Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

5:00 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)

I thank Senator Cullinane for raising this issue. As outlined by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, during his visit to Waterford following the TalkTalk closure announcement, he decided to oversee the preparation and implementation of a south east employment action plan to investigate the causes of this problem in the city and its hinterland and outline a list of actions to be taken over the short and medium to long term to seek to address it.

The task the Minister set the agencies included: analysis of existing portfolio of activities by agencies and an assessment of their capacity to expand employment; an assessment of the region and Waterford as a gateway for the location of employment; and an assessment of sectoral strengths and emerging sectors that would have a good fit with the region. On receipt of the agencies' responses, an action plan for the south east was prepared by Forfás incorporating inputs from all agencies and those of relevant stakeholders in the region. The report contains specific actions to address the specific employment problems affecting the south east. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, launched the south east action plan last Friday, 2 December, and it is his intention to meet regularly with a forum representing the agencies and stakeholders to progress the implementation of the plan.

The reality is that the structural challenges that the region faces have built up over many years and will not be reversed with a simple set of actions. What is required is to build a stronger enterprise base in the region as a whole. The report identifies many actions that can help deliver on the ambition of having a stronger local enterprise base — but it will only achieve so much. There are challenges for all agencies in the region to help build up the region's competitive advantage and then to promote it in a co-ordinated manner.

One of the key issues that no single agency or Department can hope to address is the overall coherence of the region's "value proposition" to investors from home or abroad. What has arisen again and again in consultation with all the relevant stakeholders and agencies in the region is the need for greater co-ordination of effort from all those with an interest in improving the enterprise potential of the region. This was brought to the fore when all the agencies, local authorities, CEBs, education institutions and other local representative groups met with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on 24 November. That meeting was the first time that a group of that nature had met collectively with the focus solely on what could be done to improve the region's fortunes. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, intends for the coming year to facilitate a series of further meetings of the same group as a means of both monitoring the implementation of the proposals in this report but also as a means of helping to forge greater co-operation and collaboration between the various stakeholders across the region.

A full set of actions and further analysis is outlined in full in the report prepared by Forfás but it is worth noting a number of specific issues of importance. The IDA will assign a clear priority to the region with a view to attracting additional investment to the area particularly in sectors such as life sciences, financial services and new areas such as clean tech. The IDA will continue to work with local stakeholders to promote the Bellview site to a targeted set of international investors. The IDA will work closely with local authorities and other agencies and will ensure that the region is optimally promoted and wins more site visits from prospective investors. The IDA will continue an intensive process of promoting a replacement company for the existing TalkTalk facility and its qualified workforce through its extensive network of international offices.

In terms of Enterprise Ireland's action, an immediate competitive call for feasibility funding for new start-ups in the south-east region will be launched. Funding of up to €20,000 per project will be made available for ten proposals by Enterprise Ireland. Other Enterprise Ireland activities in the region will include the enterprise platform programme in a new format in the first quarter of 2012, and a first flight workshop, aimed at companies developing export markets for their products, will be convened in Waterford. The IDA and Enterprise Ireland will work with other agencies to exploit the clear regional opportunities in life sciences, clean tech and food to build up the competitive strengths and establish the important linkages these sectors need to develop.

The enterprise agencies will also focus on stimulating increased linkages between firms. These actions can only do so much to improve the region's enterprise base, but it is just a start. A challenge that has built up over many years will not be turned around in a matter of months, but the Minister is determined that we should make a start with the measures proposed in the Forfás report. More than that, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is keen over the coming 12 months, to see the agencies and the regional stakeholders come together and help drive the positive changes that are clearly overdue.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter.


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