhancing the current Empty Premises Rate Relief scheme, a Capital Allowance scheme and making it easier to access the Rates Hardship scheme.”

“We hope this process will lead to a publication of an action plan to ensure that the next Finance Minister has options to make immediate changes”

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Original water source of 200-year-old whiskey company rediscovered in Newry

Michael McKeown, owner and investor of Matthew D’Arcy & Company with Andrew Cowan, Chief Executive of Matthew D’Arcy & Company shortly after the 200 year old water source was rediscovered.

Michael McKeown, owner and investor of Matthew D’Arcy & Company with Andrew Cowan, Chief Executive of Matthew D’Arcy & Company shortly after the 200 year old water source was rediscovered.

Original water source of 200-year-old whiskey company rediscovered in Newry

Andrew Cowan, Chief Executive of Irish whiskey company, Matthew D’Arcy & Company in Newry, says that they have found the source of water used in the original Matt D’Arcy whiskey more than 200 years ago.

The discovery was made after local historian and owner of Matthew D’Arcy & Company, Michael McKeown, found a map showing the site of a well on the property which had been in use as a distillery since the early 1780s. Historical documents show that a young Matthew D’Arcy commenced his business there in 1817.

That same location is now undergoing a significant regeneration project to the tune of £7.3million after successful planning permission last year.

After the employment of ancient diving techniques, a strong and plentiful flow of clear pure water has been tapped within feet of the original well.

The new Matthew D’Arcy & Company set up will boast a Whiskey Distillery, Bar, Restaurant and Visitor’s Centre in Newry city centre. It is expected to be a game changer for the hospitality sector in this part of the island of Ireland and will form an important component of the rapidly growing interest in whiskey tourism on both sides of the border.

Latest statistics show that consumption of Irish whiskey in the international marketplace is increasing year on year, with US sales alone showing a near 14% increase on the previous twelve months.  

Andrew Cowan, Chief Executive of Matthew D’Arcy & Company said:

“This is a wonderful discovery which connects the rich history of the Matt D’Arcy whiskey company to its future. To be able to cap this source of water so close to the same water used more than two centuries ago means that we will capture the flavour profile which made this whiskey so highly prized so long ago.”

“The provenance of the water sourced for whiskey distillation is of paramount importance and to say that the water we will use in the future production of our whiskey comes directly from our site really is something.”

“The entire 14,000 square foot regeneration project is moving forward at a strong pace and we hope to be opening the doors in mid-2020. Prior to that we will be bringing forward our whiskies that will focus on the super-premium market.”

Michael McKeown, owner and investor of Matthew D’Arcy & Company said:

“Through all the historical research we have carried out so far, we knew that there was a water source located on the property. I personally trekked the Derrybeg river from Monaghan Street to its source on the Camlough Mountain. It is obvious that it was not powerful enough to feed the scale of production that once was achieved in this distillery. Finding a well on an old map, we drafted in water diviners, expert hydrologists and drilling contractors to investigate. We then concentrated on a defined area and soon drew up pure, fresh clean water from metres below the surface.”

“It was like a scene in a movie. There was the noise of the drill and then a few moments of silence before the water came gushing out of the ground. We will harness this fantastic resource and turn it into something remarkable to be tasted and savoured throughout the world.”