Business

Belfast proves its resilience (along with Seattle and Nairobi)

Belfast

WHAT has Belfast got in common with Washington and Seattle, Nairobi, Lagos and Manchester?

They were among the last 37 cities to be included in the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 resilient cities programme, which has now reached its quota of 100 cities and has closed.

It's no mean achievement, given that more than 1,000 cities applied to be included in the programme, which examines how cities ‘build resilience.' On a practical level it means that Belfast, along with the other 36 new resilient cities, will receive funding for a ‘Chief Resilience Officer' to help it become more resistant to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

It sounds a bit like management speak for sure, and who can tell what the long term impact will be. For example, what happens to the resilience of the city after the two years funding from the Rockeller Foundation expires?

But recognition as a resilient city can help focus on those issues which put pressure on Belfast and its inhabitants. Some of the other 100 resilient cities have had to deal with earthquakes, major floods, famine but those who decided on the eligibility of Belfast also take account of unemployment, public transport pressure, and ‘the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a day to day or cyclical basis.' No one can doubt that we do face those challenges.

The challenges thrown up by the Rockeller Foundation also offers an opportunity. Shifts in politics usually happen organically, one generation at a time, and we all know here that change can come dropping very slowly indeed. In the last two weeks however, politics locally has dramatically, maybe even unexpectedly, changed and that too offers an opportunity.

When the two larger parties of government, and Sinn Fein in particular, let the dust settle on the new dispensation, it is to be hoped that rather than being spooked at the idea of facing an official opposition for the next five years, they embrace the challenge and opportunity of delivering in the very significant mandate they have been given by the electorate.

Similarly the UUP and SDLP can benefit from the new paradigm and it was reassuring to hear Colum Eastwood stress that his party won't be in opposition mode ‘just for the sake of it.' That smacks of a political maturity emerging, even among the new generation of political representatives coming through the ranks. Too often opposition parties, be it in Dublin or London or elsewhere, will slip into a default mode of automatically criticising everything the government does, but that's a short term game.

Where our new Executive gets things rights they should be encouraged, supported, and listened to, not just by the opposition parties but by the business community and wider society as well. They will stumble at times, naturally, and there will be fallouts among ministers and between parties, this is politics after all. But it doesn't need to be a battle a day, and the very early signs are of a group of ministers who are prepared to set constitutional disagreements to one side and identify the common opportunities that exist.

Our is a relatively young Executive, and is certainly full of energy and dare we say youthful vigour. The more cynical may prefer the word inexperienced, but this is a time to be positive and generous. One of the older of the new ministers is Mairtin O'Muilleoir, and we know the energy he will bring to his post so hopefully that's a benchmark for the collective Executive.

The challenges are significant. On the day the Executive had its first meeting the accompanying news headlines told of increasing hospital waiting lists, a tightening budget scenario, a drop in the number of tourist visitors from the Republic of Ireland, a strike among university lecturers, an ongoing shortage in social housing stock.

Many of our problems are deep-rooted and will require long term solutions, the kind of which are sometimes delayed or even avoided at election time. The fact that we are now out of a three-year election cycle, with no poll due until 2019 (notwithstanding the Brexit vote next month), hopefully gives politicians the space they need to make hard decisions where necessary and to map out a programme of economic renewal which is long term in nature, ambitious in scope and which can include all parts of Northern Ireland.

That will involve moving ahead with the reduction in corporation tax, making the saving required to pay for that, while investing in our physical and communications infrastructure, and crucially our colleges and universities. Beyond the economic brief it will also mean setting local interests aside in the cause of health reform, it should mean a real review of revenue raising measures no matter how apparently distasteful that it.

As they go about their business all of the parties, in Government and on the opposition benches, have our good wishes. Opportunity is at hand, and while the task facing the Executive won't be easy, we are a resilient bunch - and thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, that's official.

:: Brendan Mulgrew (brendan.mulgrew@mwadvocate.com) is managing partner at MW Advocate (www.mwadvocate.com).

:: Next week: Angela McGowan

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