Time for a City Deal for Belfast…

Last week, LOCUS and I, hosted a City Deal seminar in Belfast which was addressed by Mr Richard Brown, Director of Regeneration Glasgow City Council.

He explained that City Deals are agreements that have been negotiated between the UK government and 29 cities in the UK; the city gets new powers in exchange for greater responsibility to stimulate and support economic growth and promote job creation.

Richard Brown, Suzanne Wylie & Tim Attwood
Richard Brown, Suzanne Wylie & Tim Attwood

Richard Brown detailed the negotiations he had with HM Treasury to negotiate the first City Deal in a devolved region for the Glasgow City Region, led by Glasgow City Council, which negotiated a £1.13billion City Deal on 20 August 2014. It sets out how the region will create economic growth through:

  • setting up a £1.13 billion Glasgow and Clyde Valley Infrastructure Fund to improve transport and regenerate/develop sites
  • supporting growth in the life sciences sector
  • helping small and medium enterprises to grow and develop
  • setting up programmes to support unemployed people
  • testing new ways of boosting the incomes of people on low wages

The UK committed £500million, in additional funding, matched by the Scottish Government and the local authorities will borrow a further £130million.

Given the scale of the challenges we currently face in Belfast and across the North – ranging from unemployment to infrastructure, budget cuts to the impact of welfare reform, there is an obligation on us to pursue new funding opportunities.

Local Government Reform gives councils new powers and influence. The new powers given to Belfast City Council of planning, community planning and regeneration, give us the ability to uniting politically in delivering, growing and fulfilling our potential.

Even at that, we are still beholden to a regional development model that fails to recognise the importance of the city to the wider region and allow the relevant policy flexibility to develop local approaches that will enhance that contribution

As the RSA City Growth Commission report “Unleashing Metro Growth” said there needs to be greater recognition of “city-regions, or metros as the main drivers of economic growth in an increasingly knowledge –driven global economy”

Given that 61% of  UK Growth is generated by City Regions. The Commission goes on to say that “Cities across the UK need to be empowered to unleash their creativity and innovation potential, improve their connectivity and boost their productivity.”

The reality is that one in three jobs are based in Belfast – the city attracted 5,000 new FDI jobs in the last year alone.  Yet, in some parts of the city, unemployment and inactivity rates are around 60-70% of the local population.  This is not a sustainable solution – and it is proof that the current way of working is just not working

The jobs that we create in Belfast provide employment not only for local residents but also for many in-commuters – more than half of the people who work in Belfast do not live in the city centre

As Belfast City councillors we have shown significant ambition for the city: but our hands are currently tied due to the rigid governance structures that we must comply with.  In Belfast, our £150million investment programme and the £105m million Leisure Transformation strategy is evidence of our ability and commitment to deliver a range of physical and social investment initiatives to improve the quality of life with residents.

Today (Tuesday) in Westminster the SNP are grilling the British Government over a City Deal for Aberdeen.

We need to be setting out our stall for a Belfast/Derry City Deal which will maximise opportunities for the region in terms of inclusive economic growth, better connectivity and improved cohesion.

Tim Attwood is an SDLP Councillor in Belfast.

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