Junior Minister and MLA MARTINA ANDERSON argues that the new Programme for Government offers many beneifts for Derry and the north west
The Executive recently produced the draft Programme for Government (PfG) and agreement was reached on how to move forward on a number of issues such as the single Educational Skills Authority to replace the Education and Library Boards and replacing the current 26 councils with an 11 Council model.
We also recommitted not to introduce water charges and to freeze university tuition fees in this budgetary term.
The PfG pledged to build 8000 social and affordable houses and to create 25,000 jobs. New legislation will be introduced to eliminate age discrimination in the provision of Goods, Facilities and Services which will benefit older people experiencing discrimination. Legislation for more effective sentencing for attacks on the elderly will also be introduced. The benefits of inclusion of social clauses to both the long term unemploymed and the contractor in relation to the building of the Peace Bridge, - where the contractor is required to take on a specified number of longterm unemployed and apprentices for every £million of value in procurement contracts - was recognised in the PfG as something to be built on.
Work is progressing to ensure that similar social clauses are included in all procurement contracts put out for tender by every Executive Department with the intention of making this requirement a normal component of all departmental procurement contracts.
Support for existing businesses including £300m of investment for businesses involved in Research and Development and increasing our manufacturing exports by 15% as well as extending the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme to 2015 are an example of where we will refocus our energy. Innovative measures, such as the new Social Investment Fund, will help address the problems of derelict buildings while promoting physical regeneration of deprived areas and improving pathways to employment in deprived communities.
The Investment Strategy published alongside the PfG – both of which specifically referred to Derry’s ‘One Plan’, includes proposals for £12.5 billion expenditure.
Following on from the PfG and the Investment Strategy the all-Ireland Ministerial Council met in Armagh on Friday at which we discussed securing a fifth round of EU Cross Border funding under the INTERREG Co-operation Objective and this remains a priority for the Executive.
While other forms of co-operation (transnational, interregional and regional) are important, we believe that cross border cooperation should retain primacy and we will endeavour to ensure that this area receives the largest share of the available EU cooperation funding. While the British government is not near as enthusiastic as ourselves on securing stand alone peace funding, we are working at official and Ministerial level to change that position to support a further PEACE Programme.
To this end we are committed to increasing cross border collaborative projects that will enable us to access funding from the EU FP7 programme and its successor. I welcome the work that is being taken forward on this with ‘InterTradeIreland’ dedicating resources and recently introducing new mechanisms to help companies and researchers to find cross border partners for their projects.
The Ministerial Council also discussed the work on the development of the Radiotherapy Centre at Altnagelvin which is progressing well; the positive contribution the opening of the Peace Bridge over the river Foyle has made to community life in the City and the very important areas of Child Protection and Suicide Prevention as well as the cross border Memorandum of Understanding agreed between the two ambulance services which demonstrates the sort of practical collaboration that we are promoting.
In another very important development the Executive recently announced an inquiry and investigation into Historical Institutional Abuse and officials from the Irish Government, who had been involved in the Ryan Commission into institutional abuse in the South, have been very helpful and continue to advise and support us as we establish this inquiry.
An area of discussion of particular interest to Derry City and the wider North West Region is tourism which is worth £529m per annum in the North and growing faster than any other sector. With around 4.9% of our economy coming from Tourism – direct and indirect, it makes sense for us to do everything we can to exploit our potential to attract not just overseas tourists but those from the rest of the island also.
I will be particularly keen to see the tourism potential of the City of Culture fully exploited and I will be paying particular attention to ways in which I in my capacity as a Minister in OFMdFM, when meeting with groups and individuals can promote our City. Tourism Ireland is working very hard to increase overseas visitor numbers and therefore our upcoming events such as the City of Culture will be key elements in their promotional campaigns.
Of course, much discussion took place on progressing the A5 and A8 projects and at the NSMC a further payment of £3 million was made by Dublin to the Executive Consolidated Fund. We discussed the funding that is being deferred by the Irish Government and acknowledged its renewed commitment by providing £25 million per year in 2015 and 2016. The relevant departments are now preparing a new funding and implementation plan for the projects for agreement at the next NSMC sectoral meeting on Transport with the intention of ratification at the next NSMC Plenary meeting. The Executive remains committed to this project as does the Irish government which is what the people of the City and the North West want and deserve. I believe that if we remain focussed on the positive and speak with a united voice that Derry and the North West can reap many benefits from this PfG.