Belfast Region City Deal – a response to dormant Stormont?

01 November 2018 - by Quintin Oliver

The Chancellor’s £350m go-ahead for the Belfast Region City Deal drew positive headlines amongst his otherwise controversial fiscal decisions.

This is why it’s important, way beyond the potential cash boost for major infrastructure and tourism projects:

  • First, tremendous credit is due to Belfast City Council’s CEO, Suzanne Wylie, for steering the bid through the complex structures and choppy political waters of her own eight-party council, in parallel with partner organisations, councils and universities – a prodigious achievement;

  • Second, this represents a shift in the centre of gravity, from Westminster directly to Belfast, bypassing the dormant Stormont. The political ramifications of this can only be guessed at but watch out for more flexing of local government muscles. These are the only surviving seats of democratically functioning local political power, underneath the gridlock at Assembly level. Is a new Belfast ‘city-state’ emerging before our eyes?

  • Third, it underlines the convening power of smart, flexible and forward-thinking organisations, with adaptive leadership qualities, a democratic mandate and an imaginative vision for a better future. Anchor institutions across the region, whether public (like the health trusts, Translink, Tourism NI, Belfast Harbour or the PSNI) or private and third sector interests, will respond to that clarion call to focus collective minds on underlying economic and social challenges.

While we love to bemoan our democratic deficit, it's worth following Northern Ireland’s first Citizens’ Assembly as it meets productively in Belfast to provide a fine example of ‘deliberative democracy’, grappling with the Gordian Knot of adult social care provision.

The economic and social challenges remain high on the policy agenda – how to avoid deepening our ‘two-speed society’, deliver real and meaningful ‘inclusive growth’and a City Region Deal that works for everyone, not just the construction industry or developers – but rather, reaching those struggling to survive and thrive. ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ is a wishful fallacy long debunked by serious commentators; we need robust intervention to address our unfair inequalities.

People are leaning forward, not back. We are in the news again for the right reasons, exhibiting enthusiasm for a better city-based future.