Invest NI, the body responsible for economic development and job creation across the North, presented to Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Business & Culture committee last week.
The influential delegation, which updated council on its funding and support for the area, included the newly-appointed Chief Executive, Kevin Holland, and its regional business and international business executive directors.
Addressing the Invest NI executives, Mr Farrell said: “Public opinion of your organisation across Derry and Strabane is low.
“I apologise in advance if you find my analysis blunt, but I would be doing a great disservice to the people of our city and district if I was to sugarcoat these comments.”
The SDLP Ballyarnett councillor referenced Invest NI promotional material aimed at securing international investment which made little or no reference to Derry and Strabane.
One document, published in December 2019, mentioned Belfast nine times, while not including the North West at all.
A further prominent Invest NI publication referred to Belfast on 21 occasions, while Derry merited only one short sentence.
The SDLP representative added: “These documents suggest that the promotion of Derry and Strabane as a place to invest and do business is not a priority for your organisation.
“Belfast has been mentioned 30 times, while Derry has one solitary mention. In fact, you’ve used an image of our Peace Bridge and Guildhall accompanied with text promoting Belfast.
“Your presentation includes seemingly impressive figures on investment and performance across our council area.
“But when we compare these figures they are not impressive at all.
“Across 11 councils, we rank 6th for number of employees, 9th for sales, 10th for external sales, 11th for sales to Britain, and 7th for financial assistance to local companies.
“The only league tables we top are unemployment, youth unemployment and economic inactivity. And we have the lowest wages across all council areas.
“These figures are stark, but Invest NI is not solely responsible.
“There are many contributing factors which are outside of Invest NI’s control.
“We have suffered decades of neglect. We have suffered due to the lack of proper investment in road and rail infrastructure and the failure to develop a full-size university.
“And we have suffered due to multi-generational unemployment.
“But Invest NI has a responsibility to our people and our council area.”
Mr Farrell further quizzed the Invest NI executives, asking,
“My questions to Invest NI are, how will you instil some form of public confidence to the people of this council area that you have the best interests of Derry and Strabane at heart?
“How will you change your approach to make a difference to this area to positively impact job creation, economic inactivity, unemployment figures and wage levels?
“And regional imbalance is a massive issue for the SDLP, how will you seek to address the very obvious disparity that exists east and west of the Bann? We think positive discrimination is the answer – we believe that the areas that have the greatest need deserve the greatest support, and that is most definitely Derry and Strabane.”
Councillor Farrell invited the Invest NI executives to a further meeting next year to review progress.