Wednesday, 2 October 2013
County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As a former member of a county enterprise board, I applaud the great work the boards have done over the years. There is much to be said for the county enterprise board structure that is in place at present. There is cross-party and cross-community involvement on the boards. I once attended a county enterprise board meeting at which two projects from my own area were being considered. The members of the evaluation committee proposed to fund the first project because they thought it was viable, but they did not propose to fund the second project because they felt it would not be viable. I had a different viewpoint. I do not have any skills in this area, but I can spot a good businessman when I see one. I suggested that the project they were proposing to fund would not work, and that the project which they were not proposing to fund would work. They took my viewpoint on board, which was fair enough, and I was right. The first project did not work. They funded the second project on the strength of my contribution and later it won the enterprise of the year award for that year. I hope none of this will be lost when the new local enterprise offices are put in place.
I will be interested to hear the Minister of State's response to Senator Ó Murchú's question about what the new local enterprise offices are modelled on. Are they based on a model that is used in another country?
We most certainly have to deal with bureaucracy. People are frustrated by the forms they are required to fill out in order to apply for anything. The same thing applies to the Leader programme, etc.
Senator O'Neill spoke about new businesses that are being set up. I have repeatedly said that the hearts of rural towns are dying as a consequence of the bad planning of the past. When people are finished shopping in out-of-town developments like Tesco and Aldi, they turn around and go away again. The Minister of State knows my friend who owns Super Valu in my home town. He did not want Aldi to come to town because it was planning to build outside the town. He said would not object if Aldi was planning to build right beside him because it would be a progressive development. If planners took such a positive attitude, we would not be in the state we are in at the moment.
It is clear that IDA Ireland is not putting an emphasis on bringing work to towns like Roscommon, Ballaghadereen, Boyle and Strokestown. It has no interest in towns the size of the Minister of State's home town of Ballymote. It is quite true to say that when one is in Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Cork and a few other urban centres, there is no recession. Outside of those areas, rural Ireland is dying. Everybody is coming here to Dublin for work. We are creating 3,000 jobs a month, which is very much welcome. I ask the Minister of State to try to do something to ensure those jobs are spread around the country so that people do not have to emigrate, or migrate to the likes of Dublin, for work. Perhaps, as a pilot project, the Western Development Commission could examine the rural town centres that are dying and see whether there is something it can do. I know it is interested in anything that might promote employment in rural Ireland. The Minister of State might ask it to get involved in this area.
The generous employment grants provided by county enterprise boards to incentivise small and medium sized enterprises to take on people are welcome and necessary. The Minister, Deputy Burton, recently acknowledged in the House that not many people know about the JobsPlus initiative she launched some months ago. Perhaps the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation could start to promote this scheme, whereby an employer who takes somebody off the live register gets half of that person's social welfare payment for two years. It would offer a huge boost to an employer who might be made aware of it. The new structures need to inform people of these schemes.
I wish to mention another idea that I brought to the Minister of State's attention at one stage. It has not moved as yet. The back to work scheme has not gone away. It is still there. I know many employers who started out on back to work schemes. A friend of mine who started out on a back to work scheme is now employing 50 people. Given that employers need capital, the benefits of cash being paid upfront should be considered in the context of such schemes. If a man is prepared to set up in business as a self-employed person, perhaps 12 months of his social welfare payment could be front-loaded to him to help with the capital costs he might need to meet. I await the Minister of State's response to these ideas.