Thursday, 15 July 2021
Department of Rural and Community Development
489. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which her Department has progressed the concept of digital hubs in order to minimise long commutes to work while at the same time replicating a work place environment both from the point of view of the employer and employee; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38966/21]
490. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of digital hubs envisaged by her Department throughout the country with a view to enabling persons to remain in their own communities while in a work place environment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38967/21]
499. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of persons currently benefitting from the use of urban or rural digital hubs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38976/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 489 to 499, inclusive, 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. This is a key focus of the Government's new rural development policy Our Rural Future.
Remote working, supported by appropriate infrastructure and facilities, has the potential to encourage more people to live in rural areas while working in good quality jobs, no matter where their employer is based. It can also help revitalise our rural towns if remote working hubs are developed in their centres.
The National Hub Network expanded from a €1m scheme that was funded under the 2019 Dormant Accounts Fund Action Plan. This project was originally scoped to develop a hub network, supported by a shared online platform for remote working facilities in the Atlantic Economic Corridor. However, in light of the clear demand for such a network across the county, this was expanded to a national project that would support both Our Rural Future and the National Remote Working strategy.
I launched the National Hub Network, connectedhubs.ie, on 31 May in the Swinford Digiwest Hub in Co. Mayo. Since the launch, 113 hubs have signed on and are now using the platform, with an additional 49 hubs in the process of being onboarded. Furthermore, the number of hubs identified through the Western Development Commission's hub discovery process has increased to 505. These are in the process of being verified before they are mapped on connectedhubs.ie/nationalhubsmap.html. This interactive map provides useful information in relation to each of the hubs and the services that are available at each site.
My Department does not record definitive figures of the number of people currently using the facilities across the range of hubs at this time. Due to current public health restrictions, some hubs are catering for essential workers only and many have not fully reopened. In all, there are approximately 15,000 desk spaces across the hubs nationally that can be utilised.
The National Hub Network and connectedhubs.ie platform will play an important role in allowing us to develop datasets, including usage datasets, which in turn will help to inform future policy and investment decisions.
This represents significant progress and demonstrates the value of the network. I am confident that the ambitious targets that I set for the development of the network will be exceeded by year end.