I propose to take Questions Nos. 57, 82 and 87 together.
The main State development agencies under my Department helped companies create more than 21,700 permanent full-time jobs during 2003, and more than 26,500 jobs in 2002, displaying both the resilience of our enterprise society and the efforts that these agencies have made to counteract the force of decelerating global growth. Nevertheless, we are not immune to the impact of world business events and 33,900 and 28,800 jobs were lost among the agencies' client base in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
Last year's reduction in job losses suggests the worst of the job attrition may be over. Employment among clients of the State development agencies, however, is just a part of the job creation picture. The latest data from the Central Statistics Office's quarterly national household survey shows that employment growth across the whole economy has continued, with an increase from 1,745,000 in the December 2001 to February 2002 quarter, to 1,820,800 in the June to August quarter of 2003, an increase of more than 75,000 jobs.
There are indications that economic prospects are now improving and our propensity to capitalise on trends in global growth is likely to again stimulate business expansion and real employment growth. While it is not possible to predict any rate of employment growth in the year ahead, the economic development agencies are cautiously optimistic that employment among their clients will start to expand again. This is based on contacts they have with their clients and indications of a recovery in growth in the global economy. Recent media reports about jobs advertisements in national newspapers suggest there has been a significant rise in the number of manufacturing jobs on offer, as well as a noticeable increase in the general number of jobs being advertised. It is too early to say whether this trend will last but it does point to a more positive employment environment than for some time.
In the meantime, the Government and the economic development agencies are undertaking a number of co-ordinated strategies to sustain and promote employment growth. We must capitalise on the potential that research and development, new process and product innovation and more complex services activity offers to expand higher quality and more sustainable higher paid employment. We are already making progress in this area. Forfás survey data on productivity and wage growth provides strong evidence of higher quality jobs in clients of the development agencies under my Department. This stems from an increasing focus on more skilled and knowledge intensive activities. According to the data, agency assisted firms enjoyed productivity growth of 4-5% in the period 2000-02, twice the estimated European Union performance over the same period.
Enterprise policy is being actively refocused towards creating the conditions that will make possible a sustained shift to higher skill, knowledge intensive activities in which Ireland can be a significant player and can build truly distinctive competencies. In order to sustain the transition to a more dynamic, enterprising and productive economy, it is necessary to put in place consistent policies in the areas of infrastructure, education, entrepreneurship, research and innovation, all factors required to drive the development of higher skilled, knowledge intensive activities which will be the launch pad for the future growth of enterprise in Ireland.
These issues will be addressed by the enterprise strategy group, which I have charged with developing an enterprise policy blueprint to manage the challenges of changing global and domestic economic environments. I have asked the group to recommend and prioritise new strategies and policies to ensure that the prosperity we enjoyed in the last decade will continue into the future. The group will report to me in a few months.