Durkan continues fight for Derry ‘City Deal’ at Westminster
Speaking during yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the ‘Northern Ireland Economy’, Mr Durkan said: “Listening to DUP MPs, it would have been easy to be lulled into a culture of contentment with all this talk of economic miracles and the economy going well, or, as the Deputy First Minister put it a few weeks ago, the economy being in a “happy place”. The reality is that in my constituency (of Derry) the jobseeker’s allowance claimant count is 10.3%, whereas the Northern Ireland average is 4.6% and the UK average is 2.5%. The 18 to 24-year-old JSA claimant count is 12% in my constituency in the North West, whereas the Northern Ireland average is 5.8% and the UK average is 2.9%. The disparities are similar in the child poverty rate.
“Although the emphasis in the previous Programme for Government, and from the UK government, has been on the need to rebalance our economy – the move on corporation tax is one part of that – we also need to rebalance our region. We need greater investment in the West and elsewhere. We cannot just have policies and benefits that concentrate on Belfast.
“Will the (NIO) Minister tell us about some of the opportunities for the next Assembly to work with the UK government on city deals and enterprise zones? Those opportunities were available to us throughout the whole of the last Parliament, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he would give Northern Ireland enterprise zones and city deals if he got proposals from the Executive – but proposals came only in 2014 and when one finally came it was for an enterprise zone in Coleraine. We still have no proposals for the areas that are most mired in high unemployment (not least Derry).
“Will any prospective city deal include support for further university expansion? Why could there not be a cross-border dimension? We have made a move on corporation tax, but if we are to learn lessons from the South, we must see that it is not just corporation tax that has underpinned its economic performance. It is also key investment in higher education and skills and in infrastructure. Those two things are missing in the North.”
Labour MP Stephen Pound added: “The overarching point I want to make, which we heard made many times, is that made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan): we cannot fool ourselves into a culture of contentment. All is not rosy.”
NIO Minister Ben Wallace MP replied: “The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) is absolutely right to say it is very important to make sure that our economic development is balanced across a region or a country. We have to make sure that we always rebalance, and that we do so fully conscious that it is not always about one big city. I am delighted about the Republic of Ireland’s commitment on the A5 – after this election, we hope. The Northern Ireland Executive have already said that they are going to move ahead with the A6 and finish off the dualling. If we can get Derry and Londonderry much faster to get to, there is great hope. I hear the hon. Gentleman (Mark Durkan) loud and clear on the city deals and enterprise zones. I have already spoken to (his colleague) the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) about how we can help to lobby and put together a bid. We will happily go with her to see the Chancellor and lobby for that, whether it is for South Down or Londonderry.”