Over 100 stakeholders attended an event in Mossley Mill, Newtownabbey on the 24th April to understand the growth prospects of the digital economy in Northern Ireland. and to identify solutions that can improve connectivity and access to broadband across the region.
The event, Digital Growth: Our future Economy was jointly organised by NILGA & Ofcom with support from Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. It brought together local and central government officials and politicians, private sector suppliers and industry bodies to highlight the growing importance of the digital sector to the region’s economy and to ensure that broadband issues facing business, as well as urban and rural communities are high on the agenda at all levels of government.
Attendees heard about the link between broadband coverage and economic growth as well as the distinct rural-urban divide when it comes to broadband connectivity. Councils want to use their local development plans and community plans to stimulate investment locally but ‘not-spots’ are issues for every council, and these continue to hamper local economic growth.
Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Paul Hamill said “Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has a vision to be “the most digitally advanced Council in NI” and, in association with NILGA and Ofcom, we believe it is essential that local and central government work together to deliver a world class digital economy for Northern Ireland”.
Ofcom Northern Ireland Director Jonathan Rose said: “There are a number of initiatives, both national and regional, to help deliver decent broadband to areas that don’t currently get the service they need. Both the upcoming Universal Service Obligation and the £150m earmarked for broadband in Northern Ireland have the potential to dramatically change the communications landscape. It’s important for consumers and businesses that the various agencies and departments work together to ensure these initiatives deliver to their full potential.”
Derek McCallan, NILGA Chief Executive, said: “We need stronger collaboration across government and the private sector, the onus is on all stakeholders to engage positively to find the right solutions. This will require resources to be locally tailored and councils working in partnership, are increasingly the key to unlocking this. Politically I see no reason why the Partnership Panel between MLAs and councils, the first meeting convened by NILGA just last week, can’t look at scrutiny of programmes and broadband roll out, channel resources to councils that benefit communities and businesses and set a dynamic procurement landscape in place. Delivery, not processes, are key at this stage”.