Whinge list: ‘Balanced’ NW people have chip on both shoulders, claims Gregory Campbell

Gregory Campbell
Gregory Campbell

DUP MLA Gregory Campbell has hinted that jobs announcements may be imminent in the North West.

Mr Campbell was speaking during an Assembly debate on the economic state of the North West, during which he queried an SDLP comment that the area had “suffered decades of neglect”. Mr Campbell claimed today’s economy was not as bad as in 1992 in the context of an IRA bombing campaign against “economic targets” and that people should use restraint in the language they use to describe historic issues.

The East Derry MLA also said it appears “at times that we, collectively, always like to complain”, and NW people are balanced as they sometimes have “a chip on each shoulder”.

He said: “What is presented sometimes as cogent argument actually ends up being a whinge list of what has not been done and is not being done...The indications I am getting are that, in the next few days, there will be more jobs announcements, just as there were in the past couple of months. We all want to work towards seeing massive jobs announcements.”

Members of the Assembly were debating the poor state of the NW’s economy, including the high levels of unemployment.

Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey said people in the constituency were “sick, sore and tired” of plans and want to see action.

He said: “Despite much hard work being carried out on the implementation of the One Plan, the Derry public are still awaiting delivery. We are still waiting to hear something that really matters to those 1,500 unemployed young people in Derry city and for the big investment announcements west of the Bann.”

Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin welcomed the recent announcement by Martin McGuinness of the ministerial task force focusing on the north-west, adding: “It establishes and actions a number of interventions aimed at redressing the regional disparities that exist in such stark evidence, as we have heard today.

There is much to be proud of in the north-west and in the city of Derry as regards civic and political leadership in the region. However, targeting regional disparities needs to be a priority policy area across all Departments. Whilst Derry, very much, took centre stage in 2013; in order to be the city that can deliver major events, it remains the case that we have many challenges, and there needs to be a focus on skills and jobs.”

The full Hansard text of the Assembly debate on the North West is published below:

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. One amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose and a further five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.

Mr Ramsey: I beg to move

That this Assembly notes the alarmingly low levels of employment in the Derry City, Strabane district and Limavady borough council areas; further notes that investment in infrastructure and skills in the north-west has suffered decades of neglect; recognises the importance of university expansion and improved transport links in growing the local economy; and calls on the Executive to work collaboratively to ensure balanced regional growth by resourcing and delivering the One Plan commitments to expand the Magee campus, dual the A5 and A6 and upgrade the Derry/Londonderry to Belfast rail line.

Before I commence using my speaking notes, I have to mention the apathy in the north-west at the minute and the sense of resistance to that in a response from the Finance Minister earlier today. There seems to be an acceptance among some people in the House and the Executive who do not realise that there is a major issue facing the north-west of Ireland. That is why leading up to the talks, we, as an SDLP group, were very keen to try to get a bit of confidence back to so many in the north-west. The Finance Minister made the bland statement earlier today that unemployment levels are reducing.

I will say it again: the people of the north-west will resent that and be angered by it because it is painfully obvious that, even over the past 12 months, unemployment in the north-west has unfortunately increased, and nothing at all seems to have been done to stem it. The levels of unemployment in the north-west are simply unacceptable and have been for decades. It is completely unacceptable that, nearly 20 years after devolution, Derry, the second city, remains one of the worse employment black spots on these islands.

I sound a note of caution before we begin: people living in my constituency and in the north-west are sick, sore and tired of plans to tackle the situation; they are sick of hearing us talk about unemployment. Somebody said to me, “Be positive”. However, it is very difficult to be positive when there is such an air of depression in and around the north-west. It is time for the Executive in particular to deliver for those who have not been given the opportunity to secure decent and sustainable employment. My colleague the MP Mark Durkan summed it up when he said that there is lack of work in Derry, not a lack of work ethic. That was obvious at a job fair that the Minister, Stephen Farry, was at.

He will confirm the many hundreds, if not thousands of people, particularly young people, standing in queues almost a mile long at the Millennium Forum just last year. I know many cases of people who have never worked and left Derry to gain employment. When they returned home, it was the same old story — there were simply no jobs and no prospects. Nearly half of the electoral wards that make up Derry, Strabane and Limavady are in the top 20% of the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland. Recently, Invest Northern Ireland granted close to £6 million, and DEL gave £250,000 for 600 jobs in Belfast. Investment cannot begin and end in greater Belfast. Good luck to everyone who is able secure those jobs.

I was trying to get figures. Over the past six months, Invest Northern Ireland has announced 5,153 jobs for Northern Ireland. The question is this: how many were delivered in the north-west? Of those jobs, 3,151 were in Belfast. I am delighted that Minister Farry is here to respond to the debate, but I ask him this: how many of those jobs were announced for Derry in the last six months? I think that we are talking about fewer than 40.

Tackling unemployment and deprivation demands leadership, and that has not been apparent to date. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister have accepted that we will have to do things better for the north-west.

I welcome the fact that recently — only recently — they set up a subgroup of ministerial colleagues to look at the strategic point of rebalancing the economy to ensure that Derry is not left behind. I sincerely hope, as people outside the House are saying, that this is not a programme for votes and not a subcommittee that has been set up for votes. That is what cynics outside the House are saying. The statistics are the result of weak or non-existent infrastructure and chronic historical underinvestment. A major barrier to attracting west those companies that are investing heavily east of the Bann is, unfortunately, our detachment from the rest of the island. The One Plan in Derry called for the creation of close to 13,000 jobs. The language adopted by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister was about rebalancing the north-west’s economy. Those are the startling figures that are required to ensure that Derry becomes a key driver of regional economic development.

We know that Magee is fundamental to the future of the region.

There is no longer any point in arguing that Magee is for Derry. The expansion of Magee College, part of the University of Ulster, is for the student population of this island but particularly that in Northern Ireland.

Despite much hard work being carried out on the implementation of the One Plan, the Derry public are still awaiting delivery. We are still waiting to hear something that really matters to those 1,500 unemployed young people in Derry city and for the big investment announcements west of the Bann.

The Assembly and the Executive need to offer more hope to the 8,000 young people with no qualifications in Derry and the north-west region to ensure that they do not fall into the cycle of low-wage work and unemployment. However, instead of us reaffirming our commitment to addressing the skills deficit, youth training projects in Derry are currently fearful for their existence. Perhaps the Minister can answer some questions about that. We are now faced with a situation in which, by March, Derry may not have a youth training project at all. What signal do we send out when we cut funding to projects, such as the YES programme, that meet their targets regularly on behalf of the Department for Employment and Learning and help people get back to work by retraining and reskilling them and giving them confidence?

I warmly welcome the fact that Minister Farry, along with Arlene Foster, hopes to have some money allocated and ring-fenced on a geographical basis for an economic inactivity strategy for the north-west. I have invested a lot of time in that with the council, the North West Regional College and the Western Health and Social Care Trust. Minister, it is important that we have a win with that at an early stage, because the levels of economic inactivity in the north-west of Ireland, like those of unemployment, are the worst on these islands.

It is only by constantly addressing issues and by working to ensure that the second city has the road, rail and information connections, a vibrant and full university and the application of all Departments that we will be able to reduce those clearly embarrassing joblessness figures and consequent deprivation levels. Only by doing that will we be able to say that we have a second city that we are proud of and will young people from across the north-west, from both traditions, have the same opportunities.

Too often, we hear about the awfulness of some of our young people, their desperation, high suicide levels, high levels of addiction, and high levels of alcohol and drug abuse. They would not have those problems if there was meaningful work to exercise them and act as therapy.

Over the years that I have stood here, I have often heard people from the other side of the House be resentful of people from Derry. They have begrudgingly said that they have a chip on their shoulder, or two chips.

The evidence is there, and I hope that the Executive’s actions are in good faith. I also hope that the evidence from the First Minister and the deputy First Minister will prove that those actions are honourable and objective and that clear and definitive levels of resource will be provided to enable the subcommittee of Executive Ministers to make a difference in Derry and the north-west. There is no point in having another talking shop unless there are clear objectives, goals and targets.

A dozen Invest Northern Ireland officers work in Derry —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): I ask the Member to draw his remarks to a close.

Mr Ramsey: — while almost 1,000 work in Belfast. A start could be made by decentralising half of them to Derry. That would mean a targeted resource going there.

Mr Ó hOisín: I beg to move the following amendment:

Insert after “neglect;”:

“notes the lack of decentralisation of public-sector jobs to the north-west and engagement of Invest NI and other bodies;”.

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Many of us who come from the north-west often wonder what is the specific definition of “north-west”. For some, it is Derry city, and others would, of course, include Strabane. For the purposes of the motion, it includes the area covered by Limavady Borough Council. There is a wider question for the north-west, because, as those who come from the hinterland know, Donegal, Coleraine and perhaps even Omagh can all, strictly speaking, be defined as being in the north-west.

I read the motion very carefully, and we have to look at the definition of “unemployment” across the entire area.

In my area, I know that all the unemployment figures for the north-west are incredibly skewed because of the level of emigration from that area. I visited a couple on Saturday evening, and the man is just home from Australia. They have five sons; he and four of the sons are currently in Australia, so those five people, who are out of the north-west, are not recognised in the unemployment figures for the north-west.

With that in mind, we brought our amendment, which, as the proposer of the motion said, recognised the lack of decentralisation of public sector jobs to the north-west and a very discernable differential in Invest NI’s treatment of parts of the north-west. Broadly speaking, I welcome the debate, and I do not wish to labour on the decades of neglect. I grew up through those decades and probably was very much adversely affected, like many of my generation. Many of my generation are currently in America, Western Australia and elsewhere throughout the world, so I know what that has meant, particularly in the north-west.

The issues that we are bringing up, and the issues that are brought up by the motion, are issues of the 60s — the university and the university expansion and infrastructure, such as the A5 and the A6, and the Dungiven bypass, which has been waiting for 50 years, since 1965. The issue of infrastructure is very important, because, of the two roads that lead to the north-west — the A5 and the A6 — the A5 takes a third of all the trade that goes to the north-west, and the A6 —

Mr Dallat: Will the Member give way?

Mr Ó hOisín: Absolutely; go ahead.

Mr Dallat: Does the Member accept that, for five years, a Sinn Féin Minister had a golden opportunity to address the issues of a bypass at Dungiven, the ferry service at Magilligan that does not run and the money that was needed for the rail service that was not there? Does the Member agree with me that a golden opportunity was missed to at least begin to address the issues that he speaks so passionately about?

Mr Ó hOisín: The Member well knows my passion for the A6 and particularly the Dungiven bypass. I live in it, and I am poisoned in it every single day. The Member will recognise that the Minister to whom he refers advanced the bypass as far as it was physically possible during his tenure in office. I will touch on the railway line as well. Of course, we now have the nonsense that phase two has doubled in price, and an inquiry is ongoing into how that happened.

In terms of the decentralisation of jobs to the north-west, we currently have a number of Civil Service jobs in the north-west in pensions and pension credit, and those are very welcome. Some of the other Civil Service jobs, of course, are tenuous in their existence, including those in DHSSPS and in tax. Last year, of course, we lost the DVA jobs in Coleraine. It was welcome to see that DOE brought 30 jobs to Ebrington. Those all came on the back of the loss of jobs in the private sector.

Last week, I welcomed the launch of Enterprise Week. Unfortunately, I discovered later that it is an Invest NI-proposed event and that it is limited to Derry city. However, I welcomed Friday’s announcement of the creation of the ministerial subgroup. I hope that it will create a broad consensus, and I hope that we have cross-party and cross-constituency agreement right across the north-west to bring together OFMDFM, DEL, DETI, DOE and probably DRD as well, because I think that we all have to work together to bring about a balanced regional economy.

In terms of the north-west itself, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the City of Culture was very much a unifying factor. Indeed, she has put together some legacy issues that go right across the north-west, stretching to Coleraine, Strabane and elsewhere, and that funding has been very welcome.

On Friday morning, along with some party colleagues, I met Invest NI and examined the issues that exist in the north-west. Invest NI’s remit in the north-west is to cover six council areas, including Strabane and Derry and those in the Causeway Coast and Glens cluster. There are some startling figures included in that. To date, the assistance in the Limavady borough alone, which is one of the worst served by it, is that, of the 1,600 businesses, historically Invest NI has served only 85 of those, which is just over 5% of the figure.

So, there is a differential in how councils are treated when it comes to investment. Look at some of the recent economic development projects in the Limavady area. Some £255,000 — that is all that was involved — was put into things like mentoring, social media and online marketing. There was not a single real job. That is exactly what we are up against in the entire north-west.

Decentralisation, particularly of the DARD headquarters, is a positive development and has been broadly accepted. I was rather shocked last week to learn that the Ulster Unionists, in particular, have withdrawn any support that they may have given in the past to the decentralisation —

Mr Swann: Will the Member give way?

Mr Ó hOisín: Yes, go ahead. I will give you a chance.

Mr Swann: I am quite happy to clarify that for the Member. What we are saying is that, when the money is available for the decentralisation to Ballykelly, it should go ahead. Under the current budgets, it does not make financial sense at the moment. That is the statement that was put forward. I just wanted to clarify that for the Member.

Mr Ó hOisín: Your party leader said last week that you were withdrawing support. Indeed, the deputy party leader, in a radio interview with me the following morning, said that the party never supported it. I do not know what the position is. I am sure that can be clarified sometime.

Take the cost of decentralisation to Ballykelly. We are looking currently at some £34 million to refurbish Dundonald House and somewhere in the region of just over £40 million to relocate to Ballykelly.

Mr Swann: Will the Member give way?

Mr Ó hOisín: No, in fairness, you have been in once.

There is also the issue of staff surveys. Some 4,026 individuals expressed an interest in moving to the four centres that were being touted; namely, fisheries; forestry; Rivers Agency; and, indeed, the headquarters. That figure includes 1,600 who expressed an interest in moving to Ballykelly, and it flies in the face of what some were quoting. The effect of those 800 jobs going into Ballykelly would be huge. It would free up some of the other jobs that exist and would address some of the other decentralisation issues in the north-west, including in Coleraine —

Mr Swann: Will the Member give way?

Mr Ó hOisín: No, I am OK; I want to finish.

It would also address other issues. People from the north-west spend four hours a day in transit; coming to Belfast. Does that create a life/work balance? No, it does not. I know people who have spent their entire working life making that commute day in, day out. There are convincing arguments for the decentralisation of jobs, particularly to the north-west. We have the skills base there, and, in the case of Ballykelly, we have the property at Shackleton. There is also the possibility of acting as an anchor tenant. Remember there are 60 to 70 active expressions of interest or soft appraisals for that huge site of 720-odd acres. Imagine the economic benefit that would have in the area. The relocation would also, of course, bring huge spending power to the north-west and create a different dynamic. There are all those convincing arguments —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Would the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Mr Ó hOisín: I am glad to see that, in today’s Budget, there is additional money committed to the relocation of the DARD headquarters. I for one am looking forward to it, and I think it will be a seismic moment for employment in the north-west —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The Member’s time is up.

Mr Ó hOisín: — and will address the issue of unemployment.

Mr Campbell: This is a timely motion, although some parts of the wording could be improved upon. There were some references to pedantry earlier, so I will not be so pedantic as to ask what the SDLP meant by, “suffered decades of neglect”. Let us try to look forward. The amendment from Sinn Féin appears to imply a deliberate lack of decentralisation and engagement by Invest NI, which we do not support.

However, in terms of the overall issue of trying to ensure that the infrastructure in the north-west is built up and improved, we are certainly at one. I speak as somebody who was born and bred and has lived all my life in Londonderry. It appears at times that we, collectively, always like to complain. Pat Ramsey was very close to putting his finger on it when he talked about the balanced approach. There is a balanced approach. Sometimes, people in the north-west have a chip on each shoulder. That means that they are very balanced. You wonder why people think that. What is presented sometimes as cogent argument actually ends up being a whinge list of what has not been done and is not being done.

The motion usefully refers to the A5 and A6. Of course, had it not been for the legal case against the A5, we would have been some significant way down the road to hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of physical infrastructural investment in the west and north-west of Northern Ireland. Of course, the A6 would be several hundred millions as well. Hopefully, they can be brought forward as quickly as possible.

Other issues have not been mentioned. We should press in terms of DRD that the airport at Londonderry and the port and harbour can be supported as tangible infrastructural elements that can help to bring progress and revive the economy in the north-west. Mr Ramsey alluded to the lack of jobs announcements. The indications I am getting are that, in the next few days, there will be more jobs announcements, just as there were in the past couple of months. We all want to work towards seeing massive jobs announcements.

Mr Dallat: Will the Member give way?

Mr Campbell: Yes — do I get an extra minute?

Mr Dallat: Yes indeed. I hope that you use it usefully.

Is the Member aware that not a single potential inward investor visited the Limavady region in the last year? Does he accept that that is failure by the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to address the serious imbalance in the north-west?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The Member gave way, and he has an extra minute.

Mr Campbell: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. Just over two years ago, I went to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and, as a result of my efforts and the efforts of a lot of others, a range of people from Invest NI were brought to the Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart and the City Hotel in Londonderry, where they actively targeted inward investors. I was at both events. I am sure that Mr Dallat was at one or both of them as well. We need to see more of that.

Mr Ó hOisín: Will the Member give way?

Mr Campbell: Yes. I will get only one extra minute.

Mr Ó hOisín: I thank the Member for giving way. I wonder whether he will enlighten me. Of the 60 or 70 soft appraisals at Ballykelly, how many have been engaged with by Invest NI?

Mr Campbell: The short answer is that I do not know, but I am glad that the honourable Member mentioned Ballykelly because I was coming to that. I thought that we had cross-party support for the relocation of DARD jobs to Ballykelly, but I noticed at the weekend that the Ulster Unionist Party indicated that it wanted to put a halt to that decentralisation process. I hope that the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists will clarify that and say that they are 100% in favour of us proceeding to relocate DARD headquarters.

Between 500 and 800 much-needed jobs would go to an area that has seen a massive amount of private-sector disinvestment, particularly through Seagate and one or two others. We need to promote the north-west, whether that be Coleraine, Limavady, Londonderry, Strabane or Omagh, on a proactive basis by lobbying Invest NI, rather than lambasting it, and trying to ensure that we bring the progress that is ultimately required to the community in an area of Northern Ireland that constitutes probably 40% of the land base and about 30% of the population.

Mr Hussey: The existence of persistently higher levels of unemployment in the north-west, including the Strabane District Council area, which I represent, is an undeniable fact. The latest NISRA stats on claimant count show that Londonderry has the highest rate at 8·6%, Strabane has the second highest at 7·7% and Limavady has the fourth highest at 6·9%. The Northern Ireland average is 5·4%, and almost half the council wards in the three districts are ranked in the top 20% of the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland. If we look at the interactive maps on the NISRA website, we see that it is clear that, over the 30-plus years that the claimant count has been used as a standard measurement of unemployment rates, fluctuations in the north-west have closely mirrored Northern Ireland trends. Limavady had about the Northern Ireland average from 1997 to 2007, the year in which all of Northern Ireland, including the north-west, had the lowest claimant count. Strabane and Londonderry have always been above the average.

If we look back to 1992, we see that the figures were much worse than they are today, despite the worldwide recession. In 1992, average unemployment for Northern Ireland was 10·7%, with 15% in Londonderry, 15·3% in Strabane and 12·7% in the Limavady district. I remind the House that, in 1992, Northern Ireland as a whole was still subject to a terrorist campaign that included IRA attacks on what it termed “economic targets”, which included cities and town centres. For example, the IRA exploded a large van bomb in the centre of Coleraine on Friday 13 November 1992. That bomb caused extensive damage to the commercial heart of the town. That context always needs to be restated when we talk about the historically high levels of unemployment in parts of Northern Ireland. It is completely proper for MLAs from the north-west to highlight problems and to push hard for improvements in areas such as infrastructure. However, I urge Members to show restraint in the language that they use.

The motion refers specifically to the expansion at Magee. On 16 September last year, I spoke in an Adjournment debate on the expansion of the Magee campus of the Ulster University in Londonderry. In that debate, I quoted my colleague Sandra Overend, who had made the point in a similar debate on 17 September 2013 that:

“we need to have clarity on the expansion. We in the House are all aware that budgets are stretched throughout all Departments, and the higher education budget, I am sure, is no different.”

In response, the Minister, Dr Farry, who I am pleased to see here today, said:

“For what we have adopted to date, which has been a policy of incremental growth of university places that adopts a pan-Northern Ireland approach, albeit, I have to confess, with a certain skewing towards the University of Ulster and Magee ... incremental growth can still continue”.

I commented in that debate that Members should note this exchange and consider how much more pertinent it is one year on in the context of a Budget that is now more broken than stretched. The Minister stated last year that incremental growth can continue. In December 2011, he stated that an extra 700 undergraduate places would be made available in Northern Ireland by 2015, and, at the same time, the University of Ulster stated that the 322 extra places being awarded to it would all be allocated to the Magee campus. Today, given the mass of potential consequences of the reduction to higher and further education indicated in this draft Budget, it would be useful in summing up at the end of this debate if the Minister for Employment and Learning brought the House right up to date.

Finally, the Sinn Féin amendment on the decentralisation of jobs is interesting. Coming as I do from Omagh, I know that we have not seen much sign of any decentralisation towards Tyrone into either Omagh or Strabane, which are, of course, the two major towns in my constituency of West Tyrone. I want to see jobs in the west, and I want to see Omagh thrive. I want to see the entire region thrive, but we have a major mountain to climb, and we seem to have a major river to cross. West of the Bann is still a no man’s land in job creation, and we need to see support for our constituents in Foyle, West Tyrone and East Londonderry.

There are many surplus buildings in the area. The area plans need to be updated and supported. For example, the master plan for Omagh is being written. Although Omagh is not included in the proposals that are being debated today, the same process is required in all the council areas affected. Let us put our wares on display. Let us show what we have to offer to tempt jobs and, indeed, to decentralise jobs to the relevant district council areas.

Ms Lo: The motion draws attention to the low levels of employment in the north-west and rightly points out that investment in infrastructure and skills has been neglected. In his introduction, Mr Ramsey was very passionate in advocating economic growth for the north-west, and urged the Executive to work together to improve transport links and expand the University of Ulster Magee campus. Whilst the Alliance Party will support the motion, there are some issues that we need to look at.

I welcome the formation of the ministerial subgroup to deal with the economic situation in the north-west. I understand from my party colleague Minister Farry that the group met for the first time last week and that all opportunities for growth will be examined.

That is not to say that work is not being done. The employment service has an employer engagement team in place in Derry, Limavady and Strabane, which works with employers to provide opportunities for the unemployed. Programmes such as Bridge to Employment provide active support to help employers to provide unemployed people with the fresh start that they need. DEL is also funding an employment and skills liaison officer post through Ilex, which promotes understanding of skills development, employment opportunities and support available in the north-west.

Between November 2013 and November 2014, there was an 8·1% drop in the number of those claiming benefits in the north-west. I am sure that part of that is down to the jobs fairs and the help available for unemployed people in the north-west, such as job clubs and initiatives such as First Start, the youth employment scheme, Steps to Success and apprenticeships.

I understand that Minister Farry and his officials are looking at the business case for the expansion of the Magee campus.

Decentralising public-sector jobs to the north-west is not the same as creating jobs. We must focus on finding opportunities that will bring more employment to those areas. Since 2009, Invest NI has provided £44·8 million worth of assistance in the Derry and Strabane district council areas. That has contributed towards £208 million of investment. According to Invest NI, since 2007 the jobs fund has promoted 783 jobs in the north-west, and 578 of those had already been created by 30 September 2014.

I will not deny that our roads connectivity is very poor; I struggle to think of any country that does not have a motorway connecting its two major cities. There is a very strong argument for improvement in that area. However, we must assess that practically. I believe that Minister Kennedy was recently lobbied by politicians on both sides of the border to put in place a bespoke investment plan to tackle economic deprivation and unemployment in the north-west. I understand that a particular item on the agenda was the stalled upgrade of the A5 and a commitment to the upgrade of the A6, as well as ongoing issues regarding the rail network between Derry/Londonderry and Belfast. As I said, those concerns are understandable. However, given our current very worrying financial situation, any decisions must be grounded firmly in reality. The A5 dualling, even if you stopped at Ballygawley —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Will the Member draw her remarks to a close?

Ms Lo: — would cost £800 million. Given financial constraints, that will not be easily achieved. Economic inactivity in the north-west has the potential to impact the rest of Northern Ireland.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The Member’s time is up.

Ms Lo: It is a matter for all of us.

Mr G Robinson: I share some of the concern regarding the north-west and its unemployment levels, but I am concerned that this debate could be seen as being negative in tone by potential investors and could be deemed as being detrimental to employers. In ‘The Limavady Chronicle’ on New Year’s Day, the headline read:

“Limavady unemployment figures continue to drop”.

It may have been a modest drop, but the reduction is very welcome. Northern Ireland as a whole is even outperforming many other areas of the UK, the increase being 0·4% per head in output. The north-west has many positive points that investors must be made aware of. There has been a leaflet produced by Limavady Borough Council that points out that the workforce in the Limavady area is young and how that is projected to continue in the next few years. Employers will have a willing and well-educated workforce, as the North West Regional College offers courses such as HNDs in business administration and diplomas in IT. Those courses are designed to aid people into employment, especially our younger people. That applies across the north-west.

For investors, we have good road, rail and even airport infrastructure. A new dual carriageway has recently been partly constructed between Limavady and Londonderry, and there has been a re-laying of the railway track and new rolling stock for Northern Ireland Railways — all positive points to sell the region. One project that the area needs urgently is the upgrade of the A6. That is very urgent. Eglinton airport has the possibility for additional capacity if required, and there is always the Ballykelly site. I see all those as positives, addressing the neglect that was previously apparent, but I appreciate that there is much more that could be done for infrastructure.

When it comes to the expansion of Magee campus, there is no doubt in my mind that budget pressures are a major problem. I can appreciate the positive impact that expansion of the campus would have, but the question has to be where the money comes from.

As mentioned previously, the area has a former Ministry of Defence (MOD) site, which runs adjacent to the Project Kelvin high-speed Internet connection. I was recently informed by OFMDFM that there have been over 40 expressions of interest in utilising the site from all sectors of business, as well as the future relocation of the DARD headquarters to the Shackleton/Ballykelly site, which will attract hundreds of jobs. That is why I believe that we must sell our area by being positive.

Mr Dallat: Will the Member give way?

Mr G Robinson: Yes.

Mr Dallat: Mr Robinson will recall the outpouring of promises to the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) workers in Coleraine when they found themselves beleaguered and alone. Can we assume that future promises will be more tangible than those promises were? The only Department that offered permanent jobs to any of the workers is run by my party.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The Member has an extra minute.

Mr G Robinson: That is not a devolved matter.

The Minister is well aware of how my colleagues and I feel about developing the area. Indeed, she has visited the area to see for herself the many good points, including our great tourist potential. One problem that the Minister has is that she cannot force companies to come to the north-west. If we constantly run the area down, we damage ourselves in the eyes of future investors. Let us highlight the many positive points of the north-west and give the Minister an additional carrot with which to attract new investment for the future.

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and to highlight the issues relating to the north-west, particularly my own city of Derry. I will try to pick up on the scant splattering of positivity that has come from some MLAs in the Chamber today, because I very much welcome the recent announcement by Martin McGuinness of the ministerial task force focusing on the north-west. I join the business and civic leadership of Derry and the wider north-west in welcoming the fact that that is now in place. It establishes and actions a number of interventions aimed at redressing the regional disparities that exist in such stark evidence, as we have heard today.

There is much to be proud of in the north-west and in the city of Derry as regards civic and political leadership in the region. However, targeting regional disparities needs to be a priority policy area across all Departments. Whilst Derry, very much, took centre stage in 2013; in order to be the city that can deliver major events, it remains the case that we have many challenges, and there needs to be a focus on skills and jobs.

Over the last number of years, the city did come together in identifying the key catalyst programmes that would drive the regeneration of not only our city but the wider north-west region. It remains, as was stated today, that three of the four council areas with the highest levels of unemployment are in the north-west. However, it all too easy to roll out the latest government statistics, point fingers at one another and depress the life of our communities by rehearsing the same old story. You will score high for stating the obvious, but how is that going to help anybody on the dole or improve our economic fortunes.

The things is that once the focus turns away from blaming the world and towards actually finding solutions, the usual naysayers seem to go quiet. We want to find solutions, and we are prepared to put the work into finding them. We recognise that our economic misfortune is not as a result of the current economic recession, which some people are now calling the “Great Recession”; nor is it the fault of the current Executive. It is the outworking of decades, even centuries, of discrimination and systematic underinvestment. To date — and this is an important point — no one in leadership, civic or political, over the last 40 years in our city and region has broken that trend.

We believe that if we are to change these outcomes, we must try to become a more resilient and self-reliant economy while, at the same time, doing all we can to attract inward investment. Sinn Féin has challenged INI, and will continue to do so, and we will argue that it must promote Derry and the north-west in order to address the economic inequalities that exist. It is important to say that this work is paying off. INI has agreed to fund the development of Derry’s unique selling point and the integrated economic strategy. That unique selling point will provide us all with a comprehensive tool, which we, as a city and region, must use to market the region to foreign investors. I welcome the INI’s commitment to the ministerial task force.

I want to concentrate my final remarks on the expansion of the university at Magee. I want to take the opportunity to welcome the appointment of Mr Paddy Nixon as the new vice chancellor, and I look forward to taking forward the Magee expansion plans in partnership with him.

Today, I met the DEL Minister regarding progress at Magee, and I appeal to Minister Farry — and I appreciate that he is in attendance today — to clarify to the House the situation around the £11 million teaching block and the wider expansion plans.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Would the Member draw her remarks to a close?

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: The final business case is now with the Employment and Learning Minister. It makes a very strong policy case for the expansion. I appeal to the Minister to back the business case and agree the expansion of Magee as a departmental priority. Go raibh maith agat.

Mr Devenney: Just a few weeks ago, I delivered my maiden speech in the House, focusing on the issue of the A6 and the need for improved transport infrastructure in the north-west. The much-needed road network between Northern Ireland’s two largest cities is vital to the growth of the north-west. In order to support regional development and further economic growth, action is urgently needed. It is indeed alarming to see such low levels of employment in my home city of Londonderry and across the north-west.

It is only through investment in the infrastructure, increasing the skills base in the north-west and delivering on our commitments in the One Plan that we will reduce the high levels of unemployment and create job creation.

We cannot underestimate the importance of the University of Ulster expansion at Magee. Increased student places, enhanced courses and close partnership with employers would ensure that any skills gaps are filled and constituents are well placed to be in a position to apply for these jobs.

I have been on record with my support for the upgrade of the Londonderry to Belfast rail line and the need for it to be progressed as soon as possible. The A5 is another essential project which will have a catalytic effect on the north-west and will improve opportunities for investors to invest there.

Whilst there are many issues of concern in the north-west, we should also remember the positives. Tourism in the Londonderry and Strabane district has seen significant increases, with large increases in associated expenditure. The north-west has lots to offer tourists, investors and developers. We need to send out a message that we are open for business, that we are willing to invest in infrastructure and education facilities and, most importantly, that we have the people and skills to go along with it. I now urge that we need real action on these issues.

Ms Boyle: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I agree with many of the sentiments that have been expressed here today, but I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to increase job opportunities in the north-west to prevent the brain drain and young people being forced into emigration in search of jobs in other parts of the world.

The issue of regional economic disparities and the impact which past underinvestment continues to have on areas like the north-west needs to be a priority for the entire Executive. We need to place and sell the north-west as a priority on the basis of its need for employment. I welcome, too, the recent establishment of an Executive subgroup for the north-west. I also welcome the announcement by the Finance Minister, Mr Simon Hamilton, that more money will be allocated to DEL in the final Budget. Our economy needs to have a strong university community which produces high-quality graduates and enables the economy to grow. If we are to redress the regional disparities, the Magee campus needs to be expanded. This money is an opportunity for the Minister for Employment and Learning to demonstrate his commitment to that project. Not only will the expansion of Magee benefit Derry, it will benefit students from Strabane, Castlederg, Plumbridge, Aghyaran, Donegal and the entire north-west. The expansion of Magee is a crucial part of the One Plan, which is a Programme for Government commitment. Indeed, Sinn Féin is determined to see this delivered.

In the West Tyrone constituency, Strabane represents over 50% of the unemployment figure. Strabane has suffered economically over the past years, with many well-established family businesses and shops and a number of high street shops recently closing. As recently as last week, in Strabane, we had the announcement of job losses from the closure of Xtra-vision. Recently, I discovered that, since 2007, it is estimated that, throughout County Tyrone, almost 10,500 people have emigrated; 2,000 of them young people from the Strabane district alone.

The north-west has been particularly hard hit with recession, job losses and emigration. There is a need for investment to tackle disadvantage and enhance the competitiveness of this region. Businesses need support and our people need jobs. Central to this economic development is the A5 project. I welcome the fact that Danny Kennedy recently reiterated his commitment to the A5, the A6 and the development of rail in the north-west, and he acknowledged their importance in redressing the infrastructure deficit in the region and, in turn, their importance for economic development and job creation. It is within this context that I view the Minister’s signalled intention to publish the new environmental statement and the draft vesting direction orders for the A5 dual carriageway as significant progress. They are key project milestones that should happen within the next few weeks. We are positioned in the north-west corridor and gateway to Donegal. Strabane, my area, is well placed with its neighbours. Infrastructure investment is crucial, and the A5 road scheme is important to all of us.

When we met business leaders in the north-west chambers of commerce, we were told that the A5 was perhaps the biggest inhibiting factor to investment in Strabane, Derry and the wider north-west of Ireland. When that project was being worked up, the economic assessment reckoned that it could be worth as much as £1 billion to the local economy through investment, job creation and its construction. That is notwithstanding the fact that it will make our roads safer.

Back in 2013, I wrote to all Assembly Ministers asking them, in the context of the Programme for Government’s commitment, to address the regional imbalance. I commend the fact that Minister Michelle O’Neill got back to me to announce her intention to create the DARD Direct office in Strabane. I understand that it should be operational by 2016.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Will the Member draw her remarks to a close?

Ms Boyle: The DARD Direct office will bring together veterinary services and administrative staff, and it will be a welcome boost to Strabane. However, we cannot repair and build our economy and public services without maximising the return for all —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The Member’s time is up.

Ms Boyle: — our citizens and by building sustainable employment opportunities right across the North and the island as a whole.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The Member’s time is up.

Ms Boyle: Go raibh maith agat.

Mr Byrne: I support the motion and welcome the opportunity to speak on it. I congratulate my colleague Mr Ramsey for the way in which he opened the debate and set the scene.

The Assembly must reflect on the deterioration of those areas where investment and skills have suffered for many decades. Ultimately, the Assembly must have the foresight, desire and integrity to ensure a more balanced regional development and growth policy by resourcing and delivering on commitments seeking to create prosperity.

The debacle over the A5 road project has been a gross disappointment. People are sceptical about the DRD’s handling of environmental issues surrounding the project, not just under this Minister but the previous one as well. The people of the north-west feel aggrieved that the peace dividend project has been long-fingered for too long. Construction workers are deeply frustrated.

The border town of Strabane is vibrant and waits to have its full potential unlocked. North/South cooperation should be maximised in order to enable Strabane to grow economically. It is a town that has suffered some of the worst tragedies of the Troubles and one that is eager to move forward along a path to renewed economic prosperity. Unfortunately, Strabane was one of the most bombed towns in Northern Ireland over 30 years. The people of Strabane continue to call out for jobs and opportunities and are left only wanting. It is time for the Assembly to recognise not only the deprivation suffered by those in the Strabane district but also the strength and resilience of the people living there. There are some very good employers in the area, such as Allstate, which employs 500-plus workers, and O’Neill’s Sportswear, which employs 350-plus workers and is building an extension at the moment to cater for another 90. McColgan’s Quality Foods employs about 120; Frylite, 120; and Arolco, 35. Thankfully, today, there was an announcement of an extra four jobs there through INI support.

The latest figures, however, paint a bleak picture of the gap in employment and ongoing deprivation that those in the north-west continue to suffer. In November 2014, figures revealed that the highest claimant count rates belong to Derry and Strabane, standing at 7·9% and 7% respectively. Unfortunately, emigration is the only jobs option for hundreds of young people who have been reared and educated in the north-west. England, Australia, Canada and the US are their only work opportunity. That is the reality. The real unemployment figures are much higher than the stated ones because there is that escape valve of emigration. In 2013, those figures were much the same. Claimant counts in that year revealed that unemployment-related claims in Strabane stood at 7·7%, which was topped only by Derry at 8·6%, as other Members have said. We should note that some progress has been made, but we must recognise that such figures can be deceptive.

When we consider that Northern Ireland’s average claimant count rate stands at 5·4%, we see that Derry and Strabane are, unfortunately, worse off.

Fears over welfare reform are adding to local anxiety. Food banks are being used more frequently, reflecting increased poverty levels. That is the unfortunate situation that people find themselves in. Emigration and depression are high among our young people, and many do not see the point of participating in skills and training, as there are no job opportunities following the training.

I welcome the presence of the Minister for Employment and Learning today.

I commend and pay tribute to the Strabane campus of the North West Regional College, which is endeavouring to extend its range of full-time courses and training provision. That is a positive signal.

Mr Dallat: Will the Member give way?

Mr Byrne: Yes.

Mr Dallat: There was historical imbalance. It does not matter whether it was 50 years or 800 years ago. Does the Member agree that, 16 years into the Good Friday Agreement, there is an urgent need to address that?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The Member has an extra minute.

Mr Byrne: Absolutely. I welcome exactly what Mr Dallat said. The reality is that we cannot keep saying that governments prior to devolution caused all this trouble. The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. The new beginning was supposed to have started and been delivered upon. That is the reason why young people in the north-west are getting very frustrated. There is deep anxiety and a sense of hopelessness for many of them. That is the reason why the Assembly and Executive must address this difficulty, because otherwise, there will be problems ahead.

I welcome the interdepartmental task force that has been set up. It is belated, but the time has come for the political will of the Assembly to advise and instruct INI to carry out the necessary investment and to support the SMEs and the inward investment projects that show interest in the north-west. The reality is that some of the potential investors from the foreign investment community are not brought to the west. Another reality is that the SMEs are not given the support, initial start-ups and grant aid that are so crucial. In the past, we had LEDU, and it started places like Norbrook, Quinn Group in Derrylin, McColgan’s, O’Neill’s, Frylite and Arolco.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Mr Byrne: They are good examples of what local development, led by LEDU, delivered. They went on to become bigger projects that now enjoy support from INI. The time has come to have a mixed approach to foreign direct investment —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The Member’s time is up.

Mr Byrne: — as well as supporting, genuinely, the SME sector.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): I call Robin Swann, who will have a maximum of three minutes.

Mr Swann: Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will try to be short.

[Laughter.]

This is a very serious topic. I am glad to hear about the creation of a ministerial subgroup to look especially into the difficulties of the north-west, particularly those around Londonderry. I think that there is a duty on all of us as elected representatives and not just those from the north-west to prove Paul Gosling wrong. On 23 October, he wrote in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ that Londonderry and the north-west would be better off economically under direct rule than they were under the Assembly. If that is allowed to come to pass, or if that is the perception, every one of us in here has failed. That applies not just to the representatives of the north-west but to all of us as elected politicians.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to concentrate on my role as Chair of the Employment and Learning Committee. The Committee visited the North West Regional College on 13 November. Mr Byrne and a number of Members talked about the young people and their sense of hopelessness. Pat Ramsey and other honourable Members were there when we met the young people of the North West Regional College. They are a group of enthused young people. Some of the college’s media students interviewed us, and the challenging questions that they asked us were more challenging than some that are asked by the media commentators here or even at Question Time. It is our responsibility to ensure that they have the opportunity.

We have talked about the expansion of Magee, and we have talked about places in the NWRC. It is especially pertinent that Minister Farry is here, because the draft Budget proposes cuts to higher education and further education numbers that might go ahead. We have not seen the outworkings of what was announced in the Budget this morning. If you are talking about 16,000 young people being taken out of further education, how many of them are going to be students of the North West Regional College? They may well already have a sense of despondency because there is no future employment. Imagine that despondency throughout the area and in the city if they do not even have the prospect of a further education place. It is our responsibility as elected representatives to ensure that there is an opportunity for those young people to get into further and higher education, to challenge Invest NI and the Ministers to ensure that jobs and a future are available for them and, more imperatively, to prove Paul Gosling wrong —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The Member should draw his remarks to a close.

Mr Swann: — that the north-west and Londonderry should be better under the capability and direction of the Assembly rather than direct rule.

Dr Farry (The Minister for Employment and Learning): At the outset, I want to acknowledge the scale of the challenges facing the north-west and not downplay them. However, I also want to emphasise the opportunities for transformation if all the levers available to government, combined with the efforts of the business community, the community and voluntary sector and ordinary people, are fully brought to bear. The key issues set out in the motion include investment in skills and employability measures, job creation and improvements to infrastructure. As Minister for Employment and Learning, I can primarily address the employment issues but will also seek to reference areas of responsibility that lie in other Departments.

In that regard, it is important to stress that the Executive recognise the challenges regarding employment opportunities in the north-west and are actively seeking to address them alongside a host of other relevant issues. That is evidenced by the convening of the ministerial subgroup to examine the economic situation in the north-west and help to foster a strong, united response. The group met for the first time last Thursday, and I am pleased to report that a strong consensus to work together to help the sub-region achieve its full potential was clear. There will now be a standing subgroup of the Executive to look at how best to ensure that opportunities and growth in Northern Ireland are available across the region, and there will, of course, be a very clear emphasis on the north-west in that regard.

The starting base, in many respects, is challenging. The north-west has some of the highest unemployment figures throughout the United Kingdom and some of the highest levels of economic inactivity as well, alongside one of the poorest skills profiles across these islands. For many decades, Northern Ireland has consistently experienced the highest rate of economic inactivity of the 12 UK regions. That feature of our economy reflects lower regional productivity and employment levels and higher levels of social security support and economic disengagement in the working-age population. Left unaddressed, this major economic problem has the potential to hinder not only economic growth in the north-west but in Northern Ireland as a whole.

Recognising this challenge, the Executive have committed, through the Programme for Government, to develop a cross-cutting government strategy to tackle economic inactivity, led by DETI and my own Department. Building on substantial research work, a strategic framework to tackle economic inactivity was developed and subjected to extensive public consultation, including a well-attended event in Derry in March 2014. One of the ideas identified through this process was the need for an area-based approach to tackle inactivity in different geographical areas in line with local need and through tailored localised solutions.

The Executive are acutely aware of the high levels of economic inactivity and unemployment experienced for many years in the north-west, and the final strategy will seek to address those issues. The labour force survey demonstrates that the rate of economic inactivity for the period between 2008 and 2013 has been significantly above the Northern Ireland average. For the Derry and Strabane areas, the figures show that 38,000 individuals are economically inactive, which equates to 38·5% of the local population. That compares with the Northern Ireland average of 26·8%. The employment rate in Derry and Strabane is 54%, which is lower than the Northern Ireland average of 68·5%.

One of the key interventions under consideration is to identify, develop and test a range of new approaches to tackling economic inactivity based on the local profile of need. I trust that this approach will help to identify innovative and effective solutions to addressing inactivity in areas of particular need such as the north-west.

The draft strategy is being considered by the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and me prior to being presented to the Executive for consideration and approval. Once Executive agreement is secured, subject to the necessary resources also being identified, the final strategy will be published at the earliest opportunity, and implementation will commence immediately. Members may wish to note that there is some funding allocated in the Budget under the change fund to advance a control project on economic inactivity. That may well be focused on the north-west.

The new strategy will complement existing government interventions for tackling long-term unemployment and deprivation in the north-west and more widely across Northern Ireland. However, we should be clear that my Department already has many approaches in place to tackle the issue of unemployment in the north-west. The employment service has an employer engagement team in Derry, Limavady and Strabane that works with employers to influence positively attitudes towards providing opportunities for the unemployed. The Department is also currently funding an employment and skills liaison officer through Ilex to promote understanding among employers and the community of the wide range of skills development and employment opportunities and support available in the north-west.

The numbers claiming benefits in the north-west have fallen from just over 9,200 in November 2013 to just over 8,500 in November 2014, which represents a decrease of 8·1%. Obviously, there is still a long way to go.

Other help for unemployed people in the north-west is available through job clubs, which provide very practical assistance on things such as job search, CV building and interview skills. Initiatives such as First Start and the youth employment scheme provide particular assistance to young people to help them engage with the world of work.

That was very musical.

A major development in the latter half of 2014 was the introduction of the Steps 2 Success programme as the Department’s main adult employment programme. Launched on 20 October 2014, it is delivered in the north-west by EOS NI, supported by a number of local organisations.

Steps 2 Success differs from previous employment programmes in that it gives contractors greater flexibility to focus on the specific needs of individual participants to help them get a job by overcoming their barriers to employment. Notably, EOS NI has converted the former shirt factory in Patrick Street into an employment training centre, and I encourage everyone to pay it a visit.

The steps that are being taken around employability must be complemented by continued investment in skills. That investment in skills must be at all levels and must also be matched more closely to the needs of employers. To that end, I take this opportunity to encourage employers to engage with our new system of apprenticeships and the forthcoming system of youth training. Those approaches will be good for employers, as they will know that they are getting the right skills — the skills that they require — and for young people, who will know that they have the skills relevant to employers and will consequently have better prospects of sustained employment.

The North West Regional College will be a key partner in those initiatives and will be a delivery partner across a range of other programmes. In many respects, the college should be regarded as the first point of contact for dealing with the skills requirements and the research and innovation requirements of local employers. The college should also be a key player in the forthcoming community plan for the new councils in the north-west.

On the impact of cuts, I have made it clear that we welcome the additional funds that have been allocated in the Budget agreed by the Executive and announced today. Those funds may go some way to avoiding the level of cuts in places that were identified in the departmental savings plan. However, we still have to bottom out exactly what that means for places. Although we have some areas in which we may be able to mitigate the impact of the reduced cuts to the Department, we are still facing a situation in which we will have a challenge to maintain current levels of provision. That is the sober reality of where we find ourselves.

On the university situation, I know the importance that is placed on the expansion of the Magee campus as a means to drive forward the economy and the regeneration of the north-west. However, it has to be about investment in skills and research for Northern Ireland as a whole as well as local benefits, such as increased spending power in the economy and a stronger investment offering.

My Department received a full draft business case for the expansion of Magee from Derry City Council on 19 December 2014. That is being appraised by my officials.

Should the business case prove that expansion represents good value for money — very importantly, in the context of the restoration of sustainable funding of our existing higher education provision — I will make a bid to the Executive in the next comprehensive spending review with a view to securing funding to implement it.

Having said that, I think that it is important that people are very conscious of the hurdles that we have to overcome. I note with interest that people have asked me to identify and direct some of the £20 million granted in the Budget towards the expansion of Magee. Let me be very clear: all that that money does is reverse and reduce what was otherwise going to be an even steeper cut to my Department. As I have said, today, we are facing the reality where we will struggle to preserve what we currently have in further education places. That is going to be a very difficult challenge, and I am not sure that we are going to achieve that, notwithstanding efforts that are being made to find other ways of balancing the Department’s books.

If we are to have an expansion of the university, we have to make the current provision sustainable first of all. It also means looking to ensure that we invest in the quality of places. The funding that we are allocating for university places in Northern Ireland is less than that in Great Britain. I am not prepared to advance the numbers of places through diminishing quality. That is not in the interests of young people, and it is certainly not in the interests of the north-west in terms of its having a university as a key driver of investment. That has to be based on the quality of what is offered and not on simple head counts of those going through the doors.

However, if we can overcome those issues in the context of the 2016-2020 Budget period, we will be in a position to look to the expansion of the university. I recognise that we need to be looking to expand higher education in Northern Ireland. However, we have to be innovative in the way that we do that and see how we can tie it in better with our apprenticeship strategy, encourage more part-time study and attract more international students to Northern Ireland. So, there are opportunities out there for us, but we need to be very clear and seized of the financial pressures that are out there and ahead of us.

The University of Ulster is in the process of gaining approval for the construction of a new teaching block at Magee. The cost of this development is £11·2 million. It will improve the teaching facilities at the campus and help cater for the 652 additional places that have so far been made available. It would also provide spare capacity to accommodate a further 350 full-time undergraduates. The university is seeking a grant of £10 million towards this development and has already received planning approval. The business case in this process is now at a very advanced stage. Once formal approval is achieved through my own Department and from myself, which is expected to happen shortly, it will be forwarded to Department of Finance and Personnel for consideration. Once it is cleared through that process, we will be in a position to make a bid at the earliest opportunity. I give a commitment that I will bid for resources from any pots of capital money that become available. The earliest opportunity is likely to be the June monitoring round; that is the timescale around which we are primarily focused in this regard. Hopefully, with a fair wind, that process can proceed, and the project will become a reality in the very near future.

I should also reference the important contribution that my Department has made to Derry’s outstanding achievement as the first city in the UK to achieve WorldHost Destination status. This was supported through funding and brokering a range of practical training courses focused on the vital tourism and hospitality sector. Set against the backdrop of the City of Culture year, in particular, this has been a significant intervention that has made a real difference to visitors’ welcome and helped to make the city an increasingly popular tourist destination. It is important that we focus on tourism and hospitality as a huge opportunity for further economic development, and customer care will be a key aspect of that.

We should also make reference, however, to the strong companies that are already present. We have a spectrum. Mr Byrne made reference to some companies in Strabane, where Allstate is a major employer. We should not forget that, in the city of Derry itself, we have First Source and Seagate, which are major employers and major contributors to the local economy.

Invest NI has made a significant contribution to job creation in the north-west. Since 2009, it has provided £44·5 million of assistance in the Derry and Strabane district council areas. This has contributed towards over £200 million of investment.

It is important that we recognise Invest NI’s activity as a glass half-full rather than a glass-half empty situation. It is important to bear in mind that we cannot micromanage how companies invest in Northern Ireland. We do well to get companies to come here without overly dictating to them, but I am certainly convinced that there is a commitment to ensuring that we showcase the north-west alongside other regions. The solution lies not just in terms of what Invest NI can do but what we do in terms of skills and around infrastructure and connectivity. Investment decisions are made through a whole range of variables, not just the support that comes from an economically developed organisation.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Would the Minister draw his remarks to a close?

Dr Farry: The points on the atmosphere, skills and connectivity have been well made, and the Regional Development Minister will no doubt pick those up.

Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I preface my remarks by welcoming the Minister’s statement of intent today around the expansion of Magee and, crucially, his timeline for the teaching block at Magee. It will find welcome support across the north-west and, indeed, I am sure, right across the island of Ireland.

It leads to one of the main points that I was going to make in relation to this debate. We support the motion because, at its heart, it is an attempt to try to address decades of economic underdevelopment and all that results from that. If we have learnt any lesson over the last number of years, it is that, when people speak with a collective and agreed position, the chances of success are greater. For us in Foyle, the One Plan is a very good and obvious example of that inaction. There has been a number of years of work and many contributions right across the city and district and, indeed, from other parts of the North and right across the islands. When you read the document, one of the obvious and striking things about it is that it is not based on assumption but on hard facts and concrete evidence. No sweeping assumptions are made either, because, too often, perhaps in the heat of the moment or in the heat of debate, too many people make assumptions and we hear statements like, “All our young people are despondent”, and, “All our young people have no hope”. I do not think that is the case. That is not to say that some young people are not despondent, but it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that they have a pathway towards ensuring that they have prosperity in their lives. That is what we have to do.

The motion lists a number of key issues. I will not rehearse them, but they include the headline projects of the One Plan, job creation, infrastructures, skills and university expansion, and that encapsulates the mood of the motion going forward. It is in that context that we welcome the idea of the ministerial subgroup. The issues are obvious and they mirror the issues of this motion. We welcome the composition of the group. The relevant Ministers are in place and, this morning, the Finance Minister seemed to be adding his support to it. I know from a press release at the weekend that Mark Durkan has asked that the Regional Development Minister be part of the ongoing conversations. So, I have absolutely no doubt that that subgroup will get the support of all MLAs in the north-west. In my opinion, it should, and we have already seen broad support from political and civic society. It is sometimes wrong to try to frame these things or to dismiss them as programme for votes. If we believe in working collaboratively, this is an example of how we can work cooperatively and take it forward.

I want to concentrate on the decentralisation because I think that decentralisation can play a role. We see it in relation to the DARD office. Many economists have said that there will be an impact. It is not new jobs and no one will say that it is new jobs, but it can have an impact and a multiplier effect in that, if you bring jobs to an area out of Belfast, it first of all sends a very clear signal of intent and, secondly, allows people to see the site and to see it being used for other economic value. We should always be supportive of that.

Last week, there was a bit of disappointment when Joe Byrne seemed to unpick the idea of DARD going to Ballykelly. That was wrong. Whether it is the Forest Service going to Enniskillen, DARD Direct going to Strabane, the fisheries division going to Downpatrick or Mark Durkan’s private office and some parts of planning going to Ebrington, anything that puts decentralisation in place sends a very clear signal. It is Programme for Government commitment. It is a way of tackling regional disparity and it sends a very clear message. That is why we wanted that to be part of the motion.

We support the issues outlined —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Mr McCartney: — in the motion. We certainly feel that decentralisation will play a key part in tackling regional disparity.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): The business on the Order Paper is not expected to be completed by 6.00 pm. In accordance with Standing Order 10(3), I will allow business to continue until 7.00 pm or until the business is completed.

Mr Eastwood: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thought that you were going to call the debate over before I got my chance to respond to it. Some of you would have been happy with that.

I want to thank all the Members who spoke. I think that they were largely supportive of the motion and, I hope, the amendment.

It is interesting that the debate comes just a couple of weeks after the Christmas break. Derry is a great place to live at any time of year, but that is particularly so at Christmas, when so many people come home. I spent an awful lot of time driving to airports and picking people up. It was a great time to see everybody, and, walking down the street, you see people who you have not seen for years. However, it is also particularly sad when you have to leave those people back to the airport, and during the week after, when you see a lot fewer people you know from school and a lot fewer people are in and around the town, as they just do not live in our city any more.

That it is a very stark reminder to all of us of the number of people, young people in particular, who have had to leave our city and our shores to find work and a better life. It is an indictment on all of us that that is still the situation and is still a very stark reality for my generation. We all need to put our shoulder to the wheel to change that reality. We need to ensure that our young people can stay, study in our city and get a job in our city and do not have to join the dole queue or the security queue at Belfast airport or City of Derry Airport to get out of here to find work. We need to ensure that that is a thing of the past.

This is not about being negative, but it has been outlined by other Members who spoke that we find ourselves in a very difficult situation in our city. We have had a fantastic couple of years with festivals and events; the City of Culture and everything else. However, the stark reality remains that we have the highest level of unemployment in any Westminster constituency and we need to begin to do something about it.

I want to recognise and welcome the ministerial subgroup. It is about time that we recognised that there is a problem, and if you recognise that there is problem, you have to do something about it. The meetings should be fairly short, because we all know the answers. We are not up here complaining that we do not have enough jobs in Derry because everybody is out to get us and that it is all everybody else’s fault. We understand what the issues are. I know that Mr Campbell said that we like to complain, but it is not about complaining. I would far rather be up here welcoming jobs for our city and for my friends and people who I know well. I would far rather not have to leave people off at airports to travel all round the world to find work.

Mr Campbell: I thank the Member for giving way. Does that mean that, when the jobs announcements that I am told are in the pipeline are made in the very near future, he will issue an unequivocal welcome?

Mr Eastwood: I can show him any number of press releases in which I have welcomed jobs announcements for our city and I would be glad to do that again. However, I will also release press statements when we see the figures stacking up in Belfast and not in Derry and when there are 5,000 jobs announcements for Belfast and 50 in our city. The Member across the Chamber should be as angry as I am about it.

Mr Campbell: Yes.

Mr Eastwood: I am glad that he is nodding and has said that he is as angry as I am.

Mr Campbell: I do not whinge about it.

Mr Eastwood: We have to get angry. It is not about whingeing or complaining; it is about trying to get people to sit up and do something. It is very simple. This is the positive bit: we need to invest in infrastructure and skills. It is that simple.

Mr McElduff: Will the Member give way?

Mr Eastwood: Gladly.

Mr McElduff: I would like to give the Member an opportunity to put on record his goodwill towards the constituency of West Tyrone and to express some disappointment that the motion did not refer to the Omagh district.

Mr Eastwood: I am glad to support the constituency of West Tyrone. It is a bit difficult to include Omagh in the north-west; it depends on how wide we want to go. We did not put Donegal in either, but maybe we should have.

What have the Southern Government done to encourage outside investment? We talked about corporation tax, but they have also developed their motorway network and their universities and skills. The only place on the whole of this island that has not seen that investment has been its north-west corner, including north-east Donegal. North-east Donegal, Derry, Strabane and Limavady do not have the inward investment that is required. Why do we not have it? We do not have the university expansion that is so desperately needed, nor do we have the motorway connection. Derry is probably the only city in Ireland that does not have a motorway entering it from any direction. How can we say that we are committed to developing the economy in the north-west if we do not commit to developing properly and significantly the motorway infrastructure and the university infrastructure?

It is nearly 50 years since the Lockwood report made a sectarian decision to put the University of Ulster at Coleraine. I am not saying that just because it is 50 years ago and it is an old complaint that we are always making. That wrong has never been righted. We still have far too few university students at Magee. Everybody recognises that. Limerick, Galway and Belfast recognise that the only way to develop an economy is to ensure that you have enough students doing the right courses, courses that are market-related and can attract jobs into the city and encourage entrepreneurs to set up and employ people. It is not that complicated.

This is not a whinge, as some people would have it; this is a plea for common sense. The only way that we can deliver on the promises in the Executive’s economic strategy that Derry and Belfast would be the two economic drivers for the North is by investing in skills and infrastructure. It is recognised worldwide as a way of developing and creating jobs in any city or town. It makes perfect sense. If this ministerial subgroup or task force does anything, we will see what the Minister said, which is a commitment to the expansion of Magee to at least 10,000 students within the next CSR period.

The One Plan has been talked about. It was a great example of how people would get together and use all the economic and social data to ensure that we had ideas for change in our city to turn it around. Everybody bought into it. I was there when Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness came down to launch it, and it was great. However, we did not see any of those things being put into the Programme for Government. That is why we are still not there. We are now saying that we will look at the next CSR period. I think that it is too late, but we do not have too much choice at this stage, so I will gladly give that my support. Let us see the Executive as a whole — we will play our part — come out and support the development of Magee to at least 10,000 students and get moving on the A5 and A6.

I gladly support the Sinn Féin amendment on decentralisation. I will recommit our party, because Mr Campbell asked me to do so, to the decentralisation of the DARD jobs. We give that 100% support. However, the SDLP does not just say things; it actually does them. When the DVA jobs went and all Ministers said they would do their best to put some jobs in Coleraine, the only Department that did so was the Department of the Environment. I am not just saying that because the Minister is sitting beside me. Our Ministers, even if we have only one, have a long track record of bringing jobs to Derry, whether it is this Minister, Alex Attwood, Margaret Ritchie or Mark Durkan.

We have put jobs in Derry; we have decentralised jobs to our city. We recognise that they are not new jobs. However, we also recognise that hundreds of people with no quality of life whatsoever leave our city on the 6.00 am bus to Belfast to take up positions in the Civil Service. If we can get to the point where the DARD jobs go to your constituency, Mr Campbell, it would be fantastic for the people travelling to Belfast at the minute. We need to see more of that; we need to see a commitment by all Departments not only to announcing things but to doing them. The SDLP will continue to decentralise whatever jobs we can to our city and to any city or area that has high economic inactivity. Of course, Derry is at the wrong end of that league table.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That this Assembly notes the alarmingly low levels of employment in the Derry City, Strabane district and Limavady borough council areas; further notes that investment in infrastructure and skills in the north-west has suffered decades of neglect; recognises the importance of university expansion and improved transport links in growing the local economy; and calls on the Executive to work collaboratively to ensure balanced regional growth by resourcing and delivering the One Plan commitments to expand the Magee campus, dual the A5 and A6 and upgrade the Derry/Londonderry to Belfast rail line.