Derry demands the activation of the ‘City Deal’

Colum Eastwood, SDLP MLA for Foyle
Colum Eastwood, SDLP MLA for Foyle

The Department of Social Development recently issued the ‘Households Below Average Income Report. It gives an overview of incomes across the North and classifies them on a sliding scale.

Unsurprisingly, Derry does not fare well.

The 140 page report gives an in-depth analysis of incomes across all Council areas and it paints the picture that Derry is under-performing. Derry is the North’s second city and should be one of our region’s key wealth generators. Unfortunately, it is not.

In fact, of all 26 council areas in Northern Ireland in 2014, Derry ranked 21st in terms of high earners. Derry and Belfast were named key regional economic drivers in the Sinn Féin and DUP 2011 ‘Programme for Government’ but the statistics, sadly, show that Derry remains a low wage economy.

And it is no wonder we are a low wage economy. We have suffered from decades of economic neglect. Various administrations, be they Unionist, Direct Rule or the current Sinn Féin/DUP controlled Executive, have ignored the plight of the North West.

THE ‘CITY DEAL’ MECHANISM

For 50 years we have called for motorways and a university expansion, as yet those calls have remained unanswered. Half a century on we desperately need a mechanism to deliver these wealth creating projects, that mechanism is the ‘City Deal.’

City Deals are one of the few policy initiatives rolled out by David Cameron and George Osborne that we in the SDLP agree with. City Deals transfer power from government to cities and allow them to make local decisions about how public money is spent. City Deals give cities new powers to stimulate economic growth and create jobs. In short, cities become masters of their own destiny.

Glasgow recently signed a City Deal with the Scottish and British Governments that will provide over £1.3 billion of fresh investment. The money financed by the Westminster and Holyrood administrations will fund major transport and employment programmes with a view to creating tens of thousands of jobs.

Liverpool has chosen to create an enterprise zone and embark on massive housing and school building projects. Newcastle is focusing its City Deal on marine and offshore technologies to position itself as a pioneer in the low carbon economy, whereas Nottingham is establishing a Creative Quarter to capitalise on growth in sectors such as life sciences and green technologies.

GUARANTEED FUNDING

Every City Deal is different, but one constant is guaranteed government funding for projects which cities need to drive economic growth and create jobs. This can be a game-changer for Derry as it will unlock guaranteed spending from Stormont and the British Treasury for projects we choose.

A City Deal for Derry could deliver the ambitions of the One Plan. A City Deal could deliver much-needed Magee expansion. It could deliver first class transport links in the A6 to Belfast, A5 to Dublin and the upgrade of our rail line.

It could make Derry business-friendly by developing an enterprise zone. A City Deal could regenerate the Fort George and Ebrington sites to provide more employment opportunities.

There are many things that need to be done. We know it won’t be easy to tackle all the challenges but a City Deal allows us to decide our priorities and begin solving the problems.

Momentum for a City Deal is growing as it makes economic sense. The Heenan-Anderson Commission Report was released last week and it supports our economic argument. The Commission was tasked with identifying ways of tackling inequality, unemployment and marginalisation across the North and one of its key recommendations is a City Deal for Derry.

We are all frustrated at reports that rank Derry at the bottom of the economic tables and we are all frustrated at limited employment opportunities and investment in our city.

A City Deal can change that. A City Deal can bring more power to Derry.