Belfast Telegraph

Stormont could devolve powers for jobs and transport to Belfast City Council

By John Mulgrew

Powers over transport and employment programmes could be handed down from Stormont to Belfast City Council under new proposals which have been revealed.

The council commissioned think tank ResPublica to produce a preliminary report into areas which could be devolved.

It's part of what the council -which sits at Belfast City Hall - is proposing as a Belfast city-region 'deal'.

Those areas which the council could be given control over include transport, regeneration and employment. That could include major changes to the city's own bus network.

The issue is to be brought before the City Growth and Regeneration Committee tonight.

The report by ResPublica, which will be presented to the committee, outlines examples of other cities in the UK which have "agreed comprehensive devolution deals".

Those powers include urban regeneration, decentralised bus and trains and devolved freedoms to allow capital borrowing.

But larger cities, such as Manchester, are now also responsible for health and social care spending.

It's not clear how the early plans would be financed, but according to PwC's chief economist Esmond Birnie, Belfast could receive funding for its devolved matters from Stormont, in a similar vein to the Block Grant it gets from Westminster.

"Some of this is an attempt to apply to Belfast, what is a broader picture of decentralisation," he said.

"There is a certain logic in it. For example, at the moment, Northern Ireland has a transport strategy, but we don't have one for the greater Belfast area."

A report to the council says: "Following this, and subsequent to the Assembly elections, there will be a series of political briefings and community engagement to advocate and build support for a Belfast city-region deal and develop the detail required for a phased implementation.

"It is anticipated detailed discussions with the NI Executive will take place later in 2016, to identify opportunities to integrate the council's ambitions into the Programme for Government."

Plans were first raised in November last year, with the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee urging the council to "influence the development of the next Northern Ireland Executive Programme of Government" which would include "commissioning expert assistance to articulate the case for a Belfast city-region 'deal' or devolution package".

Mr Birnie said: "Those areas (mentioned) are some of the obvious ones. Given Northern Ireland as a whole is a small place, there is no point trying to do what we have in Stormont.

"But where issues have very much an application at spatial or geographical level, then I think there is logic in decentralisation."

He said there would have to be an agreement with Stormont covering funding and the devolution of powers.

Belfast Telegraph