Why the north west now needs its City Deal

Derry Guildhall

AS we near the Autumn Budget Statement, there is a predictable flurry of activity around the prospect of an announcement on city deals. Few can dismiss the transformative ability of these economic levers in places like Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow.

Just last week, Belfast and its partners submitted a set of proposals for a city deal to the Government. Like Belfast, Derry has also been invited to submit a bid for a North West region city deal and there is a body of work under way by Council, business leaders and organisations like the Chamber, to shape and deliver an ambitious set of proposals.

Those proposals will focus on innovation, investment in the digital sector, enabling infrastructure, growing the private sector and expanding our knowledge economy.

In the 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement, we've witnessed how peace and stability has made our region a more attractive place to work, invest and do business. Despite this, huge gaps remain. We are not where we need to be, nor want to be.

Derry City for example, has the highest unemployment rate in the North. We do not have a motorway linking our two main cities and our connectivity to the Republic of Ireland is also severely lacking.

This week, Derry Chamber will host its 61st annual president's dinner and we will hear from the chief executive of Derry and Strabane District Council on the vision for a city deal in the north west and how it has the potential to transform the north west/Donegal region.

There are many reasons why we need a city deal for the north west region. We have much to offer in terms of talent and ability, but we need to be able to train people to compete for highly skilled jobs that are coming here. That means we need investment in our colleges and universities.

We have some great businesses and products, but we need better infrastructure that empowers our businesses to compete on an even keel with those elsewhere. That means good roads and the ability to travel and move goods about efficiently.

A north west region city deal will empower us to be innovative and create skilled jobs and employment for the region. It will help us put in place infrastructure and radically update transport links that in their current state are stifling growth in the north west.

It will also help us make the most of our position as a gateway to the EU after Brexit. That will require innovative thinking and the resources to back it up.

Finally, it will help deliver real prosperity and allow people the chance to achieve that prosperity here, rather than think they need to find it somewhere else.

We are not asking for handouts, but we are asking to meet the challenge head on, to be given the tools to do the job and deliver a better future and prosperity for the region.

:: Jennifer McKeever is president of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

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