I acknowledge your concerns regarding business closures in Sligo town. Addressing town centre renewal is an important factor in sustaining the attractiveness of urban centres as places not only to live in, but to work in, do business in and invest in.
My Department is supporting retail and town centre renewal through the Retail Consultation Forum. The ‘Framework for Town Centre Renewal’ was developed in 2017 by a Working Group of this Forum, setting out a practical step by step action plan for stakeholders to work collaboratively to enhance their local town or village, and encouraging towns and villages to establish a digital platform in response to the changing retail environment. It has also served as a support document for towns and villages applying for funding under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.
I expect to shortly publish the Action Plan for Jobs 2018, following an intensive consultation process. This is the eighth such Plan at the national level since its commencement in 2012, which has over that time maintained a strong emphasis on stimulating regional growth.
It is important to acknowledge that while jobs are growing right across the country some regions are growing faster than others. That is why to complement actions at the national level, the Government launched the Regional Action Plan for Jobs in 2015. The Regional Action Plan for Jobs initiative is a central pillar of the Government’s national ambition to create 200,000 new jobs by 2020, 135,000 of which are outside of Dublin. A key objective of each of the plans is to have a further 10 to 15 percent at work in each region by 2020, with the unemployment rate of each region not exceeding one percentage point above the national average.
Sligo town is part of the North East/North West Regional Action Plan for Jobs. This Plan is the key policy response for supporting employment growth in the Border region, with public and private stakeholders actively engaged. Sectors targeted as part of the plan include traditionally strong sectors for the region like agri-food, manufacturing/engineering and tourism. The core objective of the Plan is to see a further 28,000 at work in the region by 2020 and to reduce the unemployment rate to within 1 percentage point of the State average.
There has been a substantial improvement in the North East/North West region since the launch of the Regional Action Plan initiative with 12,000 more people in work in the region sinice the Regional Action Plan initiative commenced in early 2015, representing good progress towards the 28,000 target by 2020. Moreover, the unemployment rate in the region has fallen from 10.8% in Q1 2015 to 7.3% in Q2 2017, compared to the national rate of 6.9%.
The latest CSO figures show that there were 2,822 people on the Live Register in Sligo town in February 2018. This figure represents a decrease of 36%, or 1,583 individuals, since February 2012. This reduction is to be welcomed and demonstrates that while there are still challenges to surmount in bringing down this figure further, the overall trend for Sligo is one of steady improvement.
This Government is conscious that ambitious regional targets must be properly resourced under the Regional Action Plans. To this end, additional funds to support regional employment are being made available through the enterprise agencies on a rolling basis out to 2020.
In June 2016 an initial allocation of €5m for 48 local and regional initiatives under two of these calls was announced: the LEO Competitive Fund and the Community Enterprise Initiative. All regions benefited under this initiative.
On 11 December last, I announced the results of the first call under Enterprise Ireland’s €60 million Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF). This Fund is supporting the ambition, goals and implementation of the Regional Action Plans for Jobs through enabling the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative projects that can sustain and add to employment at a national, regional and county level. Twenty-one successful applicants representing all regions of the country have secured up to €30.5m for their projects in the first call. Over €5m has been approved for the Northern and Western region, subject to grant conditions. The second call under this Scheme will fund projects from the remaining balance of the €60m budget available and will be announced in Q1 this year. In order to ensure a balanced regional spread, Enterprise Ireland has targeted a minimum of €2m to be allocated for the best ranked project/s from each region across the entirety of the €60 million fund.
An additional €150m is also being made available to the IDA to support its Regional Property Programme and drive job creation in the multi-national sector. This programme includes include the construction of nine new advance facilities around the country. The agency has received over €90 million of this to date. This programme includes include the construction of nine new advance facilities around the country which will help draw more multinational companies to regional areas. So far, IDA has successfully secured tenants for the first buildings completed under its Regional property investment programme, one of which is in Sligo.
The enterprise agencies are working very hard towards the Government’s ambitious job creation targets at national and regional level.
Under IDA Ireland’s strategy “Winning - Foreign Direct Investment 2015, the Agency is targeting the creation of 80,000 new jobs and 900 new investments over this period. The Agency is also aiming to increase the level of investment by between 30% and 40% in each region. Since the launch of the Strategy, half of all jobs created by IDA client Companies have been based outside of Dublin. County Sligo currently has 21 IDA client companies supporting almost 2,200 jobs.
The Agency continues to actively market Sligo where the Agency has 8 hectares of available lands on the Finisklin Business & Technology Park and a new 31 hectares green-field land bank in Oakfield which will be accessed by Western Distributor Road. I understand that work on the Western Distributor Road will commence shortly.
Enterprise Ireland recognises the need for the development of sustainable, quality jobs throughout the country – especially in areas that have had historically low job creation. Progress is being made in this regard. I was pleased to see that when Enterprise Ireland announced its End of Year Statement for 2017 in January, all counties had experienced growth. Sligo performed particularly well in 2017, with Enterprise Ireland supported client companies registering an employment increase of 11%. This made Sligo the second best performing county in the country, coming second only to Leitrim at 12%. Sligo’s performance in 2017 is also higher than the North-West regional average of 7%.
Enterprise Ireland is committed to developing employment growth – this is reflected in the fact that 65% of jobs created by the agency in 2017 were outside Dublin. Enterprise Ireland will continue to work with its client companies to further support and develop employment throughout Ireland during 2018.
I would also refer the Deputy to the work of the Sligo Local Enterprise Office, which offers a wide range of business supports to entrepreneurs, early stage promoters, start-ups and small businesses in the Sligo area. In the three years from 2014 to 2016, a total of 487 jobs were created by companies supported by LEO Sligo. Feasibility, priming and business expansion grants totalling €1.1m were approved for 77 projects during this period, while 80 grants were issued to micro-enterprises in the County under the Trading Online Voucher Scheme.
It is the cumulative effect of all of these these activities - and the collaboration which they will bring about in their delivery - which will make a real and lasting impact on the jobs potential of Sligo and the wider North-West.
I am very conscious of the challenges as a result of Brexit faced by companies operating in close proximity to the Border, many of which trade freely on both sides of the border.
Since the UK referendum, the State agencies under my remit have been active in supporting companies in assessing and addressing their exposure to Brexit.
EI’s current “Prepare for Brexit” campaign includes a Brexit Scoreboard available to all companies to self-assess their preparedness for Brexit and generates a report suggesting appropriate responses.
For exporting companies, new resources were secured, including extra staffing, for EI and the LEOs in Budget 2017 to assist businesses to maintain and grow export markets.
Based on significant analysis and stakeholder consultation, my Department is currently working on further measures targeted at the needs of companies in the wider economy around working capital and business development.