Invest NI says it is ‘committed to doing things differently’ in Derry and the NW in future
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It follows a ‘scathing’ independent review at the start of the year.
At a meeting of the Council’s Business and Culture Committee, Invest NI’s interim CEO, Mel Chittock, said this year had been ‘very challenging and interesting’ so far due to the review.
The independent review took place in January and highlighted several damaging impacts on the organisation due to profound divisions among top-level staff.
Mr Chittock updated elected reps on progress made since the review and activities that have taken place in Derry and the wider region in the last 18 months.
Invest NI’s interim Chairperson, Colm McKenna, said it was clear that they ‘had to do things differently’, and said Invest NI had made 39 recommendations and established 12 task groups in the lead-up to creating an action plan.
"We know we’ve got to up our game, not least in the North West,’ he said. ‘There has been quite a bit of success recently and we need to build on that.”
Mr McKenna said Invest NI came under criticism for being ‘very Belfast-centric’ and would address this by investing in the ‘sub-regional economy’, which includes Derry and surrounding district, throughout next year.
He said the economic inactivity statistics for the area were ‘quite concerning’ and needed to be addressed.
"There will be more resources,” he said. “The approach going forward will be a collaborative one, working closely with the university sector, further education colleges and councils.”
He also said Invest NI would account for differences in economic regions when recommending policies.
"Different regions have different issues and things to address,’ he noted. ‘We can’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. We’ll have bespoke solutions for different regions.”
Mr Chittock said Invest NI had assisted about 2,000 jobs in the area since 2019 and announced close to 550 jobs in the last year.
He said: "We have been driving the Ambition to Grow activities, so we can grow home-grown talent as well as driving foreign investment, and we will put more resources into our local office.
"Our ambition is to be an integral partner of the Council and local stakeholders to help drive economic performance.”
Foyleside SDLP District Councillor Shauna Cusack said the upcoming appointment of a new Invest NI CEO was welcome after the ‘quite scathing’ review.
Colr. Cusack said: “It’s good to see Invest NI is committed to the introduction of sub-regional targets. However, we are deeply concerned at the lack of any specific mention of the North West in this plan.
“At present, the plans fall short of changes needed to restore people’s confidence. Derry is not simply a sub-region - we are the second city and we need specific, deliberate and targeted interventions.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Aisling Hutton stressed the importance of collaboration to ‘sell this region internationally’. She also called for more Invest NI office staff in Derry.
Colr. Hutton added: “Sinn Féin want to see a real cross-border approach from Invest NI, selling Derry City and Strabane as a ‘one economic region’.
“Currently, there’s no one locally dealing with this region or dealing with category one clients like Seagate.
“This means our Council is doing this with a limited-rates income, so we want Invest NI’s Derry office to be an economic catalyst."
Sperrin Councillor Paul Gallagher said that Derry and Strabane’s economic activity, pay and employment rates were ‘startlingly low’ compared to the general rate in NI, due to a lack of resources.
“If it was a level playing field, they should be much closer together,’ he said.
"For example, of the total 54 railways, there are, maybe, three west of the Bann.
"Looking at the stats over the last few years, the North West gets short-changed compared to our counterparts in the east.
"Moving forward, we should be setting checks and balances and meeting Invest NI on a regular basis to monitor targets and outcomes.”
Sperrin Sinn Féin Councillor Brian Harte, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting, said only 12 of Invest NI’s 600 staff were located in Derry.
"That regional imbalance is something to be looked at. The North West office has no one dealing with foreign investment and tourism or promoting trade and export,” he added.
Mr McKenna concluded with a commitment to a more ‘transparent and collaborative’ Invest NI going forward.
He said: "We absolutely see Derry as the second city and the North West as an important region for development. We are committed to doing things differently.”
Earlier this year, political representatives described a report of the independent review of Invest NI as ‘damning’ and claimed the state investment agency had failed to deliver for Derry over two decades.
They said at the time that the Department of the Economy needed to act on the report’s recommendation that the ‘agency needs to be a better partner, particularly in the sub-regional context’.
The authors of the report called for more ‘effective engagement and cooperation, perhaps founded on a stronger acknowledgement for Invest NI to be sensitive to and understand the different needs and opportunities of the various sub-regions’.
Invest NI is Northern Ireland’s regional business development agency and its role is to grow the local economy.
Its stated aim is to help new and existing businesses “compete internationally” and to attract new investment to Northern Ireland.