Invest Northern Ireland offered Derry companies just £2.58m in the last financial year. The stark figures, in comparison to east Belfast which was offered £28.09 million, has prompted calls for immediate improvement.
And it comes in the week that Invest Northern Ireland meet with officers from Derry City Council and other public bodies to discuss future plans after the 'Go For It' programme - - the primary training support available for individuals wishing to move into self employment and start a business - was suspended in Derry after contracts with former supplier, North West Marketing, ceased.
SDLP Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood has said Invest NI is falling well short of the requirements and expectations of the people of Derry. Although acknowledging the 40 jobs announced by Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton, the Derry MLA said that the broader picture of Invest NI’s attraction of inward investment into the city still needed to be rapidly improved.
Mr Eastwood said: “The latest figures I have received from Invest NI, covering the 2010/11 financial year, show a massive discrepancy between the monetary assistance offered by Invest NI for the creation and maintenance of jobs in the North. The headline figure which will be a major concern to the people of this city shows that Derry companies were offered just £2.58 million in assistance. This amounted to just 2.4% of the total spend across the North.
“It is notable that East Belfast businesses were offered £28.09 million, 26.1% of the total funding, during the same financial period. Statistics are often accused of being misleading but I think it is fair to conclude that the stark contrast between these numbers must surely intimate an uncomfortable truth. Derry is not receiving anywhere near the monetary assistance it needs to attract inward investment or to grow its indigenous economy.
“Invest NI will undoubtedly put forward the case that the contrast between the monetary assistance offered is a result of the concentration of Foreign Direct Investment jobs within, for instance, the East Belfast constituency. In other words East Belfast is in receipt of greater financial assistance because the category and variety of job is very different from those located in Derry. This argument only acts, however, to further highlight the need to ensure that such FDI companies are incentivised to locate their operations in neglected regions such as the North West.
“I am, however, not naive enough to place the blame for these figures solely at the feet of Invest NI. To do so would be too simple and would miss the broader issue at stake. As I have highlighted over the last number of weeks, if the Executive fails to provide priority for Derry then it is unsurprising that agencies of departments follow suit. The fact that Derry’s regeneration was not even mentioned in the draft Programme for Government highlighted a worrying culture, a culture we had hoped would dissolve following the bedding down of the institutions at Stormont.
“The figures I have obtained would indicate that this dissolution is clearly not happening. In its absence it is right and proper that bodies such as Invest NI are challenged on specifics, and that the Executive’s priorities towards the North West are challenged generally.”
Invest Northern Ireland confirmed that the Go for it programme and the associated delivery contract with Enterprise Northern Ireland ended on 30 September 2011, which meant that from the same date North West Marketing have not been delivering the Go for it programme in Derry.
A spokesperson said that Invest NI issued an open tender competition to deliver the new Business Start Programme. This process is currently subject to legal challenge therefore Invest NI cannot comment on the future delivery partners until this challenge has been resolved. The spokesperson continued that to ensure the levels of business starts are not affected Invest Northern Ireland has put in place resources through its five Regional Offices to provide advice and support to individuals with an interest in establishing their own business. The spokesperson said that Invest NI is also providing support through the Go For It Helpline on 0800 027639, www.nibusinessifo.co.uk and the www.gofotirni.com websites .
In regard to the issue of contrasts in monies offered to Derry and elsewhere the spokesperson said: "Invest NI does not allocate budgets by geographic areas such as Parliamentary Constituencies and has limited scope to direct investment. Support for projects are demand-led and can only be considered where a company has brought forward a viable business plan. Invest NI is committed to working in partnership with local stakeholders to support and encourage investment in all regions."