Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Programmes for Government
Job creation is central to our economic recovery and the programme for Government has job creation at its core. The role of my Department is to ensure we have the right policies in place that will support and increase our enterprise base in order to facilitate both job creation and job retention. It is only by creating the right environment for businesses to expand that we will see new jobs coming on stream.
We must champion the cause of companies that can create good jobs in sustainable activities. To this end, the Government has committed to the creation of a jobs fund within its first 100 days. This fund will facilitate the implementation of a number of measures across a range of Departments, including sectoral initiatives in areas that will create employment in the domestic economy and a long-term strategy to develop new markets in emerging economies. I have already started working with the enterprise agencies under my Department's remit to develop a jobs programme that will develop these various initiatives.
We will take action on a number of fronts such as access to finance; getting our cost base right; providing supports to help build businesses that are well run and innovative; helping companies win new markets; and reducing red tape and tackling barriers to entry. Under those headings there are specific initiatives which I can mention.
My Department is working with the Department of Finance, the Credit Review Office, Enterprise Ireland and Forfás to address the credit issues for viable SMEs, including the commitment in the programme for Government for the introduction of a temporary, partial credit guarantee scheme. The programme for Government also includes a commitment to construct a €100 million microfinance start-up fund that will provide start-up loans and equity, and will draw funding from the National Pensions Reserve Fund. These are very important supplement to the real pressure on banks in providing credit to business.
Getting our cost base right is obviously very important. As I mentioned in reply to the earlier question, we have a commitment to reduce employers PRSI and also to reduce the cost base in areas such as rents and energy costs.
On businesses that can become more innovative, as the Deputy will be aware the programme includes the assessment of new incentives for research and development to help small companies to participate. One of those proposals is that companies spending more than €100,000 would have access to credit without the additionality requirement. Firms that are innovative will drive efficiencies and employment growth.
When I asked the Minister for his priorities, I was hoping for something more substantial than the generalities that appeared in the programme for Government. I was hoping for an indication of a real plan to deal with the crisis of almost 500,000 people who are unemployed. The Minister did not mention the shovel-ready projects referred to in the programme for Government. Clearly many people are ready with their shovels but have not been given any nod from the Government as to the useful works that might be carried out. What is the date for starting projects such as metro north and how many people will be employed? How many people will be employed in the energy conservation measures mentioned in the programme for Government? We have yet to see any details in that regard.
We have seen no figures in terms of job creation; we have seen a job reduction figure. While his colleague is sacking 25,000 people in the public sector, I believe the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation has a target of 15,000 people in training and another 60,000 in internships. At best internships are white-collar apprenticeships and are certainly not jobs. I ask him to outline how he envisages these being regulated, where they will be created and what will be the prospect for full-time employment at the end.
There seems to be a clear flaw in the strategy in that there is a total reliance in the private sector. The Minister has mentioned tinkering with reducing employers' PRSI and VAT. How many jobs does the Minister believe will result? It is clearly not the 500,000 people who are on the dole. I ask the Minister to comment on the fact that there was a reduction of 31% in private sector investment last year. If we are to address the issue of job creation adequately, there clearly needs to be a State-led programme and I have not heard any detail or substance in that regard. In fact the programme provides the opposite; it is a reduction of jobs with the targeting of the semi-State sector. That is where the Government has ring-fenced the funding for its jobs programme. We are now at day 20 out of the 100 days and there are not too many extra shovels working at the moment. The clock is ticking and I would be interested in hearing how the Government will square that circle.
I thank the Deputy for the question. Obviously I am restricted in answering a question to account for my own stewardship, if one likes. My area of responsibility refers to the enterprise sector predominantly. There are targets; it is not that we have not set targets. To be fair to the previous Government, targets have been committed to by Enterprise Ireland to create 60,000 jobs over the period, by IDA Ireland to create 75,000 over the period to 2014 and by the tourism sector so we are working to specific targets. The jobs programme I indicated I have undertaken is to try to build on those - to look at new initiatives to underpin and, if possible, exceed those targets.
The Deputy is not accurate in saying the programme is exclusively dependent on the private sector. A key element of this is the development of the concept of NewERA, specific responsibility for which has been given to the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd. That is focused the capability of State enterprise to lay down important infrastructure for recovery and in that process not only create short-term employment in the construction phase, but also underpin strong enterprise growth in the longer term.
Internships and work programmes no longer fall within the remit of this Department and are now under the Department of Social Protection. If the Deputy looks at the programme for Government she will see a real plan emerging with a balanced set of measures across different areas where a government can take initiative. What is important is to bring that together within the first 100 days to a coherent jobs programme that will build a platform for further initiatives.