Video: Fresh business case needed for Derry university expansion which will need £300m in capital and £100m in resource funding, Economy Committee told

A new business case for the expansion of Magee is needed as the one previously lodged with the Department of the Economy is ‘out of date’.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 4:54 pm

A senior civil servant told the Stormont Economy Committee the business case submitted back in 2016 has expired.

Deputy Secretary of Skills and Education at the Department, Heather Cousins, said the estimated capital cost of increasing the number of students to 9,400 had been projected then at £300m.

It would cost a further £100m in resource funding but this, she indicated, was money DfE “does not have”.

Sinead McLaughlin, vice-chair of the committee, quizzing DfE Deputy Secretary of Skills and Education Group, Heather Cousins on Wednesday.

“We did write to the university last year and asked them for that new business case and their council was not in a place to take that forward at that particular time and I would say that given where we are with Ulster University that is still the case,” said Ms. Smith.

The official alluded to the overspend at the UU’s ongoing York Street project.

“Deliver that major capital project and then let’s see where we are. There are issues of capacity and capability,” said Ms. Cousins.

SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin, vice-chair of the committee, asked: “So, you’re saying quite categorically now that a new business case is required for the expansion of Magee, the current business case is not fit for purpose, nor are you confident in their ability to deliver that, at this point in time?”

She replied: “At this point in time, in the short term.”

Ms. McLaughlin persisted: “In Derry we’ve been waiting 60 years for this so what is short term.”

Ms. Cousins replied: “Again a business case needs to be produced first and foremost and we do not have a current business case that stacks up.

"The business case we had before, the one that is very out of date, was £300m capital and £100m resource that we just do not have and unless there’s new money it’s hard to see how that would happen. When there is new money it goes to health and schools. It doesn’t come anywhere near this department and higher education.”

The Foyle MLA said the failure to invest adequately in Magee was leading to economic imbalances.

“There is an oversupply of skills here within the east and very, very little in the west so there is no skills balance.

“In order for us to create a balanced economy that has high productivity and to have good wages right across the province we need a skills balance and the only way to do that is to look at our further and higher education and to put resources to where they are under-supplied at the moment.”