The 10X Delivery Plan is a bold investment in Northern Ireland’s future
By Joshua Taggart, Junior Consultant
Back in May 2021, Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy set out their ambition for a ‘10X economy, a transformational mind-set centred on what can be achieved with the right levels of ambition’.
The plan was intended to futureproof Northern Ireland’s economy not just by providing sufficient levers to stimulate recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, but also ensuring that future growth and innovation was inclusive and based on skills for future industries being available to all.
Criticisms of the plan centred on the lack of specific proposals. Sure, we can all agree that growth should be possible across the economy to maximise results – it’s impossible to ‘10X’ the NI economy if tech is the only sector thriving in the 2020s – but God is, as they say, in the details, and such details were sparse.
The Government has now published the 10X delivery plan to remedy this situation, and while the introduction of specificity is welcome, it’s notable that the foreword to the plan is written not by a Minister (as would be customary if Stormont was sitting) but instead by the Permanent Secretary for the Department, Mike Brennan.
Brennan notes the progress already made towards the realisation of 10X despite the lack of a functioning executive and the need for political stability to support economic sustainability. This concern was reflected back in May, when the local elections resulted in a historic win for Sinn Féin, the party calling for the immediate restoration of the Executive. While the DUP continues to critique the Windsor Framework and fray their relationship with mainland Conservative allies, the Northern Irish electorate remains in limbo.
Elements of the 10X delivery plan are certainly forward-looking and reflect a department which is considering long-term growth strategies as well as immediate Covid-19 recovery policies. Increasing total R&D expenditure by 55% is a positive demonstration of faith in high-skilled industries such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and biotech, while a target of 80% green energy consumption will certainly support the growth of green industries.
It would be worth matching such lofty targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction with financial incentives for green businesses and renewable energy sources, such as lowered rates and expedited planning reform, if we’re to hit such targets in a reasonable time frame. The hydrogen industry, in particular, requires a huge effort to ensure grid compatibility and could unlock thousands of jobs, and billions in revenue if correctly implemented.
One of the key pillars identified in the delivery plan is the education of the future workforce. Getting this pillar correct is crucial to ensure that supply-side reforms to boost certain industries are met with a sufficiently-skilled workforce – there is little point bringing tech startups to Belfast if no-one can code or focusing on sustainability without green skills. The Department for the Economy will need to work closely with the Department for Education on green and tech apprenticeships and the necessary tax incentives and training schemes to make sure a futureproof workforce possible. It would be great to see more detail on future collaboration between the two departments on this point.
The greatest question posed by the 10X plan is one which isn’t addressed in the plan itself – if Northern Ireland is to have an economy fit for the future, what about its political structure? The greatest question in Irish politics – the suitability and sustainability of the Good Friday Agreement – isn’t going away any time soon. Nevertheless, the 10X delivery plan demonstrates a Government which is looking in the right direction, marrying the liberation of private-sector potential with more concrete government targets for employment, sustainability and innovation.