Tuesday, 16 November 2004
Question 72: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will undertake a root and branch review of the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and other job creation agencies in view of their abysmal job creation record in Mayo; his views on whether IDA Ireland has failed miserably to implement the Government policy that 50% of new jobs be in the BMW area; if he will take steps to make Mayo more attractive for enterprise and industry in view of the recent losses of 325 jobs in Westport; if he has other suggestions such as increasing incentives to locate in the west, fewer incentives for the overpopulated Dublin area and supply of natural gas to all major towns in Mayo including Belmullet; the steps he is taking to replace the lost jobs for balanced regional development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28581/04]
Support for job creation and investment on a regional or local basis is a day-to-day operational matter for the industrial development agencies. The agencies are actively promoting all areas, including County Mayo, for new investment and jobs on an ongoing basis. The number of jobs in IDA Ireland client companies in Mayo has increased from 3,170 in 1998 to 3,468 in 2003. The number of jobs in Enterprise Ireland client companies in Mayo has remained relatively steady since 1998, with a slight increase in the numbers employed by client companies, up from 2,820 in 1998 to 2,842 in 2003. Since the beginning of 2003 to date, Enterprise Ireland has approved funding of over €2.5 million and made payments of approximately €1.4 million for projects for client companies in Mayo. Since its establishment the Mayo County Enterprise Board has paid €3.5 million in grant aid to 495 new businesses which between them have created 1,030 full-time jobs and 242 part-time jobs. The board has also provided business advice and training programmes to over 2,000 people involved in the operation of micro enterprises in Mayo involving an expenditure of over €1.3 million.
The Deputy made specific reference to the recent job losses in Westport. Regrettably, while some job losses have also been experienced over the period, in reality this is a recurring feature of economic development in all countries as various sectors expand and contract in response to market demand for goods and services, competitive forces, restructuring and technological change. The above statistics on job creation and employment in companies in Mayo indicate that the trend in job losses in the county has been arrested. This is due in no small part to the work of the development agencies and is all the more laudable when considered in the context of global difficulties experienced during the period. With regard to the geographical spread of foreign direct investment, IDA Ireland is seeking to achieve 50% of all new greenfield jobs in the BMW region over the 2000-06 period and substantial progress is being made. Since 2000, a total of 46% of all new greenfield jobs have been created in the BMW region. In 1999, prior to the start of the Government's current national development programme, 25% of all new greenfield jobs were locating in the region.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
As County Mayo is an integral part of the Objective One, or BMW region, maximum grant rates to companies are at a higher level than those applying to many other parts of the country. This Government fought for such a concession in the lead-up to the launch of the national development plan and the related EU-funded operational programmes. The aid limits that apply in Mayo are at the highest possible level and are an additional attraction for companies to increase job complements in Mayo.
The issue concerning the supply of natural gas to all the major towns in Mayo is one for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. I am confident the strategies and policies being pursued by the development agencies, together with the ongoing commitment of Government to regional development will bear fruit in terms of additional sustainable investment and jobs for the people of all regions.
I thank the Minister of State for his answer, but he is just giving figures. The reality is that our area has suffered tremendously. We cannot keep our graduates as only 9% of them can stay and the rest have to move to the greater Dublin area to get their first job. The reality has been spelled out by the Western Development Commission, which states that there has to be balanced regional development. Unless this occurs, it is a waste of time. We will just get the dirty jobs that no-one else wants and not the jobs that every other place is getting. These are the jobs we need to keep our people.
The figures in the national development plan on roads prove that our area has not done well. What is the Minister going to do about IDA policy? The bottom line is that it has not delivered for us. There is natural gas coming into our county. A large part of IDA policy should be to ensure that the infrastructure is there, including the gas that is needed. Will the Minister make a commitment on that? Westport has lost 325 jobs, so how about decentralisation to Westport? The people are in Dublin and they think they are riding the Celtic tiger, but they are going at ass and cart pace. Our people are in Dublin and they need to be in the west. What is the logic in giving money and jobs to the eastern and southern regions? They already have too many people and balanced development should be ensured. Incentives should be given to ensure jobs will head west and the industrialists will follow the money. Otherwise, there will be no jobs. We are getting the jobs that no-one else wants and we do not want to be a dumping ground for the rest of Ireland. We want proper jobs and we will not get them unless there is balanced regional development.
Only 69% of what should have been spent on the roads in the west has actually been spent. There has been a gross overspend in the south and east of 134%. It does not even compare. We are not at the races because the money is not being allocated. Will the Minister of State give a commitment to investing money in the west, where balanced regional development is needed? Such investment is also in the interests of the south and west. What is the logic of continuing to give big incentives to companies to help them to establish in Dublin and elsewhere? The Government should try to take people out of such regions rather than putting more people there.
Some 400,000 people are passing through Knock Airport each year, 18 years after it opened, but 20 million people will go through Dublin and Cork airports this year. It is no wonder that Dublin is congested. The Government will not invest the same amount of money in Knock Airport as in the international airports. Will the Government provide the €40 million that Knock Airport needs this year but has not yet been given? It is giving Knock Airport the same petty cash that it is giving other small regional airports. The Minister of State should think of Knock Airport as the catalyst that will drive the development of the west.
Balanced regional development and proper jobs, as opposed to dirty jobs, are needed in the west. I ask the Minister of State to address this serious matter. If he does not do so, the level of congestion in Dublin, which cannot take any more people, will increase.
The Deputy should acknowledge that the percentage of this country's jobs created in the BMW region increased from 25% to 48% over the period of the plan, which is a little more than half-way through. It will be possible to achieve a much better spread if the agencies continue to pursue the policies they are pursuing at present. There is a fairly widespread understanding of the need to spread the development of industry and other matters. The Government has made a commitment in that regard. The Deputy also asked about natural gas and Knock Airport, which are matters for the Ministers for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Transport, respectively. The agencies have delivered more jobs to the BMW region, under the guidance of the Government, since the focus was more clearly placed on delivering jobs in the region.
The report of the mid-term review of the national development plan contradicts the Minister. There needs to be a change of tack if we are to stop being totally unbalanced. Will the Minister of State take steps to ensure that there is a public service obligation? Will he apply to the EU to ensure that major towns in County Mayo that had gas 80 years ago, will get gas again? I hope the Minister of State will do that.