Reasons for optimism

Feb 09, 2021
Although significant challenges remain, the north-west region can look forward to better days ahead, writes Dawn McLaughlin.

After one of the most challenging years in business, 2021 provides some cause for optimism in the north-west city region. The vaccination rollout across the globe gives us the best chance to get back to normal and truly get our recovery efforts underway.

As a Chartered Accountant in practice and in my new role as President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, I have seen first-hand the extreme pressures on businesses. Cash reserves are depleted, cash flow is becoming a major concern, and confidence is gone. After a year of COVID-19, the strains on entrepreneurs and businesses of all shapes and sizes are only increasing. The need for a government-led recovery strategy, developed in collaboration with business, is greater than ever.
However, I also see reasons for positivity on the horizon. While the double blow of the pandemic and Brexit seriously affected local businesses, I believe we can recover and rebuild better in 2021 and beyond, given the opportunity and support to do so.

One of the rare highlights of 2020 was the announcement of the Graduate Entry Medical School at Ulster University’s Magee Campus in Derry. Representing the culmination of years of hard work and campaigning, the new medical school, which will welcome its first students in September 2021, illustrates the strength of the north-west’s higher education offerings.

In the new post-Brexit world, cross-border cooperation and collaboration will be as important as ever. In collaborating with our neighbours in Donegal and beyond, we are working to make the north-west city region a more robust economy and the best place on the island to set-up a business.

An Taoiseach’s new Shared Island Initiative provides the opportunity to maximise the tangible benefits of all-island cooperation. Committing €500 million over five years for cross-border projects, we are making a strong case for investment to fund infrastructure projects like the A5 Western Transport Corridor, funding to expand Ulster University’s Magee Campus and other cross-border research projects.

Along with the full rollout of the City Deal project, the Shared Island Initiative can unlock our city region’s full potential and drive the post-pandemic recovery. By giving our leaders and businesses the tools to rebuild and create a more thriving and bustling regional economy, we can attract new investment and create new, secure jobs. But, in the short- and medium-term, this will require serious commitment and courage from the Northern Ireland Executive, the UK Government, and the Irish Government to get our struggling businesses on the whole island through this rocky period and ensure that they survive and thrive.

With institutions like Ulster University Business School, North-West Regional College and Letterkenny Institute of Technology, the north-west is fertile ground for world-leading research and development, attracting more students to our region. Chartered Accountants in the north-west should prepare for this regional growth, and look to our local further and higher education institutions to provide a stream of high-calibre students who might well be the next generation of Chartered Accountants.

Dawn McLaughlin is Founder of Dawn McLaughlin & Co. Chartered Accountants 
and President of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.