Thursday, 15 September 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Community Development Projects
What plans, if any, does the Minister have to develop new locations for connected hubs in County Louth? The ones that have commenced working are working very well and I congratulate the Minister. As other Deputies have said, she is very welcome to visit County Louth any time. I refer to Ardee, Carlingford, Drogheda and St. Fechin's GAA.
There are huge benefits to local connected hubs. They are keeping commuters at home and keeping families closer together. It is hugely important. Does the Minister have any plans for future hubs in County Louth?
Our Rural Future, Ireland's rural development policy, recognises the potential of remote working hubs as key economic assets for our regional towns and villages. Therefore, in May 2021, I launched the national hub network and its online platform, namely, connectedhubs.ie. The network brings together a. range of hubs catering for a wide variety of enterprise, community, remote and co-working needs. The national hub network currently comprises of 281 hubs across the State. I anticipate that 300 hubs will be live on connectedhubs.ieby the end of this year and at least 400 hubs will be on board by the end of 2025. Eight of the 281 hubs on the connectedhubs.ieplatform today are located in County Louth and a further ten hubs throughout the county have been invited to join the network.
I am pleased to confirm that my Department continues to provide support for the establishment and development of hubs through a range of its schemes. For example, a number of the hubs in Louth were successful under the first two connected hubs funding calls which provided support for hubs in developing their facilities and their capacity, while my Department also continues to invest significantly in hubs through schemes such as the town and village renewal scheme and the rural regeneration and development fund.
I remain committed to leveraging Ireland's hub sector as a key asset in ensuring that we can deliver on the Government's vision for rural Ireland as set out in Our Rural Future. The Deputy was absolutely right when he said that people can work in a hub the same way as they can work in a city. The hubs are all well kitted out. I have been to see many of them. We would like to encourage more people to take them up because it saves that long commute and it is better for the environment. Remote working has been a game-changer for rural Ireland. I am very committed to it.
I welcome the Minister’s comments. If I heard her correctly, there are ten other hubs in County Louth that have been invited in. If I could have the list whenever it is available, it will be very welcome.
Dunleer needs a new library, and putting a hub in Dunleer would be a great idea. I appreciate that I do not have all the detail on who has applied, also in Louth village and in east Meath. At the bottom line, the transformation of our society because of Covid, and obviously the fact that we want to reduce our commute and climate change, mean the Minister’s connected hubs are a key facility for everybody. They should have a huge transformational impact on those communities which would otherwise have nobody in them during the day. It helps the local economy but, most of all, it keeps people near their families and their children going to and from school. It has huge other benefits as well. I hope the Minister keeps up the good work and circulates that list.
My other question is on east Meath. I did not ask it in the parliamentary question. What is the situation in east Meath? I can follow it up with the Minister later.
I know the Deputy is very familiar with the Creative Spark in Louth and The Mill in Drogheda. Those are two outstanding centres in terms of what they are doing there. I recall it was in The Mill in Drogheda that I launched the remote working app. I have been in both places this year.
The connected hubs fund is there to support centres, whether they are private or publicly owned, to upgrade their facilities. For example, they could put in a privacy pod and improve their facilities.
It is up to the local authorities to bid for funding and there are a number of different funding streams in my Department where they can acquire buildings and have a remote working space in them. They can apply under the town and village renewal scheme. There is also the buildings acquisition fund, where I give every local authority €400,000 to allow it to buy two properties to turn those into community facilities, and part of that could be for a remote working hub. Perhaps some of the places that do not have it need to engage with the local authority and see what they can do there. There are private operators that get the support as well.
On Dunleer, libraries fall under my Department as well. Perhaps the Deputy wants to engage with me on that. I do not have the list of the ten hubs, but I can get it for him.
I would be very happy with that. Again, it is the transformation of our society. It is focused on keeping people as near to their homes as they can to work. As I said, it is a huge benefit to those communities. We hear much criticism of the Government but the funding that the Minister announced that she spent and will be spending is what the country needs. It is a banner she can be proud to hold high. Indeed, I welcome all the work the Minister is doing.
I launched that voucher scheme earlier in the summer. It was designed to encourage those who have never used a hub to try it for free. It was like a sample or taster. A person could go in and use the hub for three days, free of charge. I was encouraging people to go in, try them out and see what they thought, because sitting at home is not a good idea. At least in a hub one can have a bit of interaction and talk to people. It is secure and the desks are at the right height. One will not be going home in the evening or getting up from the kitchen table with a sore back. It is much better for people to use the hubs. I am encouraging people to get out there and try them.
In June, we had 1,800 users registered on the connected hubs platform. Since the announcement of the voucher scheme, the number of registered users has gone up to more than 8,000. We want to keep this momentum going; I do not want to lose it. I want to encourage employers as well to engage with their staff and see whether remote working would work for them. I do not believe that remote working means less productivity; in fact, I think productivity goes up.