The British Government decision to put an 'ambitious' City Deal for Derry on the long-finger while committing to open negotiations for such an initiative in Belfast, has provoked anger from the SDLP.
The move, which was contained in the British Chancellor, Philip Hammond's, Budget 2017, has been branded a 'disgrace' by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
“It is a disgrace that the British Chancellor has failed to commit to a Derry City Deal. While the SDLP is supportive of City Deals elsewhere, Derry was the first City under the SDLP leadership to push for a City Deal and we have been side-lined again. It’s not good enough," said the Foyle MLA.
In his budget, which was announced on Wednesday, Mr. Hammond proposed that "upon restoration of a Northern Ireland Executive, the government will open negotiations for a city deal [sic] for Belfast as part of the government’s commitment to work towards a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals [sic] across Northern Ireland to boost investment and productivity".
Only last month the importance of a City Deal for Derry, they've already been used to decentralise budgets and powers in England and Scotland, was underlined by Derry City and Strabane District Council's top finance officer Alfie Dallas.
Mr. Dallas told members of the council's Governance and Strategic Planning Committee in early October that “the need for local City Deals is clearly outlined in the terms of the UK government’s Confidence and Supply Agreement which affirms the government’s commitment to 'working with the Executive and other stakeholders to work towards a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals across N. Ireland to boost investment and help unlock the full potential of N. Ireland'."
“If there is agreement today, council would seek to engage with government with a view to securing a ‘deal in principle’ by the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in mid-November this year," he added.
Despite Mr. Hammond's "commitment to work towards a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals [sic] across Northern Ireland to boost investment and productivity", the SDLP leader, for one, does not believe that this goes nearly far enough.
He said: “It is clear to me that the DUP and Sinn Féin have big questions to answer. The previous Executive failed to back a Derry City Deal when pushed by the SDLP and the DUP and Sinn Fein have failed to agree to the SDLP call for a Derry City Deal in the recent talks.
“All parties today must now condemn the British Government’s announcement and come forward to back the SDLP demand for a Derry City Deal. I then will lead a cross-party delegation to meet the British Government to demand Derry gets what it deserves. But the DUP and Sinn Féin must tell us now, today, that they back a deal for Derry.
“For too long Derry and the North West has been treated like the poor relation. Like second class citizen and we aren’t taking it. With Brexit coming down the line and our unique position on the border, Derry needs this investment now. We won’t wait.
"While my colleagues in Belfast will be pleased to see this investment, we must all have the courage to stand up for those who have been left behind and the North West has. It’s time to fight back to address regional disparity once and for all.”
Elsewhere, Mr. Hammond said the Northern Ireland Executive budget will increase by £660 million through to 2020/21.
Early in 2018, the government will also publish a call for evidence that will consider the impact of VAT and Air Passenger Duty (APD) on tourism in Northern Ireland, to report at Budget 2018.
The government has declared itself committed to the commencement of a Northern Ireland rate of corporation tax once a restored Executive has demonstrated that its finances are on a sustainable footing.
Subject to this, the government will consider an announcement in 2018/19 on implementing the regime.
And the government also intends allocating over £5 million in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from banking fines.