MLA calls for overhaul of InvestNI’s spending policy

SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood
SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood

A Derry MLA has called for an overhaul of how the north’s economic development agency spends its money.

SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood says there is a real onus on Stormont to address the regional disparity in InvestNI’s spending across the north by making changes to the policy which governs how that body spends its funding.

He was speaking after he and party colleague Mark H Durkan met with Bill Scott, Head of Invest NI’s Regional Business Development group on Wednesday.

“Myself and Mark H Durkan had the opportunity to raise our deep concern with Bill Scott about the well known, and statistically proven, regional disparity in Invest NI’s record of success in stimulating quality employment and business expansion,” he says.

Earlier this year Mr Eastwwod expressed his concern over the Belfast bias in InvestNI’s spending.

In 2010/11 Derry businesses were offered just 2.4% of Invest NI’s total monetary assistance. Over the same time East Belfast received 26.1%.

This year, 2011/12, the Derry spending rose to 5% - while South Belfast received 25%.

Mr Eastwood says it is vital policy is changed to allow InvestNI to address such regional inequalities.

“This city has the highest rate of unemployment in the North yet the monetary assistance being offered to companies in Derry is dwarfed by the monies being offered in greater Belfast.

“The main thrust of Invest NI’s explanation for the regional inequality in their spend argues that they promote the North in its totality.

“In other words, there is no policy to direct inward investment to specific areas and regions in Northern Ireland, areas which need it most.”

He says such a policy change is the responsibility of politicians.

“Policy is the preserve of politicians. It is the preserve of our devolved government in Stormont.

“The question now needs to be asked if Stormont’s leadership, particularly our resident deputy First Minister, have the courage and the political will to change this policy in the interest of regional equality.

“Will Invest NI be directed by its political masters to ensure that areas of greatest need, such as the North West, are given the greatest priority?”

The former Mayor of Derry says the next few years represent a time of great opportunity for Derry.

“Much of the realisation of these ambitions and opportunities are however innately linked to the quality and quantity of our jobs market.,” he says.

Mr Eastwood says InvestNI should adopt similar policy to the Industrial Development Authority in the south. That body has a target of directing 50% of foreign direct investment outside of Cork and Dublin.