“We have come from plantation to peace — and now what?” — that was the question posed by the new North West business leader at the Chamber’s AGM last week.
Jim Sammon joined the ranks of a host of high profile business champions who have led the Chamber of Commerce movement in the NW.
As incoming president, Jim laid out his key priorities for his two year term of office. And it was clear that whilst Derry is the regional capital city, and therefore its Chamber a regional leader, that the new president sees the future in the wider regional approach.
Strabane Chamber president, Joe Barbour was applauded by Mr Sammon for the great work he is doing in working in partnership.
Key issues raised by the new President were identified as the need to close the jobs gap in the region, and the need for government to allocate a fair share of the Northern Ireland public purse to the NW. Critical to the regions success he felt would be significant growth in student numbers at the city’s university campus.
The Chamber president was clear in his message to government in relation to the NW, “We demand a fair share of Northern Ireland capital and revenue budgets; we will be calling for appropriate governance structures and holding our politicians accountable for setting and directing a programme for government which meets the needs of our people.
This new president’s message strongly mirrors a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study which concluded that the two new western councils — Derry/Strabane and Fermanagh/Omagh — will inherit a substantial economic and social deficit. The report, ‘Job Creation in the Western Economic Corridor’, says that, despite the Executive’s commitment to economic and social development, radical measures will be needed to regenerate the west of Northern Ireland, if the Executive wants to close its economic, social and jobs-gap with the Belfast Metropolitan Area.
The report suggests that the challenges for the new Strabane/Derry council include, a young population growing faster than jobs are being created in the region; relatively high levels of educational attainment, but with many of the best-educated leaving the region; high levels of unemployment and economic inactivity; poor infrastructure with improvements slower than required.
These challenges contribute to low value added employment, lower wages and a historic dependence on declining sectors and on the public sector.
As a result the GVA per capita in the two new western councils was about £12,656, less than 82% of the Northern Ireland average.
The report goes on to propose a number of interventions that could make a real difference to closing the gaps.
- A major infrastructure programme, including high-speed road and public transport links, to accelerate and develop Belfast — Derry and Derry — Dublin economic corridors.
- The promotion of Derry as a ‘university city’ through a significant increase in intake into the University of Ulster.
- Sponsoring local economic charters to encourage economically inactive persons back into the labour market; and
- A specifically-developed and coordinated strategy to attract new private sector investment.
“What part will this Chamber play in all of this?” asked the new Chamber president.
“The Programme for Government 2008 and the NW Regional Development Strategy 2001 both talk about balanced economic growth but are short on the specifics of how this will be achieved. “It is our job to make sure that Government do their job in getting jobs for our Region. We are not looking for handouts — we are looking to contribute and benefit from balanced economic development.”
Jim also said: “Our job is to accelerate economic growth in our city and its region. We will work together: Promote ‘Team Derry’— city council, Ilex and government departments; university, schools and colleges; health and sports; arts, culture and tourism; communities and individuals; businesses and trade unions.
“We all need to work together to achieve the social and economic development of Derry and its region.”
Janice Tracey is chief executive of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce