SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has welcomed cross-party support in the Assembly this week for the new ‘City Deal’ he has been championing for Derry and the wider North West.
However, Mr. Durkan is also concerned that misconstrued arguments about a City Deal could be used by some to rationalise Belfast being put forward ahead of Derry for the North’s first City Deal.
He said: “I welcome the support in principle for work to be undertaken to scope a City Deal for the North West.
“The real challenge is not just to measure possible support in the Assembly but to get a working commitment from the Executive to marshal funding and other levers; to challenge and engage the Treasury and to mandate reliable delivery channels.
“Unfortunately, the Assembly debate did hear some specious arguments against City Deals – including Sinn Fein’s sneers that it would mean having to give something to the British Tories. That argument could apply to any negotiations with the British Treasury in the current context, including the talks taking place now and the previous Stormont House negotiations on corporation tax, finance and the use of borrowing power.,” added Mr. Durkan.
“It was odd and spurious for Sinn Fein to use George Osborne’s desire for directly elected Mayors in England as an argument against a home-grown City Deal here. Odd, because Sinn Fein have frequently pushed the idea of directly elected Mayors themselves – and spurious, because it is not a factor in any of the three City Deals underway in Scotland or in Wales where they are now bringing forward a second City Deal.
“It should be noted that Labour at both Westminster and local authority level have been keen to embrace key aspects of City Deals without subscribing to the precondition of a directly elected Mayor.
“If City Deals in all of their different forms are being used to drive delivery and development in other cities in these islands then why not here?
“The disappointment and frustration around the governmental failure to follow through on so much of the One Plan objectives oblige us to look for new delivery vehicles.
“We don’t have to replicate any single City Deal from across the water. Nor, as we have seen in Scotland and Wales, would Westminster or Whitehall be the only undertaking partner in government.
“I worry when I hear arguments that we are not big enough to compare with some of the large cities that have City Deals – especially when many smaller cities and non-cities across the water either have, or are hoping for, versions of their own.
“We should be anxious in case that sort of ‘too small’ argument is used to rationalise Belfast being put forward ahead of Derry for the North’s first City Deal.
“After all, we had the experience of ministers and parties telling us that we shouldn’t look for an Enterprise Zone – which George Osborne re-introduced with different versions in the last parliament. They used various arguments about the priority of corporation tax change, avoiding a Tory-led policy, the limited relevance of zones, and the difficulties in agreeing any potential location or locations in the North.
“But then, suddenly, in March 2014, the First and Deputy First Minister wrote to George Osborne to get him to announce in his Spring Budget an Enterprise Zone for Coleraine to maximise the benefits of Project Kelvin and the Data Centre there.
“I don’t want to see the misdirected arguments about a City Deal ending up with a similar outcome to the misdirected arguments about an Enterprise Zone and something that Derry has a singularly strong case for ends up happening for somewhere else,” concluded the M.P.