Business committee hopes Kevin Holland will target Invest NI support towards areas of need like Derry

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Invest NI needs to start positively discriminating in favour of places of high need like Derry, it’s been claimed.

The development agency’s record was discussed at a meeting of the Council’s Business & Culture committee.

Members agreed that Invest NI’s policy of only promoting jobs to the North as a whole needs to end.

Sinn Féin Councillor Mickey Cooper said: “There’s a clear lack of investment in the second city in the North, Derry.”

He added: “There needs to be a sub-regional approach.”

Colr. Cooper suggested the state-assistance firm could send a positive signal in Derry’s direction by upgrading its North West operation.

SDLP Councillor Sinead McLaughlin said: “It feels like ‘Invest Belfast’.”

Colr. McLaughlin said she hoped the appointment of a new Chief Executive in the incoming Kevin Holland marked the start of a new era for the industry and jobs promotion agency.

She said: “Hopefully it’s a new start for Invest NI and a new start for the North West as well.”

The case for greater support for industry in the Derry area was clear she argued, stating: “We need investment more than other areas. We have more economic inactivity and higher levels of deprivation.”

The calls for Invest NI to abandon its geographically neutral approach to jobs-promotion came after the Council Director of Business & Culture Stephen Gillespie reported on the agency’s response to concerns raised by the committee about investment in Derry.

Des Gartland, manager of Invest NI’s North West Regional Office, wrote to the committee outlining its activity here over the past five years.

Mr. Gartland explained that the jobs promotion body maintained relationships with hundreds of clients in Derry and Strabane.

“Currently at 272 [clients] this figure changes as new enquries come in to Invest NI, be that direct or indeed via our partnerhsip activities and programmes with Council,” he wrote.

“Our Council briefings, which are updated and circulated annually to partners, provide a comprehensive overview of our activities with customers.

“Indeed over the last five years 689 businesses in Derry City and Strabane Council area have received financial assistance from Invest NI,” added Mr. Gartland.

He went on to state that the Council had had an input into the development of Invest NI’s current policy.

“Our Business Strategy 2017-21 is an ambitious pathway through which we are successfully delivering outcomes for the whole of NI.

“At the core of the Strategy is a commitment to deliver a regionally balanced economy. To that end we have worked in partnership with all 11 Councils and Stakeholders in the formulation of Community Plans for the respective areas, including the inclusive Strategic Growth Plan for Derry City and Strabane District Council,” wrote Mr. Gartland.

Invest NI was also a lead partner on the Strabane Business Park project, one of 17 actions identified in the economic development pillar of the plan, he stated.