Thursday, 3 October 2013
County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)
Like many Members, I came to the House from a local authority background. I speak as a former member of the Wexford County Enterprise Board. I compliment everyone who was involved in that board, from the chairman to the staff, as well as those who participated voluntarily, either as board members or in a mentoring capacity. Their efforts should not be forgotten at a time when we are looking to change the structures of county enterprise boards. However, they are boards of their time - how they were established was part of the legacy that was - so we should not be afraid to make changes and put in place a different structure that is suitable for the second decade of this century.
I am glad that some of the functions of the boards are to fall under the auspices of local authorities. Given local authorities are losing certain services, with water going to Irish Water and more and more motor taxation matters are being centralised with online applications, it gives them the opportunity to focus on generating jobs and work within their county boundaries. Local authorities probably were not doing enough of that, so it is good that the work will become part of their core remit and some of the best people in the local authority will be in charge of the new structure.
I am critical of IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland because they are committed exclusively to larger towns and cities and not small, rural towns. That is a mistake. For example, in my own town of Gorey, IDA Ireland owned a portion of land there, but it sold it - it could not move the land fast enough, which shows its levels of commitment. I would not have minded had it sold it when prices peaked, but they sold it almost at the trough, which was a mistake.
A local employment office would bring a knowledge that Enterprise Ireland or IDA Ireland do not have. I do not think that county enterprise boards had sufficient clout to bring their knowledge to the powers that be in the attempt to focus on getting jobs and business into each community. An example is Glanbia's site at Inch, which is close to where I live north of Gorey town. Glanbia closed down its operation. The Yoplait franchise was repurchased from Glanbia by Yoplait. The entire facility was closed down, much to my dissatisfaction and displeasure. It was very much a commercial decision made by Glanbia. However, there is now a valuable site available for someone else who wants to come in. Through the work that I and others, including Enterprise Ireland and Glanbia are doing, we are hopeful that the site can be traded in the short to medium term and facilitate the reintroduction of employment in the area, which is important.
I want the legislation - perhaps we can discuss this in more detail on Committee Stage - to give local authorities and employment offices the flexibility to facilitate business to flourish. Most businesses struggle in their early stages. It should be possible to do a deal at local employment level rather than having to deal with national legislation on, in particular, rates, and for a small company that might have ambitious plans to be given the opportunity for a waiver to be facilitated in the county structure, rather than having to go to other agencies or departments to look for consent on that.
I also want to discuss the commuter zone. I have no wish to talk down any other area, but 1.25 million people live in County Dublin, which is more than 25% of the nation's population. We must realise that there is a large commuter zone that crosses county boundaries. It practically starts at Dundalk in the north and goes perhaps as far as Portlaoise all the way to my town in Gorey in an arc from north to west to south. We need a strategy for the commuter zone. There are businesses that would take the opportunity to establish in the commuter zone where the motorway structure - the M50, along with the M1 north, the M4 west, M11 south and other motorways - facilitates the transfer of workers in the opposite direction rather than everything being based in Dublin. A commuter establishment - indeed, every company that could establish in areas outside greater Dublin, whether in Gorey or the other towns I mentioned - has the opportunity to have a lower cost base. I am not trying to make a political point, but the previous Government did not give the matter any consideration and I do not know that this Government is giving it enough consideration either.