Commitment to job creation questioned

The B&Q store at Buncrana Road, Derry. DER1315MC050
The B&Q store at Buncrana Road, Derry. DER1315MC050

Questions have been asked over what a recently established Ministerial sub-group is doing about Derry’s high unemployment.

Galliagh community worker Tommy Mullan raised concerns after it emerged that another 60 people will lose their jobs with the closure of B&Q in January next year.

Galliagh community worker Tommy Mullan raised concerns after it emerged that another 60 people will lose their jobs with the closure of B&Q in January next year.

The sub-group was set up to examine regional disparity across the north, with an initial focus on high unemployment and lack of infrastructure in the north west.

While the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers (OFMFDFM) has been unable to respond, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said matters were being progressed to ensure the north west gets it’s fair share, including the establishment of a specific economic strategy for Derry.

The Sinn Fein Derry native said: “The Executive is determined to meet the economic and financial challenges we face, remodel the local economy, maximise growth, increase competitiveness and provide economic security for all our people.

“The Ministerial Sub-Group on Regional Opportunities is focused on what the Executive can do in relation to these key issues.

“The first meeting in January focused on the creation and retention of jobs in the North West and how it is a key priority and the Executive is working hard to improve the skills base and help create a ‘pro-business’ environment.

“We will continue to work with established international investors like Seagate, Fujitsu and Convergys as well as supporting home grown businesses and new start ups.

“In March the meeting explored what the Executive can deliver for the North West with a particular focus on road infrastructure.

“Investment in the road infrastructure would increase connectivity and reduce journey times. Improved public transport links enable people to take advantage of more employment and education opportunities.

“The Executive remains committed to the A5 project and the publication of Draft Orders and consultation will be an important point in the process.

“On the A6, should funding become available, construction work could begin relatively quickly. All potential funding opportunities will continue to be explored including the Juncker plan, which will fund infrastructure projects across Europe over the next few years. As well as key infrastructure issues, discussion took place about Ebrington, Ballykelly, the digital and creative industries, the expansion of Magee University and the North West Gateway Initiative.

“In February the demolition work began at the former Shackleton military site in Ballykelly. Moving the DARD headquarters to the North West demonstrates our commitment to decentralise jobs. This £20million investment will provide a significant economic injection to the North West and be a massive boost for residents, businesses, employees and visitors.”

Mr McGuinness added: “The announcement by Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry of approval for the new teaching block at Ulster University’s Magee campus is further evidence of the Executive delivering. Undergraduate student numbers at Magee have been increased by 568 in recent years and the new £11 million teaching block is a necessary important addition to the Magee campus.

“We are also working closely with Invest NI to develop an economic strategy for the city which should be endorsed and underway within the very near future.

“Progress though will not and cannot be measured by the number of meetings. The Group will continue to work collaboratively regardless of departmental boundaries to drive forward economic development and prosperity for all in the north west.”

Mr Mullan had said that the amount of jobs coming to Derry “isn’t making up for anything at all”.

He asked: “So far what has this Ministerial sub group achieved? People are saying: why is it always Derry, why are we always losing out?

“You only have to look at Derry to see how many empty premises there are already.

“I hope one of the aims of this new council is employment because in Derry and Strabane it’s a disgrace. We are forgotten about in Northern Ireland. All we hear about is Belfast, Belfast, Belfast. Derry is not treated like a city.

“I marched on October 5th, 1968 along with others and my idea in life was that we always needed jobs, that’s the things that helps people’s lives improve but once these cuts come in there is going to be a lot of people, especially around Galliagh and Shantallow, really struggling, and it looks like the politicians don’t really care at all.

“Young people leave school now and the hopes of getting a job is very slim really and people who are elected should be going to the owners of B&Q and saying, hold on a minute, this is 60 jobs we badly need in Derry.”

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said that it was considering “a number of strategic approaches to tackling the region’s high unemployment rate”.

She added: “Council remains committed to achieving sustainable economic growth and stability for the region through adopting a partnership approach to job creation and attracting inward investment.”