City Deal – Derry’s current position uncovered

In recent times, we have all been exposed to the words ‘City Deal’ from the SDLP in Derry, or by ‘Inclusive Growth Deal’ by Sinn Fein.  Both are the same things.  According to the UK Government, these mechanisms are an opportunity for cities and regions to tweak their economic profiles alongside government to suit their individual issues and ambitions.

“City Deals give local areas specific powers and freedoms to help the region support economic growth, create jobs or invest in local projects.”

The UK Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government have responsibility for working with local authorities to investigate the feasibility of these mechanisms, and in particular, the Cities and Local Growth Unit within the Department.

So, in true BtP style, I asked the Department a number of questions on 16th November 2017 in relation to who has been doing what on your behalf to achieve a positive result for the City.  We know of course that Belfast is also in the running for a City Deal, and as such the Derry ears prick up when we know we are in competition with the old foe. (Derry gets nahin etc)

So, this morning after months of to-ing and fro-ing with the Department given that a standard response to Freedom of Information requests takes up to 28 days and not seven months, I got a response.  It makes for alarming reading.

Firstly, lets review what I actually asked for.

(a) A copy of any minutes of meetings that may have taken place between the Cities and Local Growth Unit and;
(I) Northern Ireland MPs; (ii) Northern Ireland MLAs; (iii) Officials from any Northern Ireland local government institution; on the issue of City Deals or local growth plans
(b) a copy of any correspondence from any of the above groups, with specific reference to any Social Democratic and Labour Party elected representatives or elected representatives from Derry and Strabane District Council, or elected representatives of any party who represent the Foyle constituency either at Northern Ireland Assembly or UK Parliament level on city deals or local growth plans
(c) a copy of any correspondence from any Northern Ireland local government institutions on city deals or local growth plans since 2011.

Pretty clear. No room for manoeuvre there.  Which public representatives from 2011 until the response was issued, 11 May 2018 have actually done what they said they were.  All parties, all levels, Executive, Assembly and Council level.

Why did I specifically ask about the SDLP?  Because at that time, to their credit, they were pushing hard for a City Deal when I issued the request.  Since then, much has changed and we can see frequent press statements from newly elected SF MP for Foyle, Elisha McCallion.  The request as I’ve said, should cover that whole period.

The response was fairly comprehensive.  I should firstly say that it is true that some elected representatives have had meetings with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on a deal, plan, whatever you want to call it.  However, as outlined, DHCLG have authority for these issues.

Here is the first part of the response;

“The Cities and Local Growth Unit does not hold any correspondence from any of the named groups that make specific reference to Social Democratic and Labour Party elected representatives or elected representatives from Derry and Strabane District Council, or elected representatives of any party who represent the Foyle constituency either at Northern Ireland Assembly or UK Parliament level on city deals or local growth plans.”

Furthermore:

“I can confirm that the information requested is held by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and we are able to provide you with this information. All located correspondence sent to the Cities and Local Growth Unit from Northern Ireland local government institutions on city deals or local growth plans is attached.”

There you have it.  They do have information (redacted as usual) from local government institutions, that surely must be Derry and Strabane District Council and Belfast City Council (who are the lead partner for the group of Councils in the Greater Belfast Area working towards a deal for them).

There were 40 documents in the response pack.  Remember, I asked for minutes of meetings and correspondence from basically any interested local institution regarding a City Deal to the team directly responsible for their planning and implementation in the UK Government.

Of the forty documents, I was shocked to discover that none of these referred to, mentioned or came from Derry and Strabane District Council.  Not one.  They were all from Belfast City Council.  Emails, planning documents, strategies and communication internally on what they were doing on achieving a deal.  Nothing for Derry or Strabane.

So, no representatives individually at Council, Assembly or Westminster level who speak for Derry and Strabane contacted the Growth team in London, nor did our local council.

Prove it, I hear the panicked political parties say.  Well, no problem.  Below is a link to the full response.

http://jmp.sh/z6DfYM1 – zip file of the responses

http://jmp.sh/T9GSg4P – the written response

What is next?

 

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RATES: WERE YOU TOLD THE TRUTH?

A programme of local government reform completed in April 2015 reduced the number of councils from 26 to 11 in NI.  Following the May 2014 elections, the DUP and Sinn Fein emerged as the largest parties in 10 councils with the exception of Newry and Mourne District Council, where the SDLP and SF are in the majority with the same number of seats.

dup councilssdlp sf councilsf councils

Now we look at the promises made to the electorate during the 2014 European and Local Government election by each of the three respective parties.

On 6th May 2014 at the launch of the DUP Manifesto, then-DUP Leader Peter Robinson states:

“By voting DUP you will be sure we will keep your household taxes down.” Source here

The Sinn Fein manifesto states:

“We also feel that accessible housing with reasonable rent and rates should be available to everyone.” – Page 12, SF 2014 European and Local Government Manifesto (6CO). Source here.

The SDLP manifesto states:
“In the next mandate the SDLP will assist both the business and domestic ratepayer by ensuring council rates do not rise above inflation.” – Page 40, SDLP 2014 European and Local Government manifesto. Source here.

Those are some fairly clear commitments made by the parties that now run our local councils.

Now let’s put those promises to the test.  All local councils set their rates in mid-February.  According to the Treasury, the current rate of inflation is 1.3%, we have included this on the graph below as the orange line.

rates

As is clearly demonstrated, seven out of eleven councils have increased their district rate above inflation.  Belfast City Council froze their rates for the third year in a row, and Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council reduced their district rate from 2015 by almost half of a percent, the only to do so.

So, primarily, the DUP have broken their promise to keep household taxes down – three  councils under their control – Lisburn and Castlereagh, Causeway Coast and Glens, and Ard and North Down have all increased District rates above inflation.

The SDLP broke their promise to keep rates below inflation in Newry and Mourne District Council.

Sinn Fein increased rates above inflation in all of the councils they control except Belfast City Council, with the highest set in Mid Ulster District Council.

Is an election coming up?  You might want to mention it to your candidates.