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.”
“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?