North West Strategic Growth Partnership

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 19 February 2024.

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Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:00, 19 February 2024

7. Ms McLaughlin asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the work of the North West Strategic Growth Partnership. (AQO 8/22-27)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

The North West Strategic Growth Partnership continues its work to support the north-west region to achieve its full potential and transition to being a net economic contributor. The partnership hosted its most recent plenary meeting on 30 November 2023. The plenary received updates on various matters, including tertiary education and skills, infrastructure and spatial growth, and the potential for green growth in the region. A refreshed memorandum of understanding between members of the north-west tertiary education cluster was also launched at the meeting. It is an excellent example of how education providers across both jurisdictions can work together to deliver better services for students.

Between September 2022 and May 2023, thematic discussions were facilitated between members of the partnership, which brought together key players, including the local councils, policy officials from both Administrations and other key stakeholders, in order to have focused conversations across topics such as economic development, further and higher education, tourism and health. Planning is under way to facilitate further discussions on priority areas in the near future.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the First Minister for her answer. Leadership is crucial, and the Executive Office needs to step up and put all support behind the North West Strategic Growth Partnership. Will the First Minister commit to ensure that the Executive take their leadership role, with the required level of funding allocated to this body, to agree a cross-border strategic programme to drive growth in the north-west cross-border city region?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Some of the work that has happened even up to this point has been excellent. We can see all the other areas where further collaboration can be achieved, and we have to back that up. The fact that we are working across both jurisdictions is equally important in order to maximise the potential that we know is there.

Before Question Time, the Economy Minister took to his feet to set out his economic vision, and he referred to the need for a regionally balanced economy. That is important in order to rebalance and ensure that the north-west is part of the plan for expansion and better prosperity for everybody, so that everybody enjoys it.

Photo of Pádraig Delargy Pádraig Delargy Sinn Féin

Will the First Minister outline any other progress in the north-west?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

There are the city and growth deals for Derry City and Strabane District Council and Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council. I understand that Derry City and Strabane District Council is progressing towards signing its deal in the spring or summer of this year. Likewise, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is progressing towards signing its heads of terms in spring this year. That is, no doubt, good news for the north-west.

The Executive commitment to increase student numbers at Magee remains a priority, and I understand that the Economy Minister will outline his plans for that in the weeks ahead. The graduate-entry medical school opened to its first cohort of students in 2021, and the second and third cohorts started over the past two years. I understand that the university is also developing the business case for a state-of-the-art north-west medical school, incorporating a graduate-entry medical school and personalised medicine.

From the progress that is being made and that will be made in the time ahead, we can see that it is quite an exciting time for investment in the north-west. DFI is going to be key to that, but it is important that the Executive are seen as champions of regional balance and that we make sure that we get it right, now that we have the opportunity again to do so.