Thursday, 27 June 2019

Questions (6)

James Browne

Question:

6. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to address the quality of jobs and the need for further investment in the south east; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26954/19]

View answer

Oral answers (16 contributions) (Question to Business)

I ask the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to address the quality of jobs, and the need for further investment, in the south east.

Before I respond to Deputy Browne's question, I would also like to pay tribute to Deputy Kelleher, with whom I have served in this House for the past 17 years. Deputy Kelleher previously served in my office as Minister of State with responsibility for commerce and trade, where I know he was very popular with all of the staff. I understand some of my staff worked with him during his tenure as Minister of State. I wish the Deputy Kelleher well in his new role. It is an important role. Our future emanates from Europe and our MEPs have a lot of important work to do over the next five years. The Deputy's experience in this House will stand to him as he takes on his new role in the European Parliament. I wish him well.

In regard to Deputy Browne's question, enterprise development and sustainable job creation in the regions is a key priority of the Government. A total of 18,300 more people in the south east are in employment in quarter 1 2019 than there were in quarter 1 2015 when the regional action plan for jobs initiative was launched. Unemployment has reduced from 11.7% to 6.7% in the same period. The State average figure at quarter 1 2019 is 4.8%.

While we have had great success through the Action Plan for Jobs in reducing unemployment, in the context of Brexit and other global challenges, it is important that we move our focus to the creation of quality and sustainable jobs. In this context, the Deputy has raised an important question. Future Jobs Ireland is our plan to meet these challenges. Launched last March, it includes ambitious targets and actions to drive the transformation of our economy.

In the south east, there were 15,580 people employed across 76 IDA Ireland client companies in 2018, an increase of almost 7% on 2017. The IDA will continue to work with its clients to identify opportunities for new investment or expansion in the south east, promoting the region's strengths, including its ports and existing concentrations of financial services, IT and high-value manufacturing activities.

In 2018, there were 25,214 people employed in Enterprise Ireland, EI, supported companies in the south east, an increase of 5% over 2017. Earlier this week, the Minister launched Enterprise Ireland's new regional plan, Powering the Regions, which sets out the focus of its activities in each region, including the south east.

The Government remains committed to achieving an overall jobs uplift of between 10% and 15% in each region by the end 2020, from quarter 1 2015, and to bring and-or maintain unemployment levels in each region to within at least one percentage point of the State average. To this end, we recently launched nine new regional enterprise plans to 2020, which build on the strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. Last March, we launched the south east plan, which covers counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford in Waterford, with strategic objectives focused on building enterprise resilience, marketing the region, a regional engagement strategy on key infrastructure priorities, ensuring the south east is a learning region, and tourism growth.

I do not get the sense that the Minister, the Minister of State, or the Government understand the position in the south east. The region consistently has the highest rate of unemployment in the country, which I have raised continuously in this House since my election three years ago. There does not appear to be any focus on address of unemployment and the quality of employment in the south east. Numerous towns in the south east are consistently ranked among the lowest in terms of average incomes. Wexford, in particular, is on the doorstep of Dublin. It is linked by motorways, it has a significant population but it is not being serviced. The south east also has one of the lowest numbers of IDA jobs. There is no focus on address of the situation in the south east. As mentioned by the Minister of State, it has natural strengths such as the ports, but this has never been highlighted to any our colleagues in the UK in the context of the Brexit negotiations. Rosslare Europort should be booming. It should be a driver. We still do not have a university in the south east, which is another key issue. The quality of the jobs in the south east is unacceptable and it needs to be addressed. The south east is consistently one of the worst regions, and one of the failures of this Government, in terms of job creation targets.

There are 19 IDA companies in Wexford, which employ more than 3,139 people. The south east has many strengths, including its ports and existing cluster of financial services. The IDA continues to engage with companies in Wexford. Last March, GrandPad, which produces tablets for seniors, located its European headquarters in Gorey. In July 2018, INDOS Financial located in Enniscorthy. There is a lot of job creation happening in the south east. In terms of focus, I refer the Deputy to the future jobs Ireland framework, which is of major importance to the country. It is about innovation.

The Deputy referred to quality jobs. There is a lot of innovative and technological change taking place in Ireland. We also have to increase SME productivity in the country. SMEs are important to the south east, including Wexford. Approximately 98% of enterprises in the country are SMEs that employ 70% of the population. It is also important that we invest in upskilling people as job roles change. The figures I outlined in my initial reply are positive. As stated by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in their end of year reports, job creation outside of the greater Dublin region is strong.

Unemployment decreased in May but 200 fewer people were unemployed in the south east.

It appears that the unemployment rate is going down solely on the basis that people are retiring from or leaving the employment market.

The south-east region is consistently missing both the Government's Action Plan for Jobs targets of bringing regional unemployment to within 1% of the State average and the Government's proposed target of creating 25,000 new jobs. IDA Ireland has virtually no land in County Wexford. Wexford has 3.3% of the national population and we want 3.3% of IDA Ireland jobs. That is reflected across the entirety of the south east.

Yesterday, it was announced that Enniscorthy town has the second lowest average income in the county. According to Pobal, the south east has the highest number of socioeconomic black spots.

There is a lack of focus on targeting this in the south east. There are many generalities. The figures the Minister of State gave are national figures. There is a lack of focus on the south east. The strengths are there but they are not being taken advantage of.

The figures I gave on the south east are positive figures. I stated that in the south east, 15,580 people were employed across 76 IDA Ireland companies in 2018. That is positive.

The Deputy is lucky to have the financial services down in that area as well. I wish we had more of them in my own area. This is an area where we are getting many new companies in as a result of Brexit and where many of our trade missions are focusing as well. Wexford's own Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is in charge of that area and he has done many trade missions in that area of financial technology, FinTech, services.

Deputy Browne talked about the region. Regions, for us, are really important. Only last Monday, in Cavan, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, launched a new round worth €45 million for the regional enterprise development scheme. It is a very important scheme. In the south east alone, €10 million was secured under the two completed calls, which involved €60 million in total. This is the way the south east needs to move forward here.

It is not all about IDA Ireland jobs. It is all about indigenous jobs, microenterprise jobs.

We will take any jobs.

There is a local enterprise office in Wexford. All these are playing a significant role in increasing employment in the regions.

As Deputy Browne will be aware-----

I gave the Minister of State figures and he is giving me generalities.

-----unemployment has decreased in all the regions around the country.

We will continue to do so in the future with the prudent management of the economy-----

-----and the initiatives that we have brought in in our Department.