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Reflecting on 25 Years of Devolution: Productivity and Skills in Northern Ireland

Written by Natasha Maddison and Ruth Donaldson

As Northern Ireland celebrates 25 years of devolution, the Economics Observatory joined the NI Productivity Forum at Queen’s Business School to host a thought-provoking event on 21st June 2024. The gathering brought together skills experts, politicians, and representatives from various institutions to discuss the critical topics of productivity and skills in the region. 

How do we get Northern Ireland moving as an economy? 

Professor John Turner, the Northern Ireland Productivity Forum Lead, set the tone by emphasising the importance of productivity and skills for Northern Ireland’s future prosperity.  

Photo: Yibin Liu, Queen’s University Belfast 

The event featured two engaging roundtable discussions: 

The first panel focused on Skills and Economy and was chaired by Dr. David Jordan of Queen’s University Belfast. This panel included: 

  • Seamus McGuinness from the Economic and Social Research Institute 
  • Sandra McNally from the University of Surrey and the Centre for Economic Performance 
  • Graeme Roy from Glasgow University and Chair of the Scottish Fiscal Commission  
  • Ann Watt from Pivotal Public Policy Forum,  and also a member of the NI Productivity Forum.  

Photo: Yibin Liu, Queen’s University Belfast  

Highlighting the need for a skills agenda and better quality jobs, the panel delved into educational and skills reform in the devolved nations.  They also identified that stability in government is essential for policy change to have an impact on skills and movement towards the common good. The experts suggested more research is needed to understand what would enable economically inactive people to re-enter the labour market, but pointed out that skills can’t be viewed in isolation – housing and health have an influence.  

The second panel brought together representatives from Northern Ireland’s four of the five main political parties and was chaired by Clodagh Rice. Panelists included: 

  • Phillip Brett (DUP) 
  • Sorcha Eastwood (Alliance) 
  • Claire Hanna (SDLP) 
  • Glen Millar (UUP) 

Photo: Parkway Photography 

Their discussion explored the impact of socioeconomic inequality on skills and productivity, as well as highlighting the importance of cross-departmental collaboration.  

Dr David Jordan remarked “Together, these discussions showed the importance of bringing together experts, politicians, and wider stakeholders, to better understand the steps we should take to meet Northern Ireland’s productivity challenge.”  

Professor John Turner closed the event, and commented “Today’s event was very encouraging because it demonstrates that our politicians now realise the importance of productivity and skills to the future prosperity of the province.”