Northern Ireland climbs three places in EU regions competitiveness index

Marc Lemaitre, director-general for regional and urban policy at the European Commission, launches the Regional Competitive Index in Brussels, which ranked Northern Ireland at 132nd of 268 EU regions
Gary McDonald Business Editor, in Brussels

NORTHERN Ireland has climbed three places to 132nd in an influential new EU-wide index which measures various dimensions of a region's competitiveness.

The study, released in Brussels yesterday, captures concepts which are relevant to productivity and long-term development, assessing areas such as basic education, labour market efficiency, business sophistication and technological readiness.

But while the north has crept into the top half of the 2019 Regional Competitive Index (RPI), which assessed 268 regions across the 28 EU member states, it languishes one from bottom of the UK collective, beating only the Highlands and Islands (147th place).

On the 11 key dimensions of the RPI report, Northern Ireland was deemed to be similar to its peers on 10 measures but is outperforming them in the area of technological readiness.

Stockholm came out on top of the RPI, with London and its commuting zone second. Two other UK regions were in the top 10 (Berkshire/Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire at fourth and Surrey/East & West Sussex in fifth).

Competitiveness is seen as the ability of a region to offer an attractive and sustainable environment for firms and residents to live and work. Low competitiveness translates into higher income inequality.

The report, the fourth since 2010, was launched at EU Regions Week in the Belgian capital.

This is when the Committee of the Regions (CoR), Europe's second-tier parliament, meets in a plenary session.

The CoR is a collective of 350 local and regional leaders from across Europe, its members mostly all elected at city, town or village level and whose views represent grassroots opinion and champion the cause of the farmer, fisherman and small businessman.

The sole Northern Ireland CoR representative in Brussels this week is Trevor Cummings, a unionist member of Ards and North Down Borough Council.

But in common with virtually all other UK representatives, he is not listed to table any motions or opinions.

Registrations at EU Regions Week have surpassed the 9,000 threshold this year, and the programme (which includes 400-plus events and workshops across the city) are being covered by 220 journalists, including 40 on a special young media scheme.

And while Brexit remains a topic of conversation, particularly around implications for citizenship and the future of the Irish border, it isn't dominating any of the working sessions.

The EU is working on the firm basis that the UK will actually leave, and new seven-year budgets currently in draft form don't include any allocations beyond 2020, when the transition period ends.

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