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North East Digital Champion Press Release

By Felicity McNeice on 25th June 2015

North East Digital Champion Press Release image

Larne, Northern Ireland, 25 JUNE 2015

Businesses in the north east call for better broadband and digital training to help them to compete globally

A major report into digital infrastructure and skills within businesses in the north east has found that many companies are still struggling to develop and compete due to poor broadband connectivity and lack of training.

At an event held at LEDCOM in Larne on 25 June 2015 to mark the end of the North East Digital Champion Programme, a draft report was launched which stated that almost 40% of businesses surveyed require more internet capacity to help them to increase sales and develop marketing opportunities. 85% reported that they need further digital training to help them develop economically. In addition, the report recommends that a Digital Champion is appointed for the region, to support businesses and represent their interests at a political, strategic and operational level. 

The North East Digital Champion Programme was a programme of free digital workshops and bespoke one-to-one mentoring that has been running since January of this year. 80 businesses have received mentoring, and 160 attended workshops across the region. Through a series of consultations and surveys, the draft report presents a comprehensive overview of the digital infrastructure in the area, flagging issues with connectivity and skills as well as good practice case studies, with clear recommendations on developments needed to allow businesses to compete globally. 

The programme was delivered by Belfast-based agency Oli on behalf of Larne Borough Council. The programme is supported by Invest Northern Ireland part funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland and by the seven former councils in the North East Region: Antrim, Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Larne, Moyle and Newtownabbey.

The programme focused on helping businesses to grow their online presence and sales, and workshops included guest speakers from local businesses presenting case studies on how to do this effectively. 80 businesses also benefited from tailored individual sessions with a digital expert, to focus on their specific need and growth potential.

Speaking at the the launch of the report, Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell said:

“As Northern Ireland is a small business economy, one of our core priorities is to help small businesses grow and develop through export success and innovation.  There is great potential for businesses to exploit the commercial opportunities of the digital platform. We recognise that many businesses do not yet appreciate how they could become more profitable, sustainable and efficient through the use of high-speed broadband.

 This report has helped to identify where connectivity issues still remain, and we hope to address these through initiatives such as The Northern Ireland Broadband Improvement Project which will bring improved broadband speeds to over 45,000 premises by the end of 2015 and the Superfast Broadband Programme which will expand the reach of superfast broadband to a further 38,000 premises across Northern Ireland by December 2017. I also recommend that businesses take the opportunity of reading the guide ‘Build Your Business with Broadband’ which is available on my department’s website.”

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Councillor Billy Ashe who also spoke at the event said:

“This was a very productive programme and we welcome the findings of the draft digital opportunities and infrastructure report. We regularly hear from businesses how they struggle with poor broadband connection. We hope that this report will help to pave the way for improvements where they are needed, as well as support the call for further training and a Digital Champion role developed to serve as an digital ambassador right across the region."

Siobhán McGuigan from programme delivery agent Oli said:

“We have found that businesses across the region are hungry to develop their online presence to boost their revenue and marketing reach. Our report and the direct engagement with businesses has shown that there are significant challenges faced but with the commitment of councils and stakeholders we are confident that businesses in the north east will be supported to reach their full digital potential.”

For further information, please contact:

02890 247 368

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