Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions
I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 14 together.
The economic division in my Department supports me and the Government in developing and implementing policy across relevant areas to support sustainable economic development, including job creation, infrastructure, housing and climate action, and social dialogue. This work is particularly focused on ensuring a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the programme for Government and issues that cut across multiple Departments. The division supports the work of the Cabinet committees on economic recovery and investment, housing, the environment and climate change, as well as the associated senior officials group.
As part of the division's work, the economic policy unit specifically supports the work of the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment and provides advice to me on issues such as jobs, productivity, competitiveness, the labour market, enterprise and skills. The unit also maintains an overview of progress in key policy and sectoral areas in line with Government priorities, leads Ireland's participation at the annual European semester process, liaises with the Central Statistics Office, CSO, and provides me with briefing and speech material on economic and related policy issues.
The Brexit preparedness unit jointly leads work on the continuing impact of Brexit and readiness issues arising, along with the Department of Foreign Affairs and other divisions of my Department.
On Brexit preparedness, I have a question which pertains to the shortage of suitably qualified heavy goods vehicle, HGV, drivers. Mr. Aidan Flynn of Freight Transport Association Ireland, FTAI, as well as the Irish Road Haulage Association, IRHA, have raised these concerns directly with the Government. Freight Transport Association Ireland has outlined that Irish hauliers need Government support to recruit new HGV drivers into the logistics industry before the country's supply chain starts to break down. While the freight distribution and logistics sector has kept the nation stocked during the pandemic, not all sectors which use HGV drivers have been operational and many drivers have either returned to work elsewhere in Europe or have switched to jobs in other sectors. The result is significant recruitment problems for the sector as a decreasing pool of workers means gaps could soon start to appear in our supply chain. There are reports from industry that some drivers are having to wait over 50 weeks to complete the tests to revalidate their driver certificate of professional competency, CPC, cards which enable them to drive professionally. Will the Taoiseach ensure the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, engages with the FTAI and IRHA on this matter in order that solutions can be worked out and the timeframe for testing for the driver CPC card can be reduced to the absolute minimum?
As we get towards the end of this Dáil session, I appeal to the Taoiseach on an issue I have raised a number of times over the past few weeks. Despite his promises that there would not be a PUP income cliff for those who have lost income or employment as a result of the pandemic and who are still significantly impacted by the pandemic and the lack of recovery in their sectors, such a cliff is being imposed on them. A taxi driver, musician, artist or performer who is on the €203 rate of PUP will, as of 7 September, be told to get off it and to go on jobseeker's allowance. People in this situation are not jobseekers but are instead still waiting for the proper and full recovery of their sector.
There is still no roadmap for musicians, performers and artists and much of the work of taxi drivers depends on precisely those sectors and other areas such as tourism. It is not right to force these people onto jobseeker's allowance. Some taxi drivers are on the €203 rate because they purchased a car in 2019 and, therefore, did not pay as much tax that year as in previous years. They are now on a lower rate of PUP and will now be pulled off the payment, even though they cannot make a proper income, or will be forced to go onto jobseeker's allowance when they are not jobseekers.
There are similar issues for musicians and artists who go on the Government's pilot live performance support scheme. If you take a few gigs on that scheme and your income briefly goes above the threshold, you are cut off the PUP, even though in a few weeks' time, you will have no work at all and you will be forced to go on jobseeker's allowance. I am appealing to the Taoiseach on this. There may be other people in a similar position but these two cohorts should not be pushed over a cliff in September or November when there has not been a full recovery of their sectors.
On Deputy O'Reilly's points, the Government is very focused on skills, reskilling and investing in human capital. That applies to HGV drivers and the road haulage sector as well. I have no doubt the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, and others will engage with the sector if we have to develop modules or fast-track the process to ensure we have sufficient supply of drivers.
On Deputy Boyd Barrett's points, he has acknowledged the Government recently responded with a package for taxi drivers, although he thinks it insufficient. We have continued to support them through a variety of means. There was €3 million provided for the continued waiving of vehicle licence fees in 2022, €2 million for the once-off motor tax refund scheme and €1.5 million for an national car test, NCT, refund scheme. In addition to supports for the small public service vehicle, SPSV, industry, the Government maintained a wide-ranging programme of supports with broad eligibility criteria for individuals and businesses.
We have extended these schemes. We have also kept specific sub-sectors of the economy under constant review. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, has provided a range of supports to artists and the music and entertainment sector. We know those sectors have suffered the most during the pandemic.
As I said, we must also invest in the economy and get things moving, which we are doing. We are reallocating resources to support investment opportunities and create new jobs, which will help the sectors the Deputy mentioned.