JOBS Ministers Arlene Foster and Dr Stephen Farry will imminently present a strategy to address unemployment in Londonderry, it’s been revealed.
SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey, who has been arguing for a “bespoke strategy” for the North West, asked Mrs Foster what was being done to shorten the dole queues in Londonderry.
He asked the Minister would she “acknowledge that, in the north-west area and in my constituency, where the recent figures show that unemployment is at 9 per cent, a much more targeted resource should be placed in that area to ensure that our young people have a better future?”
He posed the question as the latest labour market report showed the amount of working-age people in Londonderry claiming the dole (8.9 per cent) remained the highest in the province.
Over August and September there was no amelioration of dole queues in the economic blackspots of Londonderry and Strabane, which also remained static on 8.1 per cent.
And a tenth of a percentage point improvement in Limavady (from 7 per cent to 6.9 per cent) was no improvement at all. Of course, the claimant count rate is an indicator, which refers only to the amount of working-age people claiming the dole here. The actual amount of people not working (economically inactive) is far, far higher.
However, it appears the regional Jobs Ministers are set to try to address this.
Mrs Foster said: “I am working with the Minister for Employment and Learning on a strategy at present, which we hope to bring to the Assembly very soon. “It is something that we discussed at the last economic subgroup on the economy, because we realise that, despite the fact that our unemployment figures — I accept what he says about his own constituency, but from a Northern Ireland perspective — are at 6·9 per cent, there is a high level of economic inactivity that we really need to grapple with.
“We are high above the rest of the United Kingdom and need to drill down as to why that is the case. We have been doing a lot of work on that issue, and, as I say, I think that the Minister for Employment and Learning will be bringing that paper to the Executive in the very near future.”
Mr Ramsey welcomed the announcement and said he anticipated a “bespoke strategy” for the North West.
“There has been widespread dissatisfaction in the North West and in Foyle in particular about the Executive’s response to our particular economic problems, whether it be job creation, employment schemes or youth unemployment,” he told the Sentinel.
“For years I have been lobbying at Stormont for the Executive to take the case of Derry and give it a particular focus to address these issues, and I am pleased to say that this work has paid off, as the Enterprise Minister revealed to me on Tuesday that she and her Executive colleague Stephen Farry are working on a bespoke strategy for the North West.”
But a spokesperson for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment pointed out that the Minister was referring to an Economic Inactivity Strategy, which is NI-wide, and will not apply to the North West alone.
Mr Ramsey said: “I have long argued in particular that we need a bespoke employment programme that specifically works for the North West, and that regional schemes are not meeting all of Derry’s needs.
“We need only look at the Youth Employment Scheme – Derry is above and beyond the other areas in terms of success rates, but in other schemes there is much less of an impact. Decisions are also taken centrally that have affected our ability in the North West to build on successes of the effort of those who have managed the Youth Employment Scheme.
“In terms of Invest NI progress in the City, we all know the record is not satisfactory – time after time I have asked why the Minister cannot introduce sub-regional investment targets and been stonewalled, but now the message has finally gotten through and the Executive may now be able to deliver for Derry that has taken far too long but now has the capacity to re-energise the local economy and jobs market.”
“We are being told repeatedly that our concerns are without basis, but it is clear to the people I represent that agencies such as Invest NI need to do much, much better if they are to gain the trust of the North West,” said Mr Ramsey.
“I would welcome this initiative from the Ministers, as long as key issues are taken into consideration across the Executive - the need to invest in infrastructure, the need to focus on the skills base, the need to work with local stakeholders to build capacity in employment schemes and above all - a recognition by the Ministers that radical and bespoke intervention in Derry is required to allow Derry to fulfil its potential as the economic hub in the North West.”