Nuala shines as Stormont stays shut

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  • Sync NI sat down with Belfast’s first citizen Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister to talk about her first six months in office and her hopes for the year ahead. In the final part of the interview, Nuala discusses leadership, economic regeneration and ‘global Belfast’...

    With “a lack of leadership” at Executive level, and low prospects for its return in the near future, Nuala McAllister has found herself thrust into a unique leadership position.

    In October, she was at Downing Street to work on an investment proposal with the Department for International Trade. Then last month she was at the Mansion House in the City of London to participate in a trade mission organised by Belfast Partners.

    “I represent the millennial generation in Belfast, which is just like the millennial generation anywhere else in the world,” she says. “We want a globally connected city. We have great opportunities here, so when I talk to investors I urge him to come and see for themselves.”

    “Regardless of the political situation, we need to keep going. I want to ensure that we don't stop now - especially as we have waited so long for progress.”

    When talking to investors, the big sticking points are Brexit and the collapse of Stormont.

    “With the things that are happening with Brexit and Stormont, it's no wonder that people look at all the negativity and think that Northern Ireland is just a negative place,” she says.

    “But when investors come to Belfast and see the opportunities here, they can see that there's so much going for us.”

    FDI and economic regeneration are important issues for the Lord Mayor. When she describes the city’s advantages as a business environment, the detail arrives easily for her - it’s clear that this is a pitch she’s made countless times.

    “Businesses come to Belfast because of our people, their talent and skills. We have more people going to third level education now than ever before, and we are the second fastest growing knowledge economy outside of London in the UK,” she says.

    Over £2.5 billion has been invested in Belfast over the past decade, developing cultural facilities, retail, leisure and housing. And ambitious targets have been set for the future - the Belfast Agenda aims to create 15,000 new jobs and secure £5 billion of investment by 2021.

    “I want to see Belfast move forward as part of the Belfast Agenda and the Belfast city deal - this is going to see Belfast move forward in a way that it hasn't before,” she says.

    Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly attractive as a location for foreign direct investment. And according to Invest NI, Belfast is ranked as the UK’s number one destination for fintech and cybersecurity.

    The high quality of the local talent pool is a strong lure, as is government support to help firms develop specialist skills they need through initiatives like the Assured Skills Programme.

    “I visited FinTrU and I was able to see at first-hand how many people they've put through that programme,” she says. “And now they are turning out people with these excellent skills that are in high demand.”

    While Nuala concedes technology can sometimes “goes over my head”, she’s excited about the city’s position as an international technology hub.

    “I can see huge opportunities for young people,” she says. “Yes, there are the traditional professions - legal, teaching and nursing - but there are so many other opportunities in digital and in vocational life.”

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