I propose to take Questions Nos. 207 and 208 together.
Enterprise in Ireland creates the employment, prosperity and tax base that has supported our economic growth in recent years. We must create the best framework conditions and a business environment that will encourage and sustain such enterprise and the vital jobs that are maintained by business in Ireland. The enterprise support agencies under my Department are key agents in delivering the necessary supports to their clients to help both employment retention and growth. My officials are in regular contact with the agencies to monitor progress on these enterprise development objectives. Their performance in helping maintain employment, particularly among Irish firms, has been successful in the face of recent difficult global economic forces.
Sustainable employment is based on competitiveness, higher productivity and the application of technology in both existing and new enterprises. My Department has mandated its development agencies to review and redesign their enterprise support programmes so that corporate competitiveness is at the top of their agenda. The development agencies, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Shannon Development, FÁS, Science Foundation Ireland, InterTrade Ireland and Forfás, are committed to the support and development of existing enterprise as well as the creation of new industries. The agencies are working to increase the embeddedness and competitiveness of existing companies and have instituted programmes to develop this through increasing research and development, assisting firms to expand their export capacity and identifying potential new niches for Irish-based enterprises. In addition, the agencies continue to support the development of competencies, up-skilling of employees and creation of intra-business networks. They also advise on infrastructure development which is a key issue for enterprise competitiveness.
Forfás and the National Competitiveness Council regularly commission external studies on the policies and actions necessary to improve framework conditions for industry to make the economy more competitive. The most notable studies carried out in 2003 in this regard were: NCC Statement on Inflation; Submission to Mid-Term Review of the National Development Plan; Annual Competitiveness Report 2003; Competitiveness Challenge 2003; Key Waste Management Issues in Ireland — Update Report; Broadband Telecommunications Benchmarking Study; and Review of the Role of County and City Enterprise Boards in the Development of Micro-Enterprises.
One ongoing Forfás study aims to address job retention and the minimisation of job losses from the transfer of manufacturing operations to lower cost environments. This study is examining ways to encourage multinational corporations to diversify their activities into research and development to increase their embeddedness in the Irish economy. The preliminary findings show that there are significant opportunities to increase the involvement of existing companies here in undertaking more research and development in Ireland.
Last July, I asked the enterprise strategy group under the chairmanship of Eoin O'Driscoll to recommend and prioritise new strategies and policies to ensure that the prosperity we enjoyed in the past decade will continue into the future. Some of the areas I have asked the group to examine concern what we need to do to strengthen our existing enterprise environment, to promote an innovation and knowledge-driven economy and help sustain those industries already providing employment here. The group is working to submit a report to me by mid-2004.