The SDLP has launched its four principles for rebuilding Derry’s economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The principles, developed by SDLP economy spokesperson Sinéad McLaughlin and finance spokesperson Matthew O’Toole, prioritise policies that will underpin long-term economic recovery in Derry and the North West.
The COVID-19 pandemic has particularly compromised sectors that are disproportionally important in Derry - tourism, hospitality, retail and the health economy - while also coming at a dangerous time for our society and economy because of Brexit and the uncertain implementation of the Ireland protocol. Yet there has been worryingly little in the way of long-term thinking from either the Executive or the two largest parties. As we begin to cautiously emerge from economic lockdown, a forward-thinking conversation on a sustainable recovery, including genuine prioritisation and critical thinking, has never been more urgent. The SDLP’s new four principles aim to guide thinking on both well-rehearsed structural problems and also new post-COVID, post-Brexit challenges facing our economy.
The four principles call for:
- A New Deal for Young People, recognising that COVID will have a disproportionate impact on the younger generation, as well as risking the worsening of existing generational and class divisions. We want to expand our higher education sector, while attracting back the young people Derry has lost. We want new apprenticeships and training schemes, allied to the delivery of the Green New Deal to bring houses and other buildings up to 21st Century standards that reduce carbon emissions.
- A New Localism, reflecting the desire to use this opportunity to change the places we live and work, showing loyalty to the retailers, other local businesses and workers that helped us survive the lockdown, while strengthening our local health services sector. We must expand the provision of affordable childcare in the city and region, helping to address gender inequality.
- A New Connectivity, to focus on how we connect people to economic opportunity in the post-COVID, post-Brexit world, ensuring that no one is forgotten or left out. This includes high speed, reliable, internet for the whole region, including rural areas, an upgraded and expanded rail network, more bike lanes and new greenways.
- New Powers to Transform Northern Ireland, giving devolved institutions new powers to address serious structural issues facing the local economy, while addressing regional inequalities within the North.
Sinéad McLaughlin, SDLP Economy Spokesperson and MLA for Foyle, said: “The SDLP has always been the party willing to bring forward exciting new policies, capable of taking our society forward. We want to see progress and development, creating more jobs that lead to a more productive, higher skilled and more satisfied society, geared towards social justice and a sustainable economy. This package of policies would produce exactly this.
“We also want to build a healthier society and the health sciences are an important base for the future of Derry’s economy, using the Magee Medical School as a platform for expanding healthcare provision and research. We want Derry to be a major centre for the use of data analytics to understand how to provide a more personalised health service, as well hopefully producing a local pharmaceutical sector. A health services cluster could be transformative for Derry.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood added: “I am proud of the work of my party colleagues in bringing forward practical proposals to improve the economy of Northern Ireland and also, specifically, that of Derry and the North West. We want Derry to be a proud city, where people want to live and which can attract back the many thousands of young people who left for education or better jobs. They deserve to have that opportunity in their home city and their families deserve to be reunited. We want to reverse the brain drain that has blighted Derry for far too long.
“The SDLP has always been a practical party, focused on building a better society. That is not possible without an economy that works for the whole population, not matter what their background. Tragically, we have not had that economy in Derry in the past. The adoption of these policies would help to achieve it for the future. It would be the way to transform Derry into an economically successful regional capital.”
SDLP Foyle MLA and the party’s social justice spokesperson Mark H Durkan commented: “These economic principles help to guide the SDLP’s approach on how to develop the city and regional economy. We place social justice at the heart of everything we do, so it is right that we push for a new round of social housing construction and the implementation of the Green New Deal, which would lead to big cuts in home heating costs, as well as reductions in carbon emissions and the negative impact on our climate.”