A review of Derry’s year in the limelight as UK City of Culture 2013 has found that while it didn’t create as many jobs as initially projected it was a success in garnering global attention for the city.
The audit, presented to Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee this week, concluded that only 300 to 400 new jobs were created during 2013.
While these extra wages were likely to have spurred further job growth in subsequent years the boost lagged well behind the 2,800 net additional jobs forecast in the old Derry City Council’s ‘Legacy Plan’ for 2013.
Despite the disappointing job creation figures the post-project evaluation concluded that UK City of Culture 2013 delivered a significant legacy by buoying the tourism sector and putting Derry on the map globally.
And notwithstanding the report’s finding “ambitious tourism targets were not met largely as a result of the scaling back of the original cultural programme” there was an impressive rise in hotel bed sales and occupancy rates.
Hotel room sales grew from 123,964 in 2012 to 172,259 in 2017 and hotel occupancy rates were up from 61.26 per cent to 70.2 per cent over the same period.
Oonagh McGillion, Director of Legacy at DC&SDC explained that the failure to meet the more ambitious job creation targets was due in large part to the economic recession, which “affected both private and public sector investment plans, which were key to many of the projected economic impacts”.
There were also “difficulties in accessing limited sources of public sector funding and private sector sponsorship for the programme”.
Nonetheless UK City of Culture 2013 was a major success in branding. Derry received excellent exposure internationally through the Lonely Planet Guide, United Airlines, British Airways, LateRooms.com, The Irish Times and The Sydney Morning Herald, among others. UK City of Culture 2013 also earned high satisfaction ratings from citizens: in 2013 43 per cent of people from the most deprived areas attended events and rated them as either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’, compared with 10 per cent in 2009.
Sinn Féin councillor Mickey Cooper said 2013 increased the number of tourism jobs and led to enhanced cultural programmes and capacity.
An ‘edge to centre’ approach championed by the late Martin McGuinness and the erstwhile culture minister Carál Ní Chuilín ensured traditionally deprived peripheral communities were to the fore in informing the UK City of Culture 2013 programme and this bore fruit in the high satisfaction ratings, said Colr. Cooper.
Independent councillor Gary Donnelly disagreed and claimed there was little uplift for people living in Creggan, the Bogside and the Brandywell. Colr. Donnelly said he was “embarrassed as a republican” when the old Derry City Council “sold its soul” and entered the UK City of Culture title for the sake of what it now appeared was only 300 jobs.
Independent Darren O’Reilly also questioned the economic benefits and remarked that the increased visitor numbers belied the number of young people leaving the city to work abroad.
SDLP councillor John Boyle said UK City of Culture 2013 was “not all singing, all dancing” but pointed out that the increased bed sales translated directly into local jobs for local people.
Colr. Cooper accused Colr. Donnelly of “living in the 17th century” and said UK City of Culture 2013 had resulted in “massive opportunities”.
He said Colr. Donnelly could adopt “a flat earth approach” if he wished but Sinn Féin would not be taking that attitude.