£105m for north west announced ahead of NI party talks
Pot includes £50m city deal and £55m in social funding
The UK Government has announced a £105m economic package for the north west as leaders of Northern Ireland's main political parties prepare to meet for a fresh round of talks at Stormont.
Some £50m will be injected into a new city deal for the Derry City and Strabane district, geared at investing in innovation, infrastructure and regeneration.
A £55m 'Inclusive Future Fund' will support opportunities for young people and tackle long-term social deprivation.
It comes two weeks on from Fr Martin Magill's impassioned homily during the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee, when he called on political leaders to work together to deliver jobs and education to young people in deprived areas, including Londonderry.
Secretary of State Karen Bradley said the £55m fund “recognises the unique circumstances” faced by the north west.
“It will help create new opportunities for the whole of the community, especially for young people,” she said.
With a new round of talks set to begin today, the announcement appears to offer a major incentive for the DUP and Sinn Fein to unlock the two-year political stalemate.
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The Government has said a fully-functioning devolved government will need to be in place “to ensure a successfully integrated programme of investment for the north west”.
It said the Inclusive Future Fund could support young people in the north west through providing jobs and opportunities; help tackle the causes and consequences of long-term social deprivation and support the Ulster University’s Magee campus, by making the area more accessible and attractive to live, visit, study and invest.
The £50m city deal package will help set up a Centre for Industrial Digitisation, Robotics and Automation in Derry, along with funding for a series of ‘smart city’ programmes. Smart city projects are generally geared toward establishing digital infrastructure in urban areas.
“This £105m investment package is a major boost to the economic potential of the region and will help strengthen the foundations for greater prosperity and a stronger, more united society,” said Ms Bradley.”
Meanwhile, business leaders in Northern Ireland have urged political leaders to restore the institutions to address outstanding infrastructure projects and economic policies.
Aodhan Connolly, of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: “We are already playing catch up on business rates reform where our businesses pay 12p in the pound more than the UK average. The Apprenticeship Levy has become simply another tax and it is simply tragic and unforgivable that we have no Assembly committees to give scrutiny to Brexit proposals and the affect on our economy and communities.”
Gordon Best, of the Mineral Products Association, said if there is a breakthrough at Stormont and on Brexit, confidence will be restored to the business community.
“It will also unlock the millions of pounds of delayed investment decisions that have been put on hold as a result of the political vacuum and Brexit,” he said.
Stephen Kelly, of Manufacturing NI, said political decision making is needed for major roads projects, schools and stadia. He also described Northern Ireland’s energy policy as outdated and increasingly irrelevant.
“Of particular concern is a lack of scrutiny for major changes in the energy market at a time where power prices are now back to the second most expensive in Europe,” he added.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said: “We need to see real leadership by our local political parties and an end to the blame game. 2019 cannot be yet another year with no government, no political progress and economic stagnation.”