Breakfast Briefing Session at the Northern Ireland Assembly

21 February 2011

The Institute of Physics provided key input to a breakfast briefing session for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont on 16 February 2011.

Philomena Devlin, Belfast Metropolitan College, Dolores Kelly, Chairperson Committee for Employment and Learning, Clive Gallagher,  Breezemount, Graham Barber, IET, Catherine Kelly, Breezemount, Sheila Gilheany IOP, Steve Brankin, Asidua

The session was focused on the importance of STEM skills and careers to the N. Ireland economy. 

It featured a number of speakers on Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and their role in supporting the development of small businesses engaged in STEM-related activities and to allow students in these subjects to experience work in these environments. 

Among the speakers were Steve Brankin, CEO of the Belfast based software development company, Asidua and Clive Gallagher CEO of the electrical and hydraulics company, Breezemount. Claire Griffin, Invest NI, Philomena Devlin, Belfast Metropolitan College and Catherine Kelly, Breezemount.

The event was organised by the N. Ireland Assembly Committee for Employment and Learning, supported by the Engineering Policy Group (NI) of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. 

The IOP has provided assistance with briefing material on the importance of the physics base to the economy and had a number of key members attending the event, including Norman Apsley, IOP Vice President, Business and Innovation and CEO of the N. Ireland Science Park.

Much of the event was given over to informal discussions between guests and the MLAs and a hot topic was the state of the local economy with MLAs coming in weary after debating until 3am that morning the finance minister’s draft budget for N. Ireland. 

Currently, Northern Ireland is highly dependent on public sector jobs as opposed to wealth creating industry. 

Public spending accounts for 77.6 per cent of GDP and the N. Ireland Executive is clearly coming under financial pressure with Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for N. Ireland noting recently in relation to public spending, ‘this is simply unsustainable.’

One solution, at least, must surely come from physics. 

At present physics based technologies support around one million jobs in the UK, or 5% of all jobs. 

In addition these are highly productive jobs with a Gross Value Added (GVA) per employee at £69,000 - 70% higher than the UK average. 

Given Northern Ireland’s current low GVA per employee, around 80% of the UK average, it is clear that it is growth in this type of employment which is essential for the region.