The fight is as much political as economic

SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood
SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood

Sometimes it is the big arguments which help to give clarity to the smaller ones.

The North has been awash with big personalities and big arguments in the last number of weeks. The arrival of the G8 brought with it a plethora of issues which currently afflict our world. At the moment economics pulsates through all political discourse. At the heart of many of these arguments lies the question of governmental intervention in economic affairs.

In the effort to achieve a balance between deficit reduction and economic growth, the capacity of modern governments’ financial clout has been drawn into sharp focus. In some ways governments find themselves in a state of paralysis; conscious of their negligence in the regulation of international finance yet unsure of their ability to structure economic recovery. In essence, this big argument boils down to whether the primacy of the state can hold credible authority over the dangers of the unchecked market.

So how do these big economic arguments filter down to affect us here in Derry and the North West?

Last Tuesday this paper published figures from Invest NI which I had requested from the Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster. The figures again outlined that, for the second largest urban centre in the North, Derry continues to gain a shockingly low portion of this economy’s total inward investment. The headline figures show that whilst the Foyle constituency received £5.18 million in monetary assistance in the 2012/13 financial year, South Belfast received £18.37 million. 200 jobs were promoted in Foyle, 908 were promoted in South Belfast.

These figures don’t make us whinge. They make us justifiably angry.

Amidst this anger, however, lies the danger that a phoney fight is portrayed between this city and Invest NI. In fact it would be unfair not to mention some of the improvements Invest NI have made recently, particularly in terms of marketing and monetary assistance. It is, however, obvious to anyone that Derry’s jobs market requires a great deal more than small improvements.

In truth, the real fight is clarified by the big economic argument of governmental intervention which lay at the heart of the G8. Many of the same choices and the same arguments apply.

Stormont’s current leadership adopts a laissez faire approach when it comes to addressing the imbalance of our Foreign Direct Investment. To date they have been either unwilling or unable to address the imbalances of regional job creation in the North.

Minister Foster has consistently rejected the idea that a target should be set to direct inward investment beyond the boundaries of Belfast. In the South however, a 50% target is currently operated by the IDA to direct Foreign Direct Investment outside of Dublin and Cork.

Faced with statistically proven regional economic inequality, the Enterprise Minister rigidly contends that politics and policy cannot intervene or help in the location of inward investment projects in the North. With continued limitations on the capacity of our road and rail infrastructure, and particularly with the lack of expansion of our university, this politics and these policies act to put our backs firmly against the wall.

It is for these reasons that our fight is as much political as it is economic. It is beyond Invest NI.

If politics here continues to abdicate huge areas of economic policy to the volatilities of the unchecked market, then the vast regional imbalances in the North will continue unchallenged and unchanged.