The past decade saw the most rapid and sustained economic growth in the history of the State. In a short period, this has provided levels of prosperity in every region that would have been considered by earlier policymakers as impossible.
As a small open economy we have few defences against the powerful changes taking place in international trade and business. Nationally we have an enthusiasm to maintain our increased prosperity and there is recognition among the international business community that we are committed to doing so. Within Government, I have a commitment to ensure the environment for doing business in and from Ireland provides the right balance of entrepreneurial incentives and policy architecture to help enterprise expand and prosper. The enterprise strategy group's report matches these objectives and presents a package of policy adjustments to keep our economy vibrant and competitive. The group's recommendations do not propose an abrupt transformation of domestic enterprise, rather they seek to substantially enhance our existing enterprise base by strengthening existing policies and by identifying important capability gaps. Implementing the group's report must be seen in an important international context. Ireland faces a number of strategic issues in maintaining and expanding the higher living standards, growth and employment levels achieved over the past decade. Among these are increasingly intensive competition for markets and mobile investment due to globalisation.
The accelerating pace of global change including structural changes being felt across the enlarged European Union, is driving unprecedented changes in the way business is transacted around the world. The enterprise strategy group's report gives us the analysis and context in which to reorient and reinvigorate enterprise policies and the associated institutional arrangements to implement them.
The report is a valuable contribution to embedding strategies and change appropriate to the new realities and challenges facing the Irish economy. I have mandated and agreed many changes that substantially advance the enterprise strategy group's implementation process.
I will briefly summarise the early and substantial progress to date. The enterprise strategy group recognised a new and important relevance for indigenous enterprise in transforming our economy into one based on innovation and knowledge. Consequently, significant changes have taken place at Enterprise Ireland to transform its professionalism and engagement with small and medium-sized enterprises.
The agency has restructured how it delivers assistance to clients, taking into account the enterprise strategy group's recommendations, and a few months ago I launched its strategy for transforming Irish industry. This strategy contains notable changes that are also aligned with the enterprise strategy group's proposals. For example, Enterprise Ireland has radically reorganised its services to exporters and a new internal organisational structure has been put in place to reflect this. This is an important first step in helping Irish companies internationalise their business.
The enterprise strategy group pointed to shortcomings in marketing capability and this is being addressed by Enterprise Ireland and FÁS in a joint pilot programme to develop increased levels of sales and marketing talent within Irish companies that I announced on 24 August. The enterprise strategy group also referred to the importance of management capabilities in Irish firms. Human resources are already a core component of Enterprise Ireland's business development model in that the agency adopts a holistic approach to business development, which covers key business functions. As part of Enterprise Ireland's restructuring a client-management development and mentoring division has been set up to focus on addressing this recommendation.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The following are some examples of our planned and measured approach to the process of addressing each of the enterprise strategy group recommendations and linking them with specific performance targets to help later evaluation of success and progress. Last week I announced our initial response to the enterprise strategy group's one step up proposal.
Last week's launch also featured "open day" at the Royal Hospital where workers seeking to improve their skills could see the full range of available training programmes and education courses. The one step up initiative gives workers the opportunity to acquire new skills and competencies. This will allow them to perform higher, added-value tasks, be able to bring new knowledge to their work and not be left behind as the economy evolves into more specialised activities.
The enterprise strategy group made some important recommendations about innovation and research and development. In this regard funding for Science Foundation Ireland is critical and has been assured until 2009. Furthermore, Enterprise Ireland has established a new support structure for technology development. Groups of technologists now assist client companies in the development of strategic technology innovation, which will result in the smooth introduction of new processes and in bringing new products and services to market.
The Government has also appointed a chief science adviser and last year we published our action plan for promoting investment in research and development to 2010. The enterprise strategy group recognised that without more market relevant research and development the future of many companies here is at best uncertain. My Department is working on the strategic implementation plan that will tell us the best way to implement the research and development action plan. This will take into account many of the enterprise strategy group's science and innovation related policy suggestions.