EXCLUSIVE: North’s unemployment blackspot £50 million debt approved by councillors

The elected representatives of Derry City and Strabane District Council have authorised a group of financial loans that will see the local authority pay back around £20 million in interest over the coming decades.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request from BtP, the Council provided the list of all loans undertaken by local Council since 2011.  In total, 87 loans have been taken by Council over that period, totaling £31,999,688.

When interest is calculated for each individual loan and combined, ratepayers will pay back a staggering £50,415,645.49.

The purpose and amount of the loans vary – from a £4 million loan to fund Derry’s Guildhall restoration (which when paid will cost almost double), to £8,000 for ground maintenance equipment.

Councillors are given regular updates as to the ‘financial outturn’ of the local authority, having recently been given their most recent report only two days ago at the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee.

Minutes of a meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee held on 1st March 2016 (found here) show that members of every Party – and Independents on Council received and approved the financial report which includes the overall figure of loans at that time.

Present at this meeting were:

Councillor Carlin (in the Chair); Aldermen Hussey, Kerrigan, Ramsey and Thompson, Councillors Boyle, C Kelly, McGuire, McMahon, O’Reilly, Reilly and Robinson.

Non-Member of Committee:- Councillors Carr, Cusack, Donnelly, Gallagher, Hastings, D Kelly and P Kelly.

Minutes of the meeting show:

GSP70/16 Nine Month Financial Outturn

A Member of the Sinn Fein grouping in relation to the above item, noted the positive financial position of Council and thanked all involved for their hard work.

Rates have been increased twice in the last two years by the Council.

The loans provided to BtP exclusively, are as follows:

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DERRY: Where the economics are NUTS

It is probably impossible to discern how many times the tremendously battered cliché that a week is a long time in politics has been printed or spoken by journalists since it was used first by Harold Wilson at some point in the mid-1960s.

Was he still alive, I wonder how he’d respond to the question of how the last eight months has played out politically in Northern Ireland? ‘Interminable’, may have been his answer.

It wasn’t in the end interminable. Then again, nothing ever truly is. Instead the lifetime of the latest Assembly lurched, perhaps inevitably to a terminal conclusion.

At the tail end of those eight months a lot has happened in terms of political recrimination. That it was politically eventful in the wider sense not in doubt. But, actual wide ranging political progress, the whole point of devolution, has again been completely absent from ‘that hill’ on the outer edge of East Belfast.

And, time again may eventually also reveal whether the actual cause of the latest collapse of the Assembly. Was it caused by the scandal around RHI? Was it the glaring unwillingness of the DUP to truly grasp the essence of power sharing? Or was it because, seemingly at last aware of the grumblings within their grass roots about the ‘futility’ of maintaining the Stormont Executive, Sinn Fein implemented their right to pull the institutions down?

No matter the various theories on the latest collapse of Stormont, be they practical or ideological or a combination of both, the result remains the same. This day week, Thursday, March 2, the population of the North will be asked yet again to vote in an election to return representatives to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Not even those standing in this snap election have the nerve to confidently predict that there will be a return to devolved government after the election. Given the pre-election dogma from Sinn Fein that there cannot be a return to the status quo, it is truly hard this time to see any last-minute miracle cure to resurrect power sharing in post-election negotiations. That too may be a matter of political practicality, it may even fall within the realms of pragmatism. The DUP for their part appear to remain as dogmatic as they were prior to the collapse. On the side lines the SDLP and UUP are taking part in some kind of unspoken pact in the hope that the electorate in their slightly more heated apathy opt for a more diluted version of Orange and Green.

Failure to resurrect the Executive will mean a return to direct rule from London enacted by unelected civil service mandarins posing as representatives of the Northern Ireland Office. I would suggest that in the dim corridors and musty side offices of Whitehall at the minute a lot of low profiles are being kept lest the dreaded call to collect a plane ticket to Belfast comes through on ‘one’s telephone extension’.

Should that likely eventuality arise, almost twenty years after the Belfast Agreement, from a nationalist perspective, the status quo will have returned.

This election, we have been told, is not one built upon a question on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. It is one based on a need to seek to destroy corruption, to increase accountability, to ensure that revamped structures contain enough political mechanisms to provide mature and fiscally responsible governance. These mechanisms should also provide for avenues approaching proper power-sharing structures- so we are being told.

The fact is however that every election in Northern Ireland boils down to the consideration of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Let’s face it, if every election wasn’t like this to a certain extent we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this position yet again. It is a perennial and inescapable tenet of political life in this state.

Whilst this latest hiatus unfolds however, there are many issues that once more fall by the wayside in the distraction of the Orange and Green Punch and Judy show.

Note to self: (Wasn’t there a crocodile in that too if I’m not mistaken? He liked eating strings of sausages I recall. Hopefully, there were Moy Park products. Nothing wrong with that crocodile protecting the local economy, as long as he doesn’t want the packaging scribed in Gaelic).

Another perennial and inescapable tenet of life in Northern Ireland has, since partition, been the economic disparity east and west of the Bann. The monthly unemployment figures for Northern Ireland were released last week.

Desperate for credence politicians clung to the fact that the overall total for joblessness fell by 1,000. The tenth successive month that a drop had been recorded. That this happened at all in a state that must look increasingly laughable in international terms because of the failure of our ruling parties to achieve basic co-operation never mind attract inward investment, is of course laudable.

Yet again, we here in the ‘whinging west’ as we are apt to be known, found ourselves top of the scrap heap yet again. Derry City remains the worst unemployment blackspot once more with the jobless figure at 7%.

Following on from Beyond The Pillars recent piece on RRI (how revenue is generated and spent in Northern Ireland) (click here for the piece) and how the North West was basically ignored by these mechanisms we have a few more thoughts on the overall situation.

How, we are asking, did the Northern Ireland Executive deal with the idea of ‘regional disparity’?

This is the notion that the political leadership in this state attempted to look at developing economic growth across Northern Ireland on a more even handed basis and not just in the eastern section of the state, and more specifically Belfast City.

Whilst I was employed as a political adviser at Stormont in 2013, I penned a paper calling for an Independent Review of Economic Policy undertaken by the Executive in 2009. The 2009 approach taken had largely dictated the direction of economic policy from that point onwards and in effect consigned a flexible approach to the fiscal dustbin (click here to see the paper). Since that point also, the overall ignorance of the Executive to the needs of the North West has been staggering.

The Economic Advisory Group (EAG), a panel of experts that advised the then Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster: “In summary we would suggest that promoting sub-regions within Northern Ireland should not be considered a high priority at this time.”

The letter to Mrs Foster from the EAG came in March, 2014.  Essentially, the EAG asserted that Northern Ireland must be viewed as one economic entity and that businesses would invest where they felt that their interests were best served. Furthermore, they contended that the Executive should not interfere with that overview by promoting investment in specific areas such as Derry.

This advice was duly adhered to by the Executive.

Beyond the remit of Stormont, the Westminster MP for Foyle, Mark Durkan, has looked at an alternative to locally ascribed sub-regional intervention under what is termed a ‘City Deal’.  This deal involves specific intervention to address economic imbalance within an individual geographical location.

Speaking in a debate on the issue just prior to the Assembly election last May, 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.”

In response to Mark Durkan, 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.”

This was almost a year ago. In the intervening eight months after the last Assembly election, no proposals on it were forthcoming. The likelihood of Assembly support for this proposal, which as you can see did not fall on deaf ears at Westminster, seems even more distant now given the latest political stagnation.

Oddly, despite the disintegration of the Assembly and the likely return of direct rule, BREXIT may offer Derry a chance to prosper. Whilst the EAG felt safe in their advice that Northern Ireland should be a single economic unit because specific regions are given classification that attracts investment and it classified here as one unit-this classification would be removed after Britain’s departure from the EU. This classification is called Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics, or NUTS for short (no pun intended).

So, given this, Beyond The Pillars asked the Department of the Economy at Stormont: “If any discussions have been had between the Department of the Economy and the UK Government regarding the attraction of inward investment to sub-regional areas of Northern Ireland particularly in the event of the UK leaving the EU and the NUTS specification of Northern Ireland no longer being in place?”

We also asked: “If any discussions have been had between the Department of the Economy or Invest NI and the UK Government to allocate regions within Northern Ireland such as the North West with its own specific area, with its own inward investment priorities, such as a UK NUTS allocation for different areas within Northern Ireland as opposed to Northern Ireland being considered as a single unit for investment?”

What was the response to those questions?

It was: “No, we have no records that any discussions took place.”

In fact, continuing with their response, the Department said that the ‘UK’s Assisted Areas Map was is approved for the period 2014-2020.’

What is the Assisted Areas Map? Well, in essence,  it is a map containing areas where extra assistance would be available to businesses, which doesn’t even address the point made, but worse, also categorises the North as one whole area.

So, the Executive in the dysfunctional fashion only it can get away with, has completely overlooked any opportunity arising from the catastrophe that is Brexit, to facilitate growth in the North West – and look at the timescales, both the SDLP and SF were in the Executive at this time.

Earlier in this article I spoke about party political claims that next week’s poll is not an election about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and how it is one that aims to straighten out the terms of governance if, and it is a big ‘if’, if there is a return to Stormont. In fact it is an election that is more than ever about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, not just within the UK, but within Europe as well, simply because any new Executive must face the issue of Brexit head on.

Given, as shown above they haven’t even discussed these matters with the UK Government, this may be something worth remembering when you mark your ballot paper next Thursday.

DERRYS SPENDING NEGLECT LAID BARE

Tonight, given there’s an election in the making, I wanted to focus on my own patch – Derry.  This piece might be a bit technical in nature, and for that I apologise, but nonetheless the contents of it need to be said, for it is something that needs to be put in front of the noses of those parties who sit, and have sat, at the Executive in Stormont for the last decade.

Stormont gets its funding from three sources – the much-maligned ‘block grant’ of about £10bn per year from Westminster, the Regional Rate, which is part of domestic and non-domestic rates we pay, and the third, little known about, Reinvestment and Reform Initiative, hereafter referred to lovingly as the RRI.

Thew RRI is effectively a loan from the UK Treasury specifically for use in infrastructure projects; roads, hospitals etc.  It was created in 2003-4 to help modernize public services.  The Executive borrow from the Government to build infrastructure, seems fairly transparent.  If only.

The RRI allowed us to borrow £125 million in 2003-04 and, from 2014-15, a longer term borrowing facility initially capped a £200 million per year.  Bear in mind that the DUP, UUP and SF have all held, or hold, infrastructure portfolio or finance portfolio in the Executive in the last ten years.  SDLP held the DSD portfolio a number of times and Alliance held the Justice portfolio.  All sat at the Executive table.

Now that I’ve set the scene, the rest of the piece will be broken down into two sections – the ruin of the RRI, and what was actually spent, where.

Wrecked for political convenience

At this point I should remind you that the RRI is a loan mechanism, we pay it back every year to the UK Government – in 2012-13 we had to pay back about £100m per year, so it is something we all pay for – and it is there for infrastructure.

Here’s what is actually happening.

The Stormont House Agreement and Fresh Start Implementation Plan provided flexibility for the Executive to use £700 million of capital borrowing to fund a public sector voluntary exit scheme over a four year period, with £200 million in 2015-16, £200 million in 2016-17, £200 million in 2016-17 and £100 million in 2018-19.

The ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement also provided an additional £350 million of borrowing for infrastructure projects with a profile over four years with £100 million in 2015-16, £100 million in 2016-17, £100 million in 2017-18 and £50 million in 2018-19.

So, in essence, we have borrowed money earmarked for infrastructure in order to make people redundant – and added to that debt by asking for more loans to build the projects the loans were supposed to be for in the first place.

As part of this, I asked the Department of Finance to outline when, in the last five years, RRI money had been used to fund anything other than what it was intended for.  Here is their response.

“In 2010-11 RRI borrowing of £36.9 million was used to fund the costs of an NICS Equal Pay claim.

The Stormont House Agreement and Fresh Start Implementation Plan provide flexibility for the Executive to use £700 million of capital borrowing to fund a public sector voluntary exit scheme. In 2015-16 additional borrowing of £183.5 million was undertaken to make funding available for the voluntary exit scheme. The figures for 2016-17 will not be finalised until after the end of the financial year.”

So, more borrowing for a redundancy scheme.

Finally, I asked the Department of Finance a bit of an awkward question to allay any doubts, and deny any politicos out there the opportunity to spin the story.  If any reallocations of funds from the RRI have to be signed off by the First and Deputy First Minister.  Their response?

The use of RRI borrowing for non-capital purposes would be a matter for the Executive and may only be done with Treasury approval.

So now, for Derry’s share.  For the avoidance of doubt, I asked for a list of all projects across NI funded by the RRI, and some of them just don’t fit into constituencies, so any projects that have had any benefit to the City I have included, such as the Derry-Dungiven road, and North West Regional College funding although there is no proof that this was spent in Derry, but could have been spent in other campuses.

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5.42% of all infrastructure spending in the North since just 2011-12 has been spent for the direct benefit of the City.

I thought putting this in a small chart might help solidify it in your mind.

untitledThe blue, all of RRI spending in NI, with the red, that money spent in Derry.

Let’s get down to brass tacks.

What did Derry get?

In 2011-12, 16 projects were approved at a cost of £375 million.  Of these, 1 was primarily Derry-based, Gransha Mental Health unit, which received £6.9 million.

In 2012-13, 15 projects were approved at a cost of £151.8 million.  Of these, 3 were identified as being in, or of benefit to Derry – Gransha Mental Health Unit, A5 to Strabane and the Coleraine-Derry rail line, though this is mostly outside of the City.  In total, these three projects attracted £32.6 million.

In 2013-14, 13 projects were approved at a cost of £195.9 million.  Of these, 2 were Derry-based or of benefit to us.  Altnagelvin Redevelopment and the Coleraine-Derry line which both totalled £3.3 million.

In 2014-15, a massive 27 projects were approved at a combined cost of £259 million.  Of these, 2 were Derry based, or of benefit – Altnagelvin Redevelopment and the A5 Western Transport Corridor.  They totalled £11.35 million.

In 2015-16, 21 projects were approved at a total of £295 million.  Of these, only one was Derry based, Altnagelvin Redevelopment costing £4.5 million.

In 2016-17, a whopping 34 projects were approved at a cost of £136.3 million.  Of these, Derry had four projects – Altnagelvin Redevelopment, the A6 Derry-Dungiven, Coleraine-Derry line refurbishments and funding allocated to North West Regional College – although as aforementioned it is possible none of this specific funding was spent in Derry.  All of these cost £18 million.

Out of a possible £1.4 billion pounds of spending, Derry attracted £60.2 million.  

ALL major political parties, who are all running candidates in Foyle, were in the Executive during this time, indeed the Deputy First Minister and Environment Minister were from this City.

When the parties knock your door, perhaps you’ll ask them why 5.24% is good enough for Derry?

 

 

 

DERRY DETOX: ADDING INSULT TO INJURY

EDIT: We have been told by the Western Trust that the Omagh Addiction Treatment Unit closed for a refurb on 3 July 2015.

Readers in the North West will remember reading our very popular piece on how the campaign for a detoxification unit in Derry was betrayed by a range of political parties, health trusts, and their own council – you can read it again here.

The whole process to reconfigure the services into a ‘regional network’ started with a consultation that ended in January 2014.  As part of this, four centres would cater to all of NI and an existing centre would have 8 beds to serve the Western Trust.

In October 2015, Chair of the Stormont Health Committee was informed by the Western Trust that the new service would be operational by January 2016. (Source).

However, to add insult to injury for the people of the North’s second largest City, BtP can reveal today that the Omagh unit has been totally closed for some time – meaning the Western Trust has had no 24/7 inpatient detox services at all.

We asked the Western Trust to give us information about how many patients the Omagh centre had seen since the reconfiguration of the service took place, broken down by month.

In an astonishing reply, the Trust told us:

“We have been advised by the Trust’s Directorate of Adult Mental Health Services that unfortunately due to the refurbishment requirement in the former facility, the detoxification unit is not currently operational.”

In a piece in the Ulster Herald in April 2015, a local Omagh Councillor was told that the service would be up and running from June 2015. (Source)  In it, the Councillor informed the paper that correspondence from the Department of Health stated that:

“The intention being to have the Omagh ATU operating in its enhanced role from June 2015, subject to recruitment and training.”

We asked the Trust when the service closed for refurbishment, but have not had any reply as yet.  The Trust did inform us that the work was due to finish at the end of March – but the question remains – how could the Western area be left with no provision at all for any period of time given the need and demand of a proper service from the people of the North West?  It is now over two years since the consultation ended for the new service.

DERRY DETOX: BETRAYED?

In the last two years our readers in Derry will have been all too aware of the debate about the provision of detoxification services in the City.  Today, BtP can reveal who or what organisations supported a Derry detox centre when the official consultation was released in 2013.  The results may surprise you.

The Health and Social Care Board issued a consultation in September 2013 about the configuration of in-patient (or Tier 4) addiction treatment services.  At the time, there were a total of 42 beds available to cater for both in-patient addiction services, and rehabilitation.

Antrim housed a 7-day 10 bed service for detox and stabilization

Downpatrick housed a 7-day 14 bed service for detox/stabilisation and rehabilitation

Armagh had a 5-day service with 10 beds for detox/stabilisation

and Omagh had 5 beds for rehabilitation on a 5-day basis

The Board had proposed as part of its plan for the future of these services:

“Future Trust Tier 4 provision should be based upon a total of 24 beds regionally reflecting existing levels of HSC detoxification / stabilisation provision. To provide reasonable geographical access, these beds should be provided across two sites. This would include limited provision for rehabilitation for physically or mentally vulnerable patients.”

As far as responses go, the Board received responses from the following during the consultation period:

HSC Trusts = 5      Primary care = 1

Political representatives = 5

District Council Officers = 4

Service User Network Groups = 4

Individuals = 7     Voluntary / Other = 12

Responses

Our readers will not be surprised to learn that the consultation received a number of responses calling for the service in Omagh to be secured.

These include:

West Tyrone SDLP    West Tyrone Sinn Fein

An unnamed W Tyrone MLA (party not stated) and an unnamed W Tyrone Sinn Fein MLA

Western Health and Social Care Trust and UNISON

One political representative’s response sought for the City to have a dedicated detox facility:

A Derry SDLP MLA – former MLA Pat Ramsey (we have verified this from an old press release)

There are a number of other responses from groups and unnamed individuals with differing view points – however, all of these responses, except one (the response from Pat Ramsey) have supported the call for the service in the West to remain in Omagh, and have not made any specific mention of the siting of a service in Derry/Londonderry.  There was no response from Derry City Council.

Given the intense and public campaign to have a detoxification provision in the City, it is interesting to note that only one elected representative responded, and that the Western Trust itself did not seek to have a facility in the City.

We also asked the Board for ‘all documentation and correspondence from Derry City Council, Derry City and Strabane District Council (new Supercouncil) or any individual members of either of these institutions to the HSCB in relation to the provision of a detoxification facility in the North West in the last 18 months. (covers all of the consultation period and a year after)

Sadly, the response was that there was no record of any contact.

NI EXEC DROPPING SUBREGIONAL GROWTH PRIORITY

The issue of how to ensure economic growth right across Northern Ireland – sub-regional growth – has been a hot topic for many years, particularly in the West, where the economy has lagged behind Belfast and its surrounds in terms of growth, and crucially, jobs.

The 2011-2015 NI Executive’s Programme for Government pledges to ‘address regional imbalance (in the economy) as we move ahead’.  It also follows an announcement that a ministerial subcommittee to ‘rebalance the regional economy’ was to be set up including the Derry-based Deputy First Minister and Environment Minister.

Now however, BtP can reveal that ‘sub-regional growth’ is to be shelved as a priority for the next Executive Programme for Government, a massive blow to places like Derry, Omagh and Fermanagh.

The Economic Advisory Group which advises the ETI Minister on the economy has written to the Finance Minister, soon to be First Minister Arlene Foster, to rubbish the principle of including sub-regional growth.

Writing in March 2014, the chair of the EAG, Kate Barker tells the Minister;

“Members recognised the desire for economic growth to be spread across Northern Ireland and the pressures which often come from individuals and lobby groups for economic activity to be specifically directed to certain areas. However, we were unconvinced that a specific sub problem has been properly identified and articulated.

We would advise that, prior to any specific policy initiatives being promoted, there should be a detailed analysis and understanding of the particular issues at hand in any particular sub region.

Members also expressed the view that Northern Ireland is not a large area, and hubs of employment, such as Belfast and Londonderry draw in workers from a wide catchment area. Consequently the concentration of enterprises does not capture in any meaningful way the concentration of employment which will be much more widely dispersed. This is not dissimilar to other city regions within the UK, e.g. Manchester in the north west of England, in which a central hub acts as an economic driver for the whole of the local region. It is our view that this is remains the best model for Northern Ireland and generic interventions at a sub regional level may well result in an inefficient and sub-optimal allocation of resources.” (emphasis added)

Worrying for those campaigning for regional economic parity will be particularly furious at the final sentence in the correspondence; ‘In summary, we would suggest that promoting sub regions within Northern Ireland should not be considered a high priority for economic policy at this time.’

In composing the next Programme for Government, the Executive parties, particularly those with strong representation in the West of NI will come under increasing pressure to ignore this advice and deliver on economic prosperity for the whole of the province.

As we know, if it’s not in the Programme for Government, it can be talked around but not delivered..

‘City Deal’ for North West going nowhere

BTP has received information from both the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment that suggests a ‘City Deal’ for the North West is not a priority for the NI Executive.

City Deals were launched by the then coalition Government in December 2011 to give cities more autononomy on issues such as local revenue raising, in exchange for more accountability locally.  Wave 1 of City Deals included ‘Core Cities’ outside London and gave them powers to enhance local resources for economic decelopment.  Wave 2 of the initiative saw cities applying for the status of a City Deal by outlining their response to a serious local economic problem with the powers they would be granted.

In March of 2014, a surprise announcement from the Chancellor created NI’s first Enterprise Zone – in Coleraine.  As part of Budget 2015, the Chancellor announced that a City Deal on infrastructure worth £1bn for Cardiff was being negotiated- therefore the policy is very much alive.

In a response from OFMDFM on 30 September, it was revealed that no correspondence has been sent by or received by the Department on the issue, that briefings on the issue for the Minister was ‘not held’ and any minutes of meetings on the topic by the Department were ‘not held’ – suggesting that there are no briefings and there have been no meetings.

A further FOI response from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment included a briefing to the Minister on the issue prior to a meeting with Foyle elected representatives and includes as part of it a section entitled ‘lines to take on City deals’.  one line in this section states “it is not apparent thatthere would be any benefit in the City Deals initiative being extended to Northern.”. This raises questions, given in the same FOI response, the Minister is informed that “the December 2014 Stormont Castle Agreement states that ‘the Executive Party Leaders would wish to develop options with the Treasury on the lines of city deals and growth cities as well as further Enterprise Zones.'”

Given the economic disparity between the East and West of the region, and campaigns from political parties calling for a City Deal for Derry/Londonderry, it is concerning that the Executive have not yet prioritised this issue.