Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Questions (50)

James Browne

Question:

50. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to address the quality of jobs in the south east and the need for further investment there; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49749/19]

View answer

Oral answers (25 contributions) (Question to Business)

Will the Minister address the quality of jobs in the south east and the need for further investment there? The south-east region has had the highest rate of unemployment on a consistent basis throughout the lifetime of this Government.

I call the Minister of State.

On a point of order, last summer I asked a similar question and the senior Minister did not answer it.

That is not a point of order. It is a matter for the Department to determine who is the appropriate Minister or Minister of State to answer a particular question. It is the Minister of State who has indicated that he will answer.

There is no senior Minister in the south east and it is consistently lagging in the context of this matter.

That is not a point of order.

The senior Minister should be taking this question.

The Deputy should take his seat. That is not a point of order.

On what basis is the Minister allowed to delegate this question?

That is not a point of order. It is not a matter for the Chair to determine which Minister or Minister of State should respond.

Enterprise development and sustainable job creation in the regions is a key policy priority of this Government. A total of 20,900 more people in the south east are in employment in 2019 than in 2015 when the Regional Action Plan for Jobs started and unemployment in the south east has reduced from 11.7% to 7.3% in the same period.

Although we have had very good success through the Regional Action Plan for Jobs in reducing unemployment, in the context of Brexit and other global challenges we also need to focus on the creation of quality and sustainable jobs in the area. Future Jobs Ireland, launched earlier this year, is our plan to meet these challenges. It includes ambitious targets and actions to drive this transformation of our economy.

The Minister and I launched the south-east regional enterprise plan last March, with strategic objectives focused on building enterprise resilience, marketing the region, a regional engagement strategy on key infrastructure priorities, ensuring that the south east is a learning region and an area of tourism growth. The plan has commenced implementation, led by the regional steering committee, involving the local authorities, enterprise agencies, local enterprise offices, tourism bodies, higher education institutions, education and training boards and others.

In the south east, there were 15,580 people employed across 76 IDA Ireland client companies in 2018. This was an increase of almost 7% on 2017. IDA Ireland will continue to work to identify opportunities for new investment or expansion in the south east, promoting the region's existing concentrations of pharmaceuticals, medical technology, financial services, agricultural technology and high value manufacturing activities.

In 2018, there were 25,214 people employed in Enterprise Ireland-supported companies in the south east, up 5% from 2017. Powering the Regions is Enterprise Ireland's new regional plan and it sets out the focus of its activities regionally, including for the south east. There was a net increase of 293 jobs supported by the five south-east local enterprise offices during 2018.

The south east has consistently had the highest rate of unemployment of any region but there is no focus on it. For the second time in six months, the senior Minister will not even address this matter. That is the level of contempt this Government is showing the south east.

That is not true.

Some 20,000 people are leaving Wexford in their cars each day in order to go to jobs elsewhere, with 14,000 of them from the Gorey area alone. They are stuck in a car park on the N11 because the Government will not address public transport issues. Many new train carriages have just been ordered but not one is for the Rosslare to Dublin rail line. We are told it will take 15 years for the N11 to be upgraded. A few minutes ago, we heard that 80 ha. of land have been purchased in Kildare for the purposes of enterprise development. The land in question is in addition to that already being used to foster development in the county. There are 4 ha. available in County Wexford and the head of IDA Ireland stated in a letter that there is no intention to purchase any further land there.

The south east is the forgotten region and Wexford is the forgotten county in the south east. The rate of tax returns for people working in the south east is half that of the rest of the country, which reflects the low quality of jobs available there. A little focus must be brought to this matter. I want the senior Minister to address the question for once, please.

It is unfair to say that the Minister has not taken an interest in the south east.

She is just sitting there.

The Minister has visited the south east on a number of occasions and I speak to her regularly on matters pertaining to the region.

Why can the Minister not speak for herself?

I told the Deputy that IDA Ireland jobs in the region have increased by 7% and that both the Minister and I regularly meet IDA Ireland's representatives in the south east, including the representatives of Wexford, Waterford, etc.

In 2015, the unemployment rate stood at 11.7% and now stands at 5.3%. The national unemployment rate, which stood at 10.5%, has declined to 5.2% in the same period. The Deputy will note progress is being made in the south east driven by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.

A total of 20,900 more people in the south east are in employment. All the indications are that three out of every five new jobs created in 2018 and 2019 were outside Dublin. The work done by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, in conjunction with IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices, and driven by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has delivered the reduction in unemployment in the south east. The Deputy cannot argue with the figures. I accept at one stage the unemployment rate in the south east was much higher than in other regions but it has substantially decreased. If the Deputy were to look back to 2013 and 2015 and then look forward to 2018 and 2019, he would note the substantial increase in employment in the south east.

The Minister of State said the unemployment rate in the south east is 5.3%. It is not. The 5.3% figure is the national average. The unemployment rate in the south east is 7.3%, which is 40% above the national average and twice the unemployment rate of Dublin. The quality of jobs is also a factor. The rate of tax returns from employed people in the south east is barely half the national average. People in the south east are working in low-paid jobs in tourism and agriculture. Quality jobs are not being brought to the region. There have been two visits by IDA Ireland to Wexford in the past year. Where is the focus? Where is the determination to address an important part of the country that is not being given the focus it needs?

Legislation was proposed specifically to develop a university for the south east, yet it is nowhere near being further advanced four years into the life of this Government. Rosslare Europort is operating at 38% capacity while down the road from this House in Dublin, ships are being turned away. Not one senior Minister has bothered to bring up the ownership of Rosslare Europort with his or her UK counterpart. There is a total and utter failure to address issues in the south east, emphasised and exemplified by the fact that, for a second time in a row, the senior Minister has not addressed the issue.

The Deputy is incorrect again. I said the unemployment rate in the south east reduced from 11.7% to 7.3%. I said the national employment rate decreased from 10.5% to 5.2%. The Deputy mentioned legislation to provide university status for the institutes in the region. Negotiations are already taking place between Waterford and Carlow institutes of technology.

They are working together.

Substantial money has been made available by the Government-----

That has been going on since I went to Waterford Institute of Technology 20 years ago.

-----to join the Institute of Technology Carlow and Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT. Both entities are engaged in negotiations.

The Government has put several funding streams in place to support regional development in the south east, including the Department's regional enterprise development fund, REDF. As of June 2019, the south east region has secured a total of €10 million from the fund. The Minister announced a further €45 million of funding under call 3 of the REDF and she intends to announce the successful projects by the end of the year. The percentage of the funding being garnered by the south east is at least at the level, if not way ahead, of the funding being secured in other areas. The facts and figures are clear. Three out of every five jobs that have been created during the past nine months have been outside Dublin, with a substantial number created in the south east.