Wednesday, 17 December 2014
7. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation when the regional enterprise strategy will be implemented in the south-east region, in particular in County Wexford; the number of jobs it will bring to County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48149/14]
I raised a similar question two years ago when the Minister advised that the Government was intensively considering what the agencies could do to promote employment growth in the south east and support business start-ups. Sadly, things have got worse, rather than better. What is the Government's strategy to attract jobs to a place such as Wexford?
While I cannot remember the date, of course, I have established a south-east action plan in the intervening period. As the following reply will indicate, considerable work has gone into that plan.
The aim of An Action Plan for Jobs is to help enterprises to create employment in all regions of the country. If we are to do this successfully, it is important that each region build on its particular strengths and assets to provide an environment that stimulates entrepreneurship and attracts both indigenous and foreign investment.
Under An Action Plan for Jobs 2014, my Department has developed a framework for the preparation of regional enterprise strategies which will be used to produce action oriented plans to support enterprise growth and job creation in the regions, commencing with the midlands. The strategy for the midlands will be launched early in the new year and my intention is to commence the preparation of a strategy for the south-east region immediately after that. The enterprise strategy for the south east will build on the south-east region employment action plan which was developed following the closure of Talk Talk in 2011. It will involve consultation with stakeholders in both the private and public sectors in the region.
The development of regional enterprise strategies is not about setting targets for job creation on a county by county basis; rather, it is about identifying the strengths and opportunities within each region and assisting the regions to deliver on their potential for economic development.
This will be achieved through better co-ordination and collaboration by all actors operating within the region. The south-east forum, which I established to help pursue the implementation of the plan, has been a helpful model to inform our approach.
Since the start of the Action Plan for Jobs process in 2012, employment nationally has increased by approximately 80,000. Employment in the south-east region has increased by 21,300 since the first quarter of 2012 and the unemployment rate has fallen from 20.1% to 13.7%, the largest decrease in all of the regions. While this represents good progress, the unemployment rate for the south east, as well as for some other regions, is still above the national average. That is why we are developing these new regional enterprise strategies.
The Minister quoted figures for the south east but those relating to Wexford itself are dramatically worse. We have a major problem in that we are very dependent on foreign direct investment for any kind of manufacturing jobs. This is because successive Governments have failed to invest in indigenous industry for many years. In the lifetime of the current Administration, Wexford has been the subject of five IDA Ireland-sponsored visits involving potential investors, whereas some 59 visits have been made to Waterford and 710 to Dublin. Obviously, the population of Dublin is eight times that of Wexford but the number of IDA Ireland-sponsored visits from potential investors to the capital has been 140 times greater.
The Minister indicated that rather than considering the position in the context of counties, he is instead looking at the strengths and opportunities that exist in each region. If such strengths and opportunities do not exist in Wexford, is the Government going to do anything with regard to changing the position? Can Wexford be transformed into a place to which foreign direct investors might be interested in locating their business? Our dependence of foreign direct investment is far too great and we do not really seem to be able to tell those making such investment where they should locate their operations. On most occasions, many of these companies do not seem to be prepared to locate at places outside a 45 mile radius of Dublin, Cork or Shannon airports. Is it not time that the Government invested in indigenous industry in order that it would have direct control over where such industry might be located? If it did so, the Government would be able to operate independent of the whim of foreigners.
Absolutely. Only this week the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, announced the competitive start programme, which is designed to support new enterprise in the regions. This programme is one of the vehicles we use. Enterprise is very strong in Wexford. The fact that employment has increased by 21,300 in the past two years is indicative of a very strong performance. Some of this has been as a result of the efforts of IDA Ireland companies. We won significant investments in Wexford from ClearStream Technologies and Danone. On the indigenous side, Eishtec has become a significant player. This company grew phoenix-like from the ashes of TalkTalk, it employs more people than the latter ever did and it has the capacity to grow. There is a strong enterprise culture in the south east, particularly Wexford, and we want to build on this. In that context, it is necessary to examine the position with regard to all the regional assets, including the education and training boards, SOLAS facilities and the institutes of technology, and areas of strength. As the Deputy is aware, the local enterprise offices are engaging directly with local authorities. We are of the view that there is capacity to build on the competitive strengths that exist. In Wexford, these strengths lie in the areas of pharma and food and we need to build upon these. Consequently, there is an onus on Enterprise Ireland to consider its base of companies and to build off the assets that are already in place in Wexford and the wider south-east region.
Figures the Minister previously provided in respect of the years 2012 and 2013 show that 116 new jobs were created in the Wexford area and that 111 were lost. This means there was a net gain of five jobs. Am I missing something? The figures to which I refer were provided by the Minister in reply to a parliamentary question tabled on 23 April 2013 and they relate to 2012. Is he now stating that employment in Wexford has increased by over 20,000 in recent years?
Since the first quarter of 2012. The recovery has been building. During 2011, the decline in employment levels continued. However, 2012 was the first year in which the position stabilised. In 2013 and 2014, there has been a significant increase in employment. CSO statistics indicate that the south east has done the best of all the regions in the intervening period. The south east is performing above the national average but, as the Deputy and others who represent constituencies in the region would acknowledge, it is starting from a much higher unemployment base than the rest of the country. The region is making good progress but we are of the view that the job in respect of it is not complete by any means.