Invest NI has been taken to task for its lack of investment and job creation in Derry over the past decade.
In recent times, nationalist representatives in the city have been vocal in their condemnation of the agency’s performance.
Invest NI (INI) was established in 2002.
It is a non-departmental public body of the Department for the Economy (DfE) tasked with selling different parts of the country to inward investors.
The most recent figures revealed by Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson show that from January to September 2020 INI announced 1,176 jobs in Belfast and just 29 in Foyle.
In East Derry the creation of an additional 179 jobs were made public.
The latest figures provoked a strong reaction from local MLAs and councillors.
Martin Anderson said they demonstrate INI's 'abysmal failure' to create jobs in the NW adding that it ‘needs to get serious’ about delivering investment and jobs in Derry. While SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell described the figures as ‘dismal’ reading.
Deputy Chair of the Economy Committee, Sinead McLaughlin, has repeatedly challenged INI’s record and called for sub-regional targets to be set.
While calling for a strategy to address regional inequalities at recent economy committee meetings DUP MLA Christopher Stalford accused members of pitting one area against another.
Records show that from 2011/12 – 2017/18 Invest NI created 10,417 jobs in his constituency of South Belfast and 20,766 across the capital city.
Over the same period 3,192 jobs were created in Foyle with INI support - combining East Derry 4,685 in total.
Seven constituencies got more jobs than Foyle in that seven year stretch, thanks to INI support, despite Derry being the second city in NI.
Looking closer at ‘new jobs’ created as a result of direct foreign investment from 2017/18 to 2019/20, there were 2,405 in Belfast and 284 in Foyle.
Another statistic which drew the ire of local businessman Brendan Duddy was that of visits with potential investors in 2018/19.
Investors were welcomed to Belfast on 278 occasions and to Derry just 6 times.
Derry is a city which scores poorly in a range of deprivation measures.
The council area accounts for five of the top ten most deprived areas in the country in a list totalling 890.
Derry City and Strabane has the highest proportion of households suffering from income and employment deprivation
The latest official job statistics published in Northern Ireland’s Labour Market Report show the claimant count in Derry and Strabane is 7.1% of working age adults, the highest rate of anywhere in Northern Ireland.
The next highest rate is Belfast at 6.4% and the Northern Ireland average is 5.1%.
In a Price Waterhouse Cooper report published last year which examined the creation of jobs and environmental improvements Derry saw the ‘biggest growth’.
However, it still ranks 11th out of a list of 11 devolved cities across the UK as it has done for years.
Adding to a growing list of dissenting voices, prominent Derry businessman Garvan O’Doherty (above), says ‘the numbers don’t lie’ and it is ‘disgraceful what’s happening’.
“People in this city know we are not getting a fair crack of the whip. The numbers tell the story.
“We’re not being treated fairly. We’ve been waiting 50 years for a university and they move Jordanstown into Belfast and have a £150m over-run.
“When are we going to stop getting ourselves slapped in the face, this is crazy,” he continued.
“We have to look towards doing it ourselves because we now know that Belfast isn’t doing it for us.
“And numbers throughout the years have demonstrated quite clearly we’ve been shafted.
“The answer is in the numbers and they do not make for pleasant reading, but we keep letting them get away with it, and that is a crime.”
Chair of the Economy Committee, Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald, recently wrote an article in which she said INI is in need of ‘fundamental reform’.
With a £100m budget and 600 staff it should be at the forefront of protecting businesses and jobs post-Covid.
However, at the height of the pandemic, she said, INI failed to spend £16m of an additional £40m it had been allocated to support businesses experiencing hardship.
Ms Archibald also criticised the agency for overlooking social enterprise.
That issue dates back to its creation when it merged with Industrial Development Board (IDB) which had a remit for large companies and the Local Enterprise Development Unit (LEDU) which grew small firms.
INI has chosen to focus on large companies and consultants, the Sinn Féin MLA said, and is less interested in those outside the ‘golden circle’.
That view is reflected on the ground.
Founder and Development Executive at Creggan Enterprises Conal McFeely (above) has run a successful not-for-profit social enterprise, Rath Mor Centre, since 1995.
He said INI has ‘no strategy’ for the social economy and its record in marginalised communities is ‘non-existent’.
“Rebuilding communities such as Creggan will not be developed through inward investment projects or direct foreign investment.
“Those companies are not interested in locating in marginalised communities where unemployment is most pronounced.
“Therefore, areas with the highest levels of economic inactivity, long-term unemployment and youth unemployment are not part of the Invest NI agenda.”
He added: “The focus of their activity is to support companies that have the capacity to export and to grow into international markets.
“Undoubtedly, in the facts, this is not just a recent phenomenon but their focus tends to be on east of the Bann in terms of job creation.
“My focus is on how we grow a mixed and balanced economy.
“Inward investment on its own will not ensure equality of opportunity in communities where the infrastructure has been weakened due to the fickle nature of big businesses which tend to come and go, leaving in their wake economic devastation.”
When put under pressure by local councillors last year Invest NI Directors accepted that it is important to look at promoting the 'uniqueness' of each area.
They also conceded that there is a need for 'renewed focus' on the North West but one director insisted, ‘it is hard enough promoting NI let alone the North West'.
Amongst a series of questions, the Derry News asked INI whether it has implemented any policy changes moving forward to ensure that investment is distributed fairly throughout the country, targeting areas that are suffering from deprivation such as Derry and Strabane.
A spokesperson for INI argued that the latest figures on announced jobs are not the same as jobs supported or created and is not reflective of the support provided to businesses throughout the council area.
She added that INI is unable to release the number of jobs it has supported or helped create in 2020 as this information is not yet available.
“In 2019 our support helped to create almost 600 jobs in the Derry City & Strabane District Council area.
“We also offered over £16m to support the growth of businesses which secured a total investment of £99m.
“Recent investments in Derry City & Strabane District Council area include 70 jobs being created by Metacompliance in a £4.5m investment, a new software development centre in the city by ROI technology firm Deveire, and a new manufacturing facility by Gallagher and McKinney.”
The spokesperson concluded: “Helping businesses to create jobs is only one element of the support we provide which ranges from expert advice and guidance to a wide portfolio of financial support towards productivity improvement, skills development, strategic planning, job creation, Research & Development, technical capability and exporting.”
DUP MLA for Foyle Gary Middleton was asked for comment in relation to Invest NI's performance but nothing was provided.
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