Local economy shows signs of growth despite threat of Brexit

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Members of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee heard how the local economy is showing signs of positive growth despite the uncertainties presented by wider issues such as Brexit and the absence of a NI Assembly.

The findings were part of an independent report carried out by Senior Economic Advisor at the Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre, Dr Eoin Magennis, as part of the work being done to measure progress on economic wellbeing as an element of Council’s Strategic Growth Partnership’s Statement of Progress that is due for completion in November 2019.

The report highlighted a strong growth in jobs across a range of sectors for the city and region and a falling unemployment rate over the period 2012 – 2018. The biggest growth area was in the sectors of Health and Social Work, Manufacturing and Professional and Scientific.

The report shows that in the period since the establishment of the new Council, there has been a considerable level of improvement in a number of key economic metrics relating to the district.

It highlights the increase in employment since its lowest point in 2013 from 59,600 workplace jobs to 66,400, an increase of 6,700 or 11.2%. The report measures the rate of unemployment and how it has fallen by almost half in the same period from 8.5% in 2013 to 4.9%, a reduction of 3,622 claimants.

Unemployment numbers are forecast to continue to fall from today’s number of 5,900 to 3,100 by 2028, while UUEPC forecasts that employment will continue to increase by another 3,200 from 2018 to 2028.

The report shows that while Gross Value Added (GVA) has been slower to recover it has increased by 10% since its lowest point in 2008. That increase has been driven in part by growth in foreign direct investment from IT companies and investment in health. The report states that up to 2028 real GVA is forecast to increase by between 12% and 19% within a number of scenarios.

Presenting the report to members, Senior Economist with Council Michael Gallagher explained that population growth has slowed down with the city and region continuing to be affected by outward migration.

He said while there is little known about the magnitude of cross border population movement within some border settlements, it is estimated that as much as 50% of the population in some settlements are previous residents of the Derry City and Strabane District Council region. In any event, UUEPC finds that the resident employment rate is still forecast to grow from 56% to 63%.

He stated that the economic performance has been much better than what was forecast five years ago and that employment is stronger and GVA higher than anticipated, particularly in the ICT and health sectors.

He acknowledged the progress that has been made on a number of key economic measures since the establishment of the new Council but highlighted the importance of the delivery of the objectives set out in the Strategic Growth Plan and the City Deal if the City and District is to continue on this positive trend.

Acknowledging the challenges facing the City and Region, Michael Gallagher said the city and region faces a number of issues relating to population growth, skills shortages and salary levels but that these challenges are addressed within the City Deal core projects proposals.

He also acknowledged that unemployment and economic inactivity rates are still higher than the NI average and the continuing out-migration of working age residents, that will result in an ageing population and an increasing level of age dependency and, which in turn, will impact on demand for housing and healthcare services, also remains a challenge.

He outlined to members the need for the successful delivery of the key strategic projects in education and infrastructure, including the Magee Medical School, which will act as vital catalysts for growth.

He said that by working together with key partners, Council’s proactive role in facing the challenges head-on and working positively to foster growth and prosperity in the North West was paying off.

He said the goals set out in the Strategic Growth Plan together with the delivery of key catalyst projects has the potential to accelerate growth and create a thriving and successful North West City Region.

Welcoming the report, the Chairman of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee Cllr Jim McKeever said: “Today’s report highlights some really good news stories for the North West but also acknowledges the need for further support and intervention to reach the milestones identified within the Strategic Growth Plan. While we are on target on a number of objectives we hope that with the implementation of the Growth Plan and the delivery of the City Deal we can achieve the levels of growth that will bring Derry and Strabane in line with the rest of Northern Ireland.”