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28 Nov 2021

Durkan: Ringfencing skills all well and good but DUP record poor on tackling regional imbalance in Derry and North West

Mark H Durkan

Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan: "A ring-fenced skill fund must focus on making our home an attractive place to live and work"

Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has hit out at a DUP motion to establish a ring-fenced skill fund for the North of Ireland.

While agreeing with the sentiment of the proposal and calling for a focus on green transition, Mr Durkan pointed at the failures of successive DUP Economy Ministers to meaningful tackle the regional imbalance in the North West.

The SDLP Social Justice spokesperson insisted that Derry and the North West not only needed “ an injection of cash but of people” as well.

He said: “Recovery from the COVID pandemic will shape and inform all policy in the time ahead as will the impact of Climate Change. Both will have and have had a profound effect on the local economy and how we do business here.

“The ring-fencing of funds towards the investment in our workforce, its skills and the economy of the future is a necessity and offers a chance to make green recovery our primary focus.

“The North could be a global leader in terms of renewable energies, work here has already shown others what can be achieved.

“Any future skills strategy must invest in educating for the jobs of the future and special focus must be placed on incentivising and equipping small businesses to seize the opportunities presented by the green transition.

“However, to turn to the key issue of regional imbalance, I lament that the DUP motion omits this crucial narrative.

“Yet it’s more than just a tired narrative - the historic economic neglect in the North West perpetrated by over a decade of DUP/Sinn Féin leadership is proven and recognised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“Sustainable job creation and substantial investment to tackle regional inequalities must form a core part of any ring-fenced skills fund as well as any further economic policy.

“Derry has not only suffered decades of underinvestment but the piecemeal approach to University provision beggars belief.

“That former Economy Minister, Diane Dodds should express her disappointment at 850 undergraduate places being moved from Belfast to Derry’s Magee campus instead of Coleraine earlier this year, after six decades of fighting for investment confirms what we already knew.

“Regional imbalance has been a political choice. I will continue to raise my voice and advocate for my constituents to ensure Derry gets it fair share.

“As an area of high deprivation with among the highest unemployment levels across the UK, the removal of the Universal Credit uplift and end of furlough will see further pressure placed on the North West.

“It has long been stated that coming out of unemployment reinstates a sense of pride and a sense of purpose – it’s high time Derry was given some of that pride back.

“But that can’t happen in a vacuum. In order to tackle long-term unemployment and the challenges posed by a post-Covid society, there needs to be a cross-departmental framework to strengthen the governance of skills policies.

“The North needs not just an injection of cash but of people. A ring-fenced skill fund must focus on making our home an attractive place to live and work. It must strengthen support for businesses and employ a whole system approach.

“We’re not dealing with a lack of vision here but one of political willingness. We’ve been given an opportunity to build back better and that means doing things differently.”

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