UK-Irish collaboration: helping propel the Northern Powerhouse forward


enterprise irelandDeirdre McPartlin of Enterprise Ireland explains how Ireland can help the North of Britain power forward after Brexit

The UK is Ireland’s number one export market, representing a value of €7.5 billion exports and 35 per cent of Ireland’s total exports as of February 2018.  These two isles hold an ever-strong relationship and even in the wake of the decision to leave the European Union, are looking to maintain their ties as well as exploring new strategies for future growth; particularly in the engineering sector.

enterprise ireland
Enterprise Ireland launches the Northern Powerhouse Report

Ireland’s engineering industry is accelerating more than ever, with Irish companies now exporting over €0.5billion to support the UK’s growing industry – making the UK its largest export market, again as of February 2018. Trade between the UK and Ireland directly supports 400,000 jobs, half of which are in the UK and over 42,000 in the engineering space, accoeding to Enterprise Ireland Irish Aviation and Aerospace data, 2017.  Ireland is also the second largest medical device hub in Europe, with strong design and precision engineering capabilities.  It is clear these two isles already provide each other with invaluable support in the form of innovation, talent and ambition; ensuring an enhanced trading relationship continues.

The UK Government’s initiative to rebalance the national economy through the Northern Powerhouse initiative is an example of where strong business and partnership opportunities exist for UK/Irish collaboration.  Within the Northern Powerhouse framework, significant opportunities for growth have been identified across construction, life sciences digital technology and cleantech and these very much play to the strengths of a large cohort of Irish companies.

Collaboration is key.

The UK’s Northern Powerhouse is delivering a substantial programme of investment and regeneration to the north of England, with a focus on improving connectivity through increasingly complex transport infrastructure between the cities – supporting economic activities around emerging strengths and capabilities. As a result, Enterprise Ireland, an Irish Government Agency and the third largest seed investor in Europe has launched its Northern Powerhouse Report; reinforcing the strong business opportunities for Irish companies in the north of England; an area which is growing faster than any other part of the UK.

Key Northern Powerhouse Report Findings Include:

  • If the North of England was a country, it would be the 10th largest economy in Europe
  • It exports £50billion worth of goods and had a gross value added (GVA) of £317billion in 2015, representing 19 per cent of overall UK GVA;
  • In recent years, many of the cities within the Northern Powerhouse region have experienced a significant increase in new building and infrastructure projects
  • A strong pipeline of key investments is supporting further development in the wider North West including HS2 and Liverpool Docks
  • Key players in the region are spread across the private and the public sector; at a local, national and international level
  • The North remains a key production area for high end engineering, manufacturing, automotive, off highway and Rail OEM supply chain activity across the North East and West as well as strong aerospace clusters
  • As industrial digitalisation transforms, IOT, AR, 3D Printing and robotics will become more important
  • Current key players in the region include Airbus, Rolls Royce and Magellan Aerospace

Interestingly, Germany used to be the strongest export market for Irish engineering companies – a testament to the quality and pedigree of Irish engineering which can compete and succeed in this homeland of engineering excellence. However, now the UK has become the largest export market demonstrating the renaissance in UK manufacturing and how Irish companies are supporting this rebirth. As the Northern Powerhouse deepens its manufacturing capabilities, we can expect collaboration to increase further.  Irish companies are responding to the UK’s requirements to build the most demanding projects faster, most cost-effectively and to the highest technology standards.

In a post-Brexit world, competition for attention will no doubt intensify, and if companies want to stay ahead of the competition, they have to co-create; working closely with partners to stay ahead. It’s important to encourage the Irish and UK engineering industries to consider how they can best partner and work together.

One thing the UK companies we work with consistently say is that they are impressed by the breadth of innovation on display in Ireland. By having a unique approach to partnering with global customers, Irish companies are helping win competitive advantage, with continuous innovation a driving factor. Coupled with a proven track record of meeting global market leader needs, the ‘Irish Advantage’ is obvious and needs to be capitalised upon more, especially if the Northern Powerhouse objectives are to be met.

Ireland’s main focus is on growing city regions, improving connectivity, increasing growth economic activities and utilising emerging strengths and capabilities.  With preparation and research, there are opportunities for us to work in tandem more than ever before. The Northern Powerhouse is about driving business, skills and economic growth, positioning the region as a globally recognised economy.  With Ireland’s globalised economy, strong infrastructure, and a young, innovative workforce in close proximity, it’s a perfect fit for the UK engineering sector looking to drive competitive edge at this time.

Deirdre McPartlin is  Regional Manager UK for Enterprise Ireland