Concerns about Derry business funding with Brexit blamed for loss of EU support

Members of Derry City and Strabane Business and Culture Committee unanimously agreed in principle to extend the current Northern Ireland Business Start-Up Programme (Enterprise Northern Ireland contract) for an additional one year in order to notify the Central Procurement Directorate of council’s intention to extend the existing contract with Enterprise NI, as part of an 11-council approach.
SDLP Councillor Rory FarrellSDLP Councillor Rory Farrell
SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell

There were some concerns raised with SDLP councillor Rory Farrell and Sinn Féin councillor Conor Heaney laying the blame for the loss of European funding firmly on Brexit.

The Northern Ireland Business Start-Up Programme (NIBSUP) has been delivered since September 2017 and is currently funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Invest NI and 11 councils.

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However, the end of March 2023 marks the final date for expenditure of EU funding and is also the break point in the current delivery contract for the NIBSUP also called Go For It.

Councils have contributed 20% of costs whilst ERDF and Invest NI resources have made up the remaining 80% contribution with each Council having a dedicated statutory job creation target. For Derry City and Strabane council this is 233 business plans delivering 140 jobs in the 2023/24 financial year.

SDLP councillor Rory Farrell stated his party ‘fully appreciate and understand the importance of maintaining the existing Go For It programme’ adding: “We understand the importance of it for small business start ups, we understand the importance of developing business plans which ultimately lead to much needed job creation across this city and district but we have massive, massive concerns about the fgunding arrangements.

“Previously we made a 20% contribution, 60% came from EU funding and 20% came from Invest NI and now there is clearly this massive glaring gap. Prior to Brexit we could rely on EU funding and that’s disappeared overnight.

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“The Tory governemnt have told us previously that they would entirely replace any lost EU funding and that promise has not been delivered upon and we have had no clarity from Invest NI at all in terms of are they going to support us to deliver this, are they going to support local job creation. At the minute the contribution from Invest NI is zero and the rate payers across Derry and Strabane are expected to carry the can for this.”

Councillor Farrell asked the council officer when there would be ‘clarity’ from Invest NI on if they will make a contribution and at what level.

Head of Business Kevin O’Connor replied: “All 11 councils are currently working to discuss these issues.

“Discussions are ongoing with potential funders, Invest NI included, around what their potential contribution would be. We haven’t had anything negative from Invest NI in relation to this ask but as far as I understand it, I’m not sure Invest NI are currently in a position to give any commitments beyond this financial year. I’m not 100% on that but I will double check on that. We should have more information as the weeks go by.”

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Proposing the officer’s recommendation was accepted, DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney said: “We cannot fund all of this but as Kevin has outlined there are meetings going on and it’s good to hear Invest NI haven’t closed the door on funding yet.

“I have no problem proposing we accept the recommendation and I think it is important that we go ahead with this part of it.”

Sinn Féin councillor Conor Heaney shared the concerns raised by councillor Farrell adding: “This once again points to the folly and the real world damage Brexit is doing in districts like our own and I would say the difficulty in getting answers from Invest NI is largely due to the fact we don’t have an Executive at the minute and the DUP are holding back progress, budgets and political decisions that could help this city and district.”