Momentum for a ‘City Deal’ for Londonderry is building after Ulster Unionist Party (MLA) Ross Hussey offered cross-partisan support for the concept in the wake of nationalist calls for beefed up powers locally.
Meanwhile, a Labour Party-inspired commission headed by Professor Deirdre Heenan and Colin Anderson OBE, which says a ‘City Deal’ for Londonderry could address regional inequalities and disparities, says it’s going on a lobbying offensive and is petitioning Jeremy Corbyn and the new Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Vernon Coaker, for support.
Mr Hussey said: “In terms of a potential City Deal for the North West, it seems to me that the ball is firmly in the court of the civic leaders in Londonderry and also Strabane.
“They should come to the UK Government with a business plan and make their case. It is high time that civic leaders in North West stepped up to the mark; prioritise elements of the One Plan and kick start the transformation of the economy in the maiden city and its hinterland, including Strabane.
“We also need to be mindful of the continuing difficulties and the recent debate in the media about the management and role of ILEX - the Urban Regeneration Company for Londonderry.
“It was ILEX who produced the One Plan referred to in the motion. Remember that ‘One City, One Plan, One Voice’ aimed to be the plan to end all plans.
“Thus far we have had plans, strategies, reports and committees, but at the end of the day we need delivery.
“The official economic statistics are not good: The figures for August relating to the claimant count – which consists of all people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) at Jobs and Benefits offices- show that the new Derry and Strabane District Council area has the highest rate in Northern Ireland, 7.1 per cent. In nearby Mid Ulster the claimant count rate is 2.5 per cent while the Northern Ireland average is 4.7 per cent.
“Historically, this pattern is deeply ingrained. Over the 30 + years of the claimant count being the standard measurement of unemployment rates, fluctuations in the North West have closely mirrored Northern Ireland trends.
“Strabane and Londonderry have always been above the average. In 1992 average unemployment for Northern Ireland was 10.7, with 15 per cent in Londonderry, and 15.3 per cent in Strabane.
“If, in applying for and gaining a City Deal for the North West, we can start changing the record and tackling the long term and deep seated problems of inter-generational unemployment, youth unemployment and economic inactivity in the North West, then we will support it. We need to free up the entrepreneurial instincts of our people and allow the private sector to grow and prosper.”
Elsewhere, the co-chairs of the Heenan Anderson Commission, which set out to examine the causes of Northern Ireland’s current levels of economic marginalisation, poverty and deprivation, have revealed that their Report has been sent out to national and international decision-makers in order to give its contributors a fair hearing.
Professor Heenan said: “We had over 600 participants, including leaders from across a broad range of sectors in Northern Ireland such as education, health, churches, politics and business, as well as community and voluntary organisations, many of which are operating and working at the very margins of our society. Having taken the time to give us their feedback and share their insights, they are now asking, ‘What happens next? Where is this Report going?’”
Mr Anderson said: “We have today sent the Heenan Anderson report to our MLAs, local political parties, the Secretary of State for NI, national party leaders in the Westminster parliament, the Dublin government, local and national church leaders, US-NI representatives and leaders in Washington DC.”
Having been originally commissioned by Labour’s then-Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis MP, the Report has also now been sent to Jeremy Corbyn and the new Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Vernon Coaker.
Mr Anderson continued: “This Report raises issues that need to be addressed right now, with some constructive suggestions offered on a way forward. We feel it’s time for the politicians and leaders to listen to what the people of Northern Ireland are saying.
“We were encouraged to hear the local church leaders join together to echo our findings this week, stating that the political crisis at Stormont is hitting Northern Ireland’s poorest people hardest.
“Our Commission Report noted that the council wards which were at the bottom of the heap in terms of deprivation 20 years ago are still the same today.
“The so-called ‘peace dividend’ has not paid off for many people here and we now need leadership of an entirely different kind to start to move Northern Ireland out of this trap of inter-generational poverty and into a more prosperous future.”
The Heenan Anderson Commission was co-chaired by Deirdre Heenan and Colin Anderson, supported by a panel of experts from academia, the trade union movement, trade bodies, the voluntary and community sector, and business.
For more information, visit http://www.heenan-anderson.org/