Sinéad McLaughlin: QUB report a wake-up call and Invest NI must be given a new remit on jobs
Last week’s report from Queen’s University on the gap in economic performance between Derry and Belfast is the latest wake-up call for our city. Despite 11,500 jobs being created locally since 2013, Derry remains far behind Belfast in terms of employment and pay.
New Decade New Approach committed the Northern Ireland Executive to a regionally balanced economy. Because it is in NDNA this becomes an obligation for the Sinn Féin and DUP joint first ministers to deliver, along with university expansion in Derry. As chair of the Assembly’s Executive Office committee I have written asking how they are progressing these commitments.
Implementation requires Invest NI to be given a new remit. It created over 1,600 jobs in Belfast in the first nine months of this year, but none in Derry or the West. Invest NI’s new remit must be to support job creation on a regionally balanced basis. That is what the South’s equivalent body, the IDA, does.
The Derry and Strabane City Deal provides a massive opportunity to create well paid jobs in emerging industries, based on health and life sciences, artificial intelligence and data analytics. My party colleague, former Foyle MP Mark Durkan, campaigned for the City Deal for Derry, which should provide great benefits for the city and region.
With our hills and coastline, the North West has vast quantities of low cost renewable energy available. This can attract investors, new industries and create jobs. It needs to be backed by selling the advantages of the Brexit Protocol – with flexibilities to ease its operation, but exploiting our unique membership of the EU Single Market and the UK Internal Market.
These are the foundations for a strong local economy, but they must be backed by other measures. Too many women are excluded from the workforce because of the lack locally of affordable childcare. A childcare strategy for the North is overdue and must be prioritised.
The city centre needs to be rescued. We have nearly a thousand additional university students starting here next year and if accommodation is built for them close to the city centre that can help rescue our retail heart.
Derry has great opportunities for large numbers of new jobs. I want us to get on with the politicians’ job of delivering them.