Belfast Telegraph

Invest NI denies fresh claims it's neglecting west of Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

Invest NI promoted more than 13,000 jobs in the last year - but is facing claims it's failing the west of the province.

The economic development quango helped secure £1.3bn worth of investment across Northern Ireland. Yet 40% of jobs and a third of investment were in the Belfast area.

By contrast, Northern Ireland's most westerly region - which has endured decades of under-investment - saw a fraction of that.

The Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area secured 429 jobs - just 3.2% of the overall total - and £25m investment.

It has fuelled fresh calls for action to redress the imbalance.

Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA Phil Flanagan, deputy chair of the Assembly's enterprise, trade and investment committee, said the figures reflected a worrying picture of a jobs crisis.

"Despite making up more than 6% of the north's population, the Fermanagh and Omagh area attracted just over 3% of the jobs promoted by Invest NI," he said.

"This is a shameful performance, particularly when one considers that the Belfast council area attracted more than 40% of all jobs with around 18% of the total population."

However, Invest NI said any claim that its focus was centred on Belfast was a misrepresentation.

Details of its regional performance for 2014/15 are published today. Across Northern Ireland the agency promoted 13,283 jobs and secured some £1,342 million worth of investment.

But a geographical analysis of the figures, broken down by new council areas, reveals striking disparities.

The Belfast area saw seven times as much investment secured as Derry City and Strabane, traditionally an unemployment blackspot.

The north west also lagged behind in jobs promotion.

Foyle SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood said there had been decades of underinvestment in the area.

"Derry has a lot to offer but we've been left behind by Government policies," he said.

"We see a focus on Belfast to the detriment of everywhere else.

"The areas of most need are the areas of least focus, when it should be the other way around.

"Invest NI has a big part to play in that and it needs to be far more focused in attracting jobs outside the greater Belfast area."

Despite its vast geographical area, Fermanagh and Omagh had one of the poorest records of investment and jobs promotion.

Mr Flanagan referred to figures showing 2,000 people are relocating from Fermanagh every year.

"Many of these people are leaving as a result of the complete absence of any employment prospects for our young people, most of whom are highly-skilled and highly-educated," he added.

"The failure of Invest NI and the former (Enterprise) minister Arlene Foster to tackle the growing issue of regional imbalance, particularly in areas like Fermanagh, is causing serious societal problems and this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgent priority by the new DETI Minister Jonathan Bell."

Invest NI pointed out that more than two-thirds of firms it supported were outside Belfast.

Oonagh Hinds from Invest NI said: "There is a frequent misperception that job creation is focused in Belfast.

"Yet last year 73% of the 9,410 jobs created with our support were within businesses located outside Belfast.

"In addition to our direct support to businesses, we work in partnership with stakeholders to support activities that will help drive economic development in the regions."

Belfast Telegraph


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