NI 'lags behind' other nations in competitiveness

  • Photo: Richard Johnston, Deputy Director of UUEPC and report author

    Northern Ireland’s ‘competitive edge’ has slowly slipped over two decades, according to new research from Ulster University.

    The university’s Economic Policy Centre Competitiveness Scorecard measures NI across eleven areas, three of which have improved in the last 10 years.

    NI’s overall competitive position lagged 56% of 30 competitor nations in 2000 and this figure has deteriorated to 59% in 2020.

    These include high levels of wellbeing, electricity generated from renewable sources and a competitive digital infrastructure, which helped to maintain economic activity throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

    However, the study suggested NI faces many competitiveness challenges, which impinge upon standards of living. These involve education and skills outcomes, low productivity/innovation, and childcare costs

    The research highlights that focussing on competitiveness is important for society as “a more competitive economy is one that is likely to grow faster over time” (World Economic Forum).

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    On average, more competitive economies have higher standards of living and are more equal, which are two of the key areas of focus for the NI Executive and policymakers as society emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic and deals with Brexit induced disruptions. 

    The report outlined other key areas to help build a better future for NI:

    -           Seize digital and green opportunities; digitisation creates more jobs than it removes and Covid has accelerated the pace of digitisation, creating opportunity. If NI moves quickly to develop and implement policy in the arena of alternative fuels and heat sources, it could gain an early mover advantage in the climate change challenge.

    -           Support current and potential work; when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self Employment Income Support Scheme end, significant focus is needed to ensure that unemployment – and particularly youth unemployment – is not a long-term issue for those impacted.

    -           Skill up for the future of work; the pandemic and acceleration of digitisation have increased the demand for technological skills such as coding and data analytics and we know that “human skills” such as leadership, strategy and empathy are less easily automated and safeguard jobs for the future. The report recommends a sustained, long term solution.

    -           Raise productivity to boost incomes and standards of living; if sustained investment is made in sectors, capital and skills that boost productivity this could provide a comparative advantage, higher incomes and enable firms to pay higher wages, boosting standards of living.

    -           Focus internationally: NI must continue to focus on external markets and opportunities to generate income from outside NI, boost standards of living, sustainable and inclusive growth.

    Richard Johnston, Deputy Director of UUEPC and report author said: “The Scorecard provides a data-driven assessment of NI’s performance relative to 30 competitor nations in almost 150 indicators over two decades. 

    “With almost 100,000 data points, it provides an in-depth assessment of progress.

    “We are eager to begin the next phase of the research, to be published in 2021, which will see us delve into the specific policies that can help to make a real difference.”

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    For those interested in discussing the research with the authors, please contact Richard Johnston at The full report is downloadable here.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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