I thank the Senator for raising this very important issue. From the time of taking office, the ultimate goal and top priority of the Government has been to get Ireland back to work. Job creation is the Government's top priority. However, there is no big bang solution to the jobs crisis built up through years of poor policy choices. It will take a period of hard work by businesses, the Government and people across the country to rebuild the economy brick by brick, reform by reform, and to get back to sustainable enterprise-led growth where more businesses can start-up, expand and create new jobs.
The recent announcement to pay employers €10,000 for taking on people who have been unemployed for two years and €6,500 for people who have been unemployed for one year is a very good start. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to the Intreo office in Sligo with the Taoiseach. It provides a great opportunity to match employers and people who are unemployed. The opportunity for employers to avail of that €10,000 direct payment will be a big benefit. This is just coming on stream and I strongly encourage the Senator to talk to business people about it. There are great opportunities to employ people who have been unemployed.
The Government put together an Action Plan for Jobs, the objective of which is to get 100,000 people back to work by 2016. We are now 18 months into the Action Plan for Jobs process. The approach is new and innovative, designed to mobilise all Government Departments to work towards the objective of supporting job creation. The progress reports, which are published every three months, on the attainment or non-attainment of the quarterly targets set for each action provide a level of transparency which underpins the process. As the Senator will no doubt be aware, more than 90% of all actions were delivered as scheduled in 2012.
All of these individual measures are important. However, it is important to stand back from the detail to consider the impact the Action Plan for Jobs is having on the ground. The litmus test for the Action Plan for Jobs is the impact it will have on employment numbers. I agree entirely with the Senator that small businesses are the backbone of Portumna and that whole region.
The last two quarterly national household surveys have shown signs of a stabilisation in the labour market. There was an annual increase in employment of 1,200 persons in the year to the fourth quarter of 2012, the first annual increase in employment recorded since 2008. This was followed by an annual increase in employment of 1.1%, or 20,500 people net of public sector reductions, in the first quarter of 2013. When one considers that 250,000 jobs were lost before 2011, we are certainly going in the right direction. The unemployment rate decreased from 14.1% to 13.7% in the first quarter of 2013, the first time the unemployment rate has fallen below 14% in some years.
In 2012 IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland created almost 10,000 net jobs. While there is no doubt that the south east action plan is proving successful, it is not considered that the establishment of a similar task force in respect of Portumna would be an effective use of the State's enterprise development resources, rather it would be more beneficial if the State agencies and bodies continue their ongoing work on job creation without the additional requirement of having to service additional groups and committees. Their expertise can be better deployed by focusing on their existing strategies. The south east action plan has to be seen as a one-off action taking account of the TalkTalk site closure, the need for swift action and the fact that a large amount of analysis on the region has been undertaken in the past.
There are 59 IDA Ireland client companies in Galway city and county employing almost 13,000 people in full-time and part-time employment. The primary opportunity for regional locations is in respect of the existing client base and potential further investment opportunities from that client base. Approximately, 70% of all foreign direct investments won by IDA Ireland is from the existing client base. Some 281 Enterprise Ireland client companies employ 6,063 people in Galway.
Since 2011, Enterprise Ireland has approved more than €9 million to its client companies in Galway to help them accelerate their growth and make sales overseas thus creating and retaining employment. In addition, Galway County Enterprise Board has supported 14 projects so far this year in the form of priming business expansion-feasibility study grant-aid. The total amount of money approved for these 14 projects is €393,802 and this will create 41 full-time jobs.
In October 2012, as part of SME week, Galway CEB organised a Big Business Idea Roadshow. Five towns across Galway were visited, one of which was Portumna and 47 people attended the event in there. If the Senator believes it would be advantageous, I would be happy to bring the agencies together for a meeting in Portumna in September or October. I had an event in Cork quite recently where I brought all the State agencies together. The roadshows are very important. If the Senator contacts my office, I would be delighted to arrange this for September.
As I have said, job creation is the Government's top priority but jobs cannot be created by the Government alone.