We have provided the committee with a pretty comprehensive brief and I certainly do not propose to read large swathes of it into the record. Overall, we have had a pretty good first almost three quarters of the year. IDA Ireland's half-year figures, as members have probably seen, demonstrate that job approvals - which it measures at half-year points - are up by 12.5% on the same period for 2014. There was a good regional spread, as members can see from the lists, in what is coming through, including Zimmer in Galway, Lakelands in Cavan, Bausch & Lomb in Waterford, Amneal in Tipperary and Pramerica in Letterkenny. One of IDA Ireland's new objectives is to increase its impact in the regions, and that is happening. With Enterprise Ireland, there is similarly a very healthy feeding through of projects. It tracks the companies within its remit which indicate an intention to expand employment. They are in a very healthy state. A number in this case also demonstrate good regional spread, such as Combilift in Monaghan and East Coast Bakehouse in Drogheda. There is good activity in both areas.
The first year for local enterprise offices was very successful and we are pushing innovation through that system. The doubling of the microfinance take-up this year compared with the first two quarters of last year demonstrates the impact of the local enterprise offices. In terms of direct employment, their figure to date is 902 jobs. The young entrepreneur programme is another innovation we have put through the local enterprise office process and the indication is that the figures will be up 40% on last year, which is a really healthy sign for young entrepreneurship in the country. As members know, Enterprise Ireland is a partner to the Startup Gathering this year, which is encouraging in spreading the message of the start-up process, making it easier to use and getting it out there.
The www.actionplanforjobs.ie website has done well in giving user-friendly access for business to the various services. As members probably know, there is an online tool that sits behind it to make it easy for business to sift through what somebody has said, which amounts to 1,600 different programmes across all agencies. People can see which of those are relevant and get a fairly good menu from that. We certainly encourage people to use that tool. Despite much effort to highlight what is available, small businesses may be under time pressure, so making this easier to get at is very important.
We have published three of the regional plans and work is continuing on the others. The reception for these has been very encouraging, with much interest in them locally. Many people feel it is a good opportunity to sit down with others in the region to examine their strengths and see how they can act together to deliver them. We have been encouraged by this process. It is a novel approach and we hope the competitive funding model is a good way to promote the best thinking.
I will take this opportunity to answer Deputy Michael Conaghan's question. When we sat down and looked at the jobs challenge, one thing we knew was there was no silver bullet. There has not been one action that we can say has been the solution to our recovery, other than, I suppose, the ingenuity of Irish enterprise and Irish workers in finding new opportunities. Some of the indications are under the three pillars for a small open economy which I always speak about, namely, enterprise, innovation and exports. Entrepreneurship is undoubtedly recovering. The Companies Registration Office's statistics may not be authoritative, but they show a 26% increase in the number of companies which have started. Obviously many start-ups do not start companies but there has been a pretty healthy recovery in entrepreneurship. It is staggering to see some of the innovative applications we now sell abroad, even as far afield as China from where I have just returned. We have a soil remediation company in Carlow, Keelings in north County Dublin has software to back up a food distribution network, and Movidius is designing a new chip which replicates the eye's intelligence to assimilate what it picks up and to make decisions. Some extraordinary innovation is taking place in Ireland at present and it is driving opportunity. The most clear evidence is in the area of exports. We have doubled our trade missions. Enterprise Ireland has had double-digit growth in its export base from Irish companies and the same is true of IDA companies. Distribution is moving away from the UK and entering the new more dynamic markets further afield. We are told 90% of growth will be outside Europe so we must be in these markets.
Through the Action Plan for Jobs we have aligned what is done in government with these enterprise, innovation and exporting opportunities. We have tried to clear away obstacles as best we can. This has been a successful whole-of-government approach. The OECD has recognised that the notion of taking a whole-of-government approach to break across the silos is novel and impactful in how it has performed.
The Web Summit is a very successful Irish start-up. When it started, 400 people attended its conference and 30,000 people attended the previous one. It has already diversified and expanded into Hong Kong and the US and has plans for India. It is now moving to Portugal. It is a company and will make the best decisions for the growth of its business. It is a very successful business and I wish Paddy Cosgrave and the promoters great success. I am sure we will continue to participate in very meaningful ways. Its decision does not in any way alter the very strong entrepreneurial start-up environment we have. I saw a comment from the commissioner for start-ups for Dublin appointed by Dublin City Council that we still have a very good environment and this decision does not in any way alter the growth in venture capital availability, the growth in start-ups or the vibrancy. It does not in any way impact on the quality of the start-ups we enjoy. We continue to see the success of start-ups and we will develop other showcases for our start-up environment. We will continue to promote it. This is a natural progression for the Web Summit.
Senator Quinn asked whether we set the targets and whether they were not high enough. When we set them, many people said we would never deliver 100,000 jobs, that they were pie in the sky and we would not match up to them.
Setting ambitious targets is important but they need to be realistic. We have exceeded those targets but in the process we have achieved a 6% growth in the past two years and a 3% growth in employment. We have exceeded those targets because people have responded dramatically to the opportunities we know opened up. The targets were about right. They give us confidence that the policy mix is correct and that if we continue with this sort of policy mix we can continue to grow but that, equally, recovery is fragile and we cannot take for granted our competitiveness, our ability to penetrate export markets, our capacity for innovation or the quality of the talent coming out of the education system. All those have to be worked at. I believe strongly that as we look to the next phase - full employment and bringing down unemployment and emigration levels - there will be major challenges on the path ahead and we should square up to those challenges.
On the question as to whether we adhered to our budgets, we definitely adhered to our budgets. The employment control framework ensured we came in on budget all the time. We adopted an aggressive approach to reform in that we reduced dramatically the number of agencies. We brought back the local enterprise offices, formerly county enterprise boards, with our own independent boards. We created a delivery mechanism through the local authorities, under supervision from Enterprise Ireland. There is now a service level agreement approach with the local authorities. That is a new approach. It has consolidated, but it is delivering new, innovative products. We did the same with the Workplace Relations Commission. We had five different bodies and have shrunk them to two. We did the same with Forfás. We brought that in-house because we believed we needed a strong policy agency within our Department to drive policy thinking rather than having it outside. We have made many changes to ensure we could adhere to our budget at the same time as we were shrinking numbers of bodies and spending. I am told that, typically, we spent 95% of our allocations per annum, so we had a little headroom to spare. The challenge is to drive on from where we are, focus on the areas where there is opportunity, and continue that whole-of-government approach.
I have had a lot of meetings recently, as we are doing our Enterprise 2025, looking ten years ahead, and the strongest point people made was that talent will drive our success in the coming years. That is a responsibility of everyone, not just the education system but the choices we make in careers, study and the promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by industry. There are real opportunities ahead but we have to make the right decisions to realise them.