It is our great pleasure to appear before the committee and I thank the Chairman for his invitation. I am chief executive of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and I am joined by Mr. Aidan O'Kane, president of the chamber. We will share a brief update on the key issues and priorities facing the north-west business community and will be happy to answer any follow-up questions members may have.
The chamber represents more than 350 businesses throughout the north-west city region, providing support and advocacy at a local, regional and national level. As the largest business network in the region, the chamber promotes strong business engagement to support the development, growth and sustained economic viability of our members and the wider north-west business community. With our unique position on the Derry-Donegal border, Brexit has posed significant challenges to north-western businesses in the past five years. Amid continued uncertainty over the status of the protocol, the Brexit withdrawal agreement and Covid-19, it is imperative local businesses have the stability, certainty and support they require to meet current challenges head on.
Recent surveys, including the chamber's membership surveys, have shown the desire among business owners here to make the protocol work. In fact, 80% of our members urge the Executive to take advantage of the unique trading position Northern Ireland now has. We also have a strong relationship with Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce, with which we have signed a memorandum of understanding. It is a partnership that reflects the shared goals and objectives we hope to achieve through cross-Border collaboration.
A strong, prosperous all-Ireland economy is a key priority for our chamber members. The growth in cross-Border trade since the start of the year reflects the shared economic prosperity and opportunities we can achieve under the current trading arrangements. It is imperative that, through the likes of the shared island unit and fund, much-needed investment be granted to Border regions to support the growth of our island economy. While regional infrastructure and connectivity continue to improve, the pace of change is slow, with several projects needed to be prioritised to support Derry's links with other economic hubs in Northern Ireland and beyond.
The City of Derry Airport ensures air connectivity between the north west, the UK and Europe, a road and rail network ensures links with Belfast, Dublin and the rest of the island, and the A6 dualling project, expected to be completed in spring 2022, is estimated to cut journeys to Belfast to about one hour. Other projects such as the A5 and the north-west transport hub must continue to be supported as part of our property-funded investment programme to bolster transport connectivity for the north west. I congratulate the Northern Ireland Minister for Infrastructure, Ms Nichola Mallon, and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on their all-Ireland strategic rail review and the co-operation and leadership they are showing in that regard.
The city deal, which was launched in February 2021, is an historic and exciting intervention that will contribute to building a stronger, more competitive, resilient and inclusive economy, deliver higher paid jobs and contribute to creating a more regionally balanced economy over the coming years. In all, the capital investment package will total about £250 million, making it one of the most generous city deals in the UK.
Succeed North West, an event we ran in Belfast on 4 November at the Merchant Hotel in conjunction with our city partners, sought to encourage business leaders to invest in the north west. Through this approach, we have sought to market the Border region to employers that may not have thought about investing in it. We seek to work with the Government and bodies such as the shared island unit to further market often overlooked Border regions and to unlock the true potential of the north west.
The chamber advocates for a joint, all-Ireland approach to working together on environmental issues facing employers on both sides of the Border. In light of COP26 and the challenges we face, a co-operative and cross-Border approach is needed, and we are keen to see the climate resolutions we need on a regional level.
As a chamber, we are committed to working with employers to support them in the movement towards net-zero emissions and to realise the business opportunities accompanying this transition.
On current issues, the Covid-19 pandemic is one. In addition, energy costs and inflation are rising, and our members are facing unsustainable increases in production and material costs, which pose significant challenges for their finances. Nearly half of all respondents to a recent chamber survey cited a lack of access to a skilled workforce as one of their dominant concerns, as well as the continued expansion of Magee campus at Ulster University, as agreed in the New Decade, New Approach Agreement, which must be implemented.
In conclusion, this is an exciting and optimistic time for the north-west city region. Our continually-growing economic offering, coupled with our strong connectivity and infrastructure, promises to bring sustained prosperity to local businesses. Our regional economy continues to grow in strength, and while pressing challenges remain, there is a strong feeling of optimism among our local traders.
Given our proximity to the Border, it is imperative that tax regulations North and South are fair and harmonised and that cross-Border workers have the flexibility they need to meet the demands of the local economy. On that topic, I hand over to the president of the chamber, Mr. Aidan O'Kane.