Economic Development in West Belfast

Part of Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:30 pm on 20th October 2009.

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Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin 7:30 pm, 20th October 2009

I agree. Other successful projects in the social economy sector include the Ardmonagh Family Centre, the Footprints Women’s Centre and Colin Care. As they are businesses, they generate profit, but they invest that profit in creating more jobs for people in, for example, women’s centres.

Alex Attwood talked about public procurement, which, particularly at local council level, could generate employment in those areas. The earlier debate touched on the idea that some businesses do not want to locate to areas like west Belfast because they do not see a skilled workforce there. The skills are there, but I recognise that not everybody would be at the level to do those jobs straight away. However, there are ways to create employment for people like the young girl who was mentioned earlier, for instance. Perhaps she is doing an NVQ this year, but she may go on to gain other skills and qualifications.

Mention was made of a project in the Colin area that is dealing with graffiti, picking up litter and generally keeping the area tidy. It is trying to get a contract from Lisburn City Council. There are ways in which local councils could use their public procurement policies to achieve value for money, add value to the regeneration of a local community and the local economy, and create jobs. There are all those ways of looking at at economic development in west Belfast, but we should not take our eye off the ball in relation to getting major investment into the area.

People say that if investment was made in east Belfast or south Belfast, people from west Belfast could travel there. However, the reality is that, depending on where the investment is made in those areas, there may not be a public transport system. Therefore, unless people have cars, they may have to get two buses. If people live at the further end of west Belfast, in places like Twinbrook and Poleglass, they would have to come right down into the city centre and then get another bus. I am not saying that that is not doable, especially if people need the jobs, but, when we are looking at the proposed rapid-transit system, for instance — which, hopefully, will be put in place — there will be better connections throughout north, south, east and west Belfast, which is a good thing.

The people of west Belfast must get inward investment into their area. As I said, the area is ripe for it, and it would be good because it would create a confidence in people. My colleague Fra McCann mentioned the long-term unemployed and the economically inactive — they would all benefit from investment, so those issues should run as a twin track.

I mentioned the social economy. A number of small and medium-sized businesses, which perhaps employ 20 or 30 people, are located in the area, and I have visited some of them over the past six or seven months. We could help them to create a dynamic. Some of those businesses export their products, which is good. If we can get that help from organisations like Invest NI, we will go a long way.