Wednesday, 21 April 2021
Department of Rural and Community Development
2569. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the qualifying criteria for hubs announced under Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 - Our Rural Future; the person or body administering the scheme; the application process; the budget that has been allocated; and the person who is the line Minister on the matter. [18520/21]
2571. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the assistance available for the development of remote digital working hubs as announced recently in the Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 - Our Rural Future; if assistance is confined to not-for-profit and community companies; if private sector businesses can apply for assistance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18879/21]
2581. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development if her Department has a funding stream to assist communities to develop local hubs; if so, if guidance documents will be provided to a community (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19680/21]
2588. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the assistance available to community projects for the development of remote working hubs to date; if application forms for same are available; if such hubs can be developed in leased buildings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20169/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2569, 2571, 2581 and 2588 together.
The increased shift to remote working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity for a greater regional distribution of jobs and to support a better quality of life for many people who previously spent many hours in long commutes.
Remote working has the potential to transform rural Ireland, allowing people to build careers in good quality jobs while continuing to live closer to home, and to generate increased economic activity in our rural towns.
Building on an initiative by the Western Development Commission in developing a network of remote working and co-working hubs along the western seaboard, an Inter-Departmental Working Group, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, was established last October to oversee the development of a National Hub Network. The first phase of the Group’s work is to identify, map, survey and classify the various remote working facilities available throughout the country. Over 400 hubs have provisionally been identified, with the mapping and surveying of these hubs ongoing. The first iteration of this map will be published in the coming weeks.
This data-gathering work has identified an ecosystem of hubs operating across the country that is varied in terms of location, capacity and client base. These hubs are also diverse in their ownership models, running a wide range from directly state-owned, to private-for-profit, to social enterprises. My Department, supported by the Western Development Commission and the other members of the Inter-Departmental Group, are now engaged in the establishment of an integrated network of these remote working facilities with shared back-office services and a common booking engine for hub users. I expect to be in a position to outline the results of this work over the course of the year.
In addition to the supports and tools being developed under the National Hub Network programme, I have allocated €5 million to fund a Connected Hubs Call under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme this year. This initiative will provide funding to support small scale capital works in existing hubs and Broadband Connection Points. The aim of the Connected Hubs Call is to increase the capacity of the National Hub Network through improvements in the service offering available to users. This scheme will be open to applications from the full range of hubs and will not exclude any particular types of hub or ownership models. I intend to announce further details, including details of the application and evaluation process, of the Connected Hubs Call shortly.
In addition, my Department has invested over €50 million in the development of remote working facilities since 2016 through the Town and Village Renewal Scheme and the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund. Investment in new remote working facilities will continue in 2021 through further calls for both schemes. Only this week, I announced €75million for 24 landmark projects under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund. Many of the successful projects involve the regeneration of historic town centre buildings as Enterprise and Co-Working Hubs.
Significant investment is also being made in remote working infrastructure and connectivity through the Broadband Connection Points (BCP) initiative.