Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
2. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the way in which the €5 million fund to support the development of Ireland’s first national network of remote working hubs will work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28176/21]
I merely wish to ask the Minister the way in which the €5 million fund to support the development of Ireland's first national network of remote working hubs will work, and if she will make a statement on the matter.
The primary objective of the connected hubs call is to support and complement the development of the national hub network, which is a key action of Our Rural Future and the national remote working strategy. The connected hubs call targets shovel-ready, small capital works that will increase the capacity of existing hubs and benefit the wider economy in support of the network.
The call was launched on 29 April. The scheme document and application forms are available on my Department's website. Expressions of interest are requested by 28 May, with the deadline for applications being 17 June. My Department has hosted four information sessions for local authority staff and hub managers, which were attended by more than 170 participants. My officials have prepared a frequently asked questions, FAQ, document, which is updated on a weekly basis and published on my Department's website every Tuesday afternoon. The extensive FAQ document includes all of the questions raised at the information sessions and should provide valuable advice and guidance to potential applicants.
Potential applicant hubs are requested to commit to a three-year membership of the national hub network as a key condition of funding being made available. To ensure that the network is open to all hubs, regardless of size or location, my Department will cover the cost of on-boarding and membership for three years. I look forward to launching the national hub network in the next few weeks.
There is funding of €5 million for the call. Projects that can be funded under the call include, but are not limited to, the installation of privacy booths in existing hubs or pods. We know how useful the pods are downstairs here in this premises when sometimes one needs to have private conversations. It is great to be able to use that type of facility.
I can internalise and understand where the Minister is going regarding the connected hubs fund. If I understand it correctly, she is referring to pre-existing infrastructure. The reason I ask the question is to speak for people in places such as Killavullen and Mitchelstown in north Cork, for example, from where I have received queries and where there are no pre-existing hubs. This situation is reflective of the entire country really. The people asking me about these two specific locations are wondering if they can get a slice of the action there. Mitchelstown is a small- to medium-sized town while Killavullen is a village where connectivity would be an issue. Can people who live in areas where there is currently no hub reasonably expect that they will get a slice of the €5 million?
The connected hubs call is open to existing public and private hubs. The grants available can range from €10,000 up to €250,000. Through the fund, we want to expand the capacity and the quality of our existing hub facilities, providing more hot desks, office pods for when one needs some privacy, and audiovisual facilities.
Some of the funding can be used towards marketing costs, which is important because we want people to know the hubs are available to them. In areas where there are no hubs and there is very poor broadband, and I am not sure whether this is the case in the area the Deputy is speaking about, I would tell people to get in touch with their local authority and we will look at providing a broadband connection point. We have been rolling these out throughout the country. They are in areas where there are poor broadband facilities. They may be in a community hall. If there were some place such as this, and the community hall needed to buy additional equipment, I would advise those involved to apply to this fund, which is available to support them.
I thank the Minister. What she is clearly articulating to me, so that I can report back to the people who have made representations to me, is that the €5 million connected hub funding does not apply to a person or entity trying to start from scratch and that it is for pre-existing infrastructure. This is what the Minister is clarifying. If this is the case, we will advise accordingly in respect of locations where people want to create something in the community where people can come together in appropriate locations, which are not necessarily community facilities and might be privately owned facilities, such as pubs, for instance. There is now massive potential for such connectivity and bringing people together - I will not say in an unorthodox way - in a way reimagining what the local pub would look like. If the Minister is telling us there is scope for connectivity in such circumstances we would welcome it.
Funding is available through the town and village renewal scheme, in which there is a big focus on derelict buildings that could be renovated and used as co-working spaces. There is an opportunity for people to apply for this funding. There is a great project in Donegal, which was funded through the rural regeneration development fund. An old Ritz cinema in Donegal was converted into a hub. The Deputy is familiar with the Ludgate hub in Cork. Not that long ago, €206,000 in funding was allocated to create the rural digital innovation hub strategy and the pipeline implementation strategy. This project is supported through the rural regeneration and development fund. The Ludgate hub received funding through the town and village renewal scheme. There are opportunities and I am happy to speak to the Deputy about the individual case he has mentioned.