While I cannot remember the date, of course, I have established a south-east action plan in the intervening period. As the following reply will indicate, considerable work has gone into that plan.
The aim of An Action Plan for Jobs is to help enterprises to create employment in all regions of the country. If we are to do this successfully, it is important that each region build on its particular strengths and assets to provide an environment that stimulates entrepreneurship and attracts both indigenous and foreign investment.
Under An Action Plan for Jobs 2014, my Department has developed a framework for the preparation of regional enterprise strategies which will be used to produce action oriented plans to support enterprise growth and job creation in the regions, commencing with the midlands. The strategy for the midlands will be launched early in the new year and my intention is to commence the preparation of a strategy for the south-east region immediately after that. The enterprise strategy for the south east will build on the south-east region employment action plan which was developed following the closure of TalkTalk in 2011. It will involve consultation with stakeholders in both the private and public sectors in the region.
The development of regional enterprise strategies is not about setting targets for job creation on a county by county basis; rather, it is about identifying the strengths and opportunities within each region and assisting the regions to deliver on their potential for economic development.
This will be achieved through better co-ordination and collaboration by all actors operating within the region. The south-east forum, which I established to help pursue the implementation of the plan, has been a helpful model to inform our approach.
Since the start of the Action Plan for Jobs process in 2012, employment nationally has increased by approximately 80,000. Employment in the south-east region has increased by 21,300 since the first quarter of 2012 and the unemployment rate has fallen from 20.1% to 13.7%, the largest decrease in all of the regions. While this represents good progress, the unemployment rate for the south east, as well as for some other regions, is still above the national average. That is why we are developing these new regional enterprise strategies.