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MLAs scrap US trip after costs outcry

By Noel McAdam

Assembly Members have decided against a controversial fact-finding trip to California in the face of public disquiet.

Stormont’s employment and learning committee concluded the timing for any visit is wrong — since DEL itself will not exist in a few months.

But committee chairman Basil McCrea said he hoped the venture could still go ahead at some point in the future.

An outcry was sparked after Belfast Telegraph revelations that the committee was considering the trip to San Diego despite the deepening impact of public spending cuts.

The committee wants to examine whether the model of the eastern seaboard city — which has been transformed over recent decades into a hugely successful knowledge economy having once been dubbed America’s “bust city” — could be adapted for Northern Ireland.

Senior personnel from a team called San Diego Connect gave a presentation at the Science and Technology Park in Belfast to outline how their area dealt with a similar skills deficit affecting the province.

Now, after several months of research and taking evidence, the 11-strong committee unanimously came out against the proposal.

The DUP’s David McIlveen said: “The unanimous mind of the Members was that the trip would be unwise at the present time, and the timing given the imminent destruction of DEL is probably very inappropriate.”

Ulster Unionist Mr McCrea said, however: “The hope is this has just been put off and will be looked at again.

“Most of the Members felt it was a viable option to go and look at this but it would not be right to go in the current climate.”

Story so far

MLAs have been examining whether Northern Ireland’s economy could benefit from the experience of San Diego in California. Once hit by the loss of some 100,000 and dubbed the USA’s “bust city”, the city turned its fortunes around over 15-20 years into a hugely successful knowledge economy.

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