Major EY jobs announcement at Belfast investment summit

Woman looks at data
Data science has become an in-demand field

Professional services firm EY is creating 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland over the next five years in areas like cyber security and data analytics.

The new jobs - paying an average of £33,000 a year - will be based in Belfast and at a new hub in the north west.

They have been supported by Invest NI and the Department for the Economy.

They were announced at the Northern Ireland Investment Summit in Belfast on Wednesday.

More than 100 global investors and businesses were in Belfast for the investment summit, essentially a big sales pitch for Northern Ireland.

Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch told the summit that Northern Ireland had a unique trading position with a "seamless land border within the single market and within an internal UK market".

"When you back this country, you're joining a growing list of businesses and investors who also recognise these opportunities," she said.

She added: "It is our responsibility to promote all parts of Northern Ireland, especially the north-west, not just this great city of Belfast where we meet today."

The Princess Royal and Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch at the summit
The Princess Royal and Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch attended the summit

"That is something the government is trying to ensure, that we are levelling up across the UK but also across Northern Ireland.

"I'm convinced that Northern Ireland has an amazing future."

The summit has been organised by the UK Department for Business and Trade and the Northern Ireland Office, together with Northern Ireland's inward investment agency Invest NI.

The government said about 120 investors and businesses from around the globe attended.

'Unique trading position'

Addressing the summit on Wednesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said those who doubted the importance of the Good Friday Agreement should "just take a look around you".

"During the Troubles an event like this would have been impossible," he said, referencing the peace accord which helped to end the decades-long conflict.

Mr Heaton-Harris said he had hoped the Northern Ireland Executive would have been up and running for the summit so its ministers could have discussed ideas with investors, but "sadly this has proven not to be the case".

Stormont's second-largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), walked out of power-sharing in February 2022 in protest against post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.

"My team and I have worked intensively with the DUP and indeed all the main Northern Ireland political parties throughout the summer and I am genuinely hopeful that progress will be unlocked very, very soon," said Mr Heaton-Harris.

Data, analytics, cyber security

EY's investment announcement will bring the company's Northern Ireland workforce to 1,900.

The firm's Northern Ireland managing partner, Rob Heron, said there had been increased demand across the firm's business areas in recent years.

The UK's Investment Minister Lord Dominic Johnson and the United States special envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III
The UK's Investment Minister Lord Dominic Johnson and the United States special envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III

EY Northern Ireland will be running an Assured Skills Academy Programme alongside the Department for the Economy (DFE) to deliver a pipeline of talent in areas like cyber security and data analytics.

It will focus on individuals such as those seeking to return to work following a career break, those wishing to change career, or recent graduates looking for an alternative route into professional services.

DfE Permanent Secretary Mike Brennan said his department's Assured Skills Academies would help to fill more than 350 jobs across a range of roles and skills areas.

These include data and analytics, cyber security, procurement and commercial contract management and project and programme management.

Analysis box by John Campbell, NI economic and business editor
Analysis box by John Campbell, NI economic and business editor

The Windsor Framework, like its predecessor the Northern Ireland Protocol, keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU's single market for goods.

That is primarily to prevent the hardening of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

But it also means Northern Ireland manufacturers have better access to the EU than companies in other parts of the UK.

Northern Ireland companies do not face new post-Brexit bureaucracy when exporting goods to the EU.

Additionally, there are no checks and controls on Northern Ireland goods being sold to the rest of UK.

That means that if an American manufacturer wanted to serve both the UK and EU markets it could set up in Northern Ireland to minimise customs and regulatory bureaucracy on exports.

The jobs being announced today by EY are in services rather than manufacturing, so the Windsor Framework has no bearing on them.

The chief executive of Invest NI told the BBC that over the next 12 months he anticipates "more and more announcements as people begin to understand how the framework will work in practice".

There are currently more than 230 US businesses in Northern Ireland which employ more than 30,000 people, said the US special envoy, Joe Kennedy.

"The peace dividend, in order for Northern Ireland to wholly reach its potential, that has to be felt more broadly, it has to be spread more widely across society," he said.

"And so there's obviously a role and responsibility there, or an opportunity there, for business."

Members of the NI Business Alliance welcomed the chance to showcase local talent.

A partnership between CBI NI, the Centre for Competitiveness, the Institute of Directors NI and Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, the Business Alliance said Northern Ireland was "uniquely positioned as a gateway to two of the world's largest markets".

"Unfettered and flexible access to the EU and UK makes this the only jurisdiction in the world from which business can sell into GB and the EU free of customs and regulatory barriers," it said.

The Business Alliance said investors and businesses alike valued certainty and it remains "optimistic about the prospect of more positive discussions around the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive".

Other announcements included money awarded to:

  • Belfast-based maritime technologies firm Artemis Technologies to develop electric passenger vessel services in Orkney

  • Northern Ireland-based Catagen, Terex and Wrightbus to test e-diesel and hydrogen dispensing technologies in quarrying

  • Ionic Technologies which is developing a process to produce rare earths, a key component in electric car batteries, by recycling industrial magnets.