I welcome the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and invite him to make his opening contribution.
Action Plan for Jobs 2014: Statements
I will keep my opening statement brief to allow time to respond to issues raised by Senators.
The central challenge we have as a nation is to address the employment situation. The crash saw the wiping out of some 20% of all jobs in the private sector in the space of three and a half years. It was an extraordinary degree of attrition which put the country on its back. The impact on people's lives was enormous and there was a range of knock-on effects on our public finances. It left us unable to raise money to fund services.
It had an impact on the banking system and filtered right through the economy. It has been a huge challenge to fix many elements destroyed by the crash. Central to this was employment. The idea behind the Action Plan for Jobs was that every Department and Government agency had a shared responsibility in addressing the challenge. There was no element of Government that could not look at some element of its work and change it to make it easier for enterprise to create employment and for people to get jobs. This was the central focus of the plan. It was also determined that this was not to be a grandiose strategy; it was to be very much action oriented. Actions were to be delivered quarter by quarter, with timelines and benchmarks for delivery. It was not a grandiose plan in which we hoped to be somewhere or other in five years time and then we would forget about it and see how things played out. It was going to be driven quarter by quarter and Department by Department.
The other innovative element, apart from, if one likes, working across the silos of Government, was that the delivery of those targets was to be monitored from the Taoiseach's office, with a name and shame approach where there was a failure to deliver. It created an environment where there was real pressure to deliver on changes that were believed possible of making a difference and to deliver on them in time.
In simple terms, it boiled down to two clear ambitions. One was to create 100,000 additional jobs, the other to become the best small country in which to do business, both by 2016. We were very clear on what it was we were about. It is worth reflecting on how much progress has been made on those central targets. We have about 80,000 net additional people at work since the Action Plan for Jobs was launched. It started with a very strong performance by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland companies building in the export market, improving competitiveness, going further afield, doubling the number of trade missions and really going after those markets. Now it has extended into other sectors. The construction and retail sectors, which are the bread basket of a lot of employment, are now also recovering. We are well within reach of hitting, and exceeding, the 100,000 figure by 2016. If one nets out the fact that the public sector has been shrinking in recent years, the private sector has probably already hit 100,000 additional people at work. The plan in terms of employment is delivering.
On the second indicator, becoming the best small country in which to do business, we closely track various competitiveness indicators. We have improved on all of them. Our ranking has gone from 24th to 15th place in terms of world competitiveness. It has improved four places to 13th, out of 189 countries, in terms of ease of doing business. Fortune magazine has indicated we have the best business environment for foreign investment. We are making real progress built on changes which have been introduced, improved competitiveness in certain sectors and reforms in the way we deliver across a range of services, whether it be work permits, skills, or the many other things which make up the business environment. That is why the Action Plan for Jobs, with the breadth of its ambition and the number of Departments participating in it, has been so important.
In terms of how we structure the plan each year, it looks at key areas, including skills, tax, access to finance and measures in which Government influences the environment for doing business, whether it be wage-setting mechanisms, the employment permit systems or licensing arrangements. The plan looks at research and development and the extent to which our research and development is oriented towards business and getting business engagement. It looks at infrastructures. It also looks at sectors where we have real opportunity to drive change. Entrepreneurship is a very significant theme this year. Two thirds of all new jobs come from businesses in the first five years of their existence. A good environment is now emerging for start-ups, but they took a huge pounding in the recession. The number of start-ups collapsed by approximately 30%. We need to drive that rate back up but we also need to drive up the survivorship rate. Although they created 100,000 jobs, half of the companies formed during the crash years failed. If we can improve the start-up flow, reduce the number of them falling by the wayside and see more of them grow to scale, we can dramatically transform the employment environment. That is the ambition.
We are also looking at sectors such as manufacturing which got squeezed out during the building boom. Costs went awry and manufacturing was put to one side as a sector in which we could not compete. It is very much a sector in which we can compete. We have to be innovative to compete in it but it has huge advantages in terms of its regional spread. It is spread throughout the country and it is much easier to drive employment in it. Some of our best exemplars of manufacturing innovation are companies like Dairymaster in County Kerry, Combilift in County Monaghan and Ribworld in County Tipperary. These are businesses in regional and sometimes rural locations which are delivering global standards from an enterprise base. We need to nurture these as well as focus on the ICT sector and other sectors that are clearly going to shape the business environment in the future. We have looked at areas such as the food sector, financial services and tourism and have tried to make changes that would help these sectors grow.
We have also looked at what we call disruptive reforms. These are changes that will impact across numerous sectors. Energy usage and efficiency, use of renewables, smart buildings and smart use of resources are already important and will become increasingly so in the coming years with the pressure on climate change and so on.
Senator Feargal Quinn will know more than most that retail is changing dramatically and that more and more business is migrating online. A relatively small share of the Irish business done online is actually done in Ireland. Someone else is going to eat our lunch if we do not see more businesses move online and have trading platforms online which can win new business for them.
Big data is another area which is going to change the environment and the sort of business models that succeed. Increasingly, with the Internet of things, our capacity to have smart equipment that can be monitored remotely and collect a myriad of data on performance is going to transform manufacturing and homes and so forth. The sort of businesses that will thrive in that sort of environment will be different from traditional ones. We need to move rapidly to understand what big data will do for enterprise and how we position ourselves to take advantage of these opportunities.
That is the backdrop. We are trying to do a number of things at the same time, some of them very short term. Some are things we can fix in the next 12 months. Some look to the medium term and, for instance, the changes needed in our skills environment. Even in the area of health - I see Senator John Crown is here - we are looking at how an innovation hub can be created in the health sector in order that innovative companies can get a chance to test technologies within our health system. One of the best ways of growing companies is for them to get a reference sale from an Irish multinational or an Irish public service body. That is a huge reference sale if a business is trying to go overseas.
Last week we had our first trade mission in Ireland. For the first time, we brought 150 Irish sub-supply companies to meet 75 multinationals based in Ireland to try to improve access to their supply chains. It is a regular thing to take high-performing companies to China, India or elsewhere, but a lot of procurement possibilities are available on our doorstep. If we can get into the supply chains here, there is a chance to get into global supply chains and to build those companies.
That is the concept behind it. We are currently preparing the action plan for 2015. We engaged in a consultative process with various sectors, representative groups, trade unions and so forth and we are now moving to pull together the sort of changes we can make in 2015 that will make a difference. Some of them have been flagged in the budget. Others will be flagged in the action plan when it is published early in the new year.
I am very eager to hear suggestions from Senators on areas in which they feel the Government could do better, opportunities that the Government is missing, areas where the boot is pinching, businesses which are trying to create employment, or opportunities where people who have been out of work could be brought in. The Pathways to Work strategy is very much at the core of this.
We have tested many new approaches. Some of them get public criticism, but I would strongly defend programmes like JobBridge because they give work experience to people who have no such experience, they have a high job placement ratio and they are helping to reverse one of the big problems caused by the crash. Younger workers were most affected by the crash, by and large. Most people in the older age categories did relatively well. There was a sort of last in, first out policy. The impact on the younger age cohorts was enormous. We have to do things to help younger people back into the workforce. That is a very clear target in some of these programmes.
I will leave it at that. I welcome contributions Senators might wish to make.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, to the Seanad for this debate. I relish the opportunity to lead the Fianna Fáil contribution to the debate on the Action Plan for Jobs. The action plan and the accompanying quarterly progress reports represent an excellent initiative on the part of this Government. The reports provide transparency with regard to multiple governmental actions, each of which influences job creation and entrepreneurship in its own way. The policy statement on entrepreneurship in Ireland, which was published recently, is a welcome addition. I am speaking on behalf of my party, and also as an entrepreneur as the co-founder of Lir Chocolates. I have been a nominee to the Seanad of the Irish Exporters Association since 2002. I take a keen interest in policies that encourage exports. As a supporter of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises association, ISME, I follow closely how the State and the banks relate to the small and medium-sized enterprise sector and to the self-employed. Of course, we welcome the decline in unemployment. I understood that the current rate was 11.1%, but I heard this morning in the Seanad-----
It is now 10.7%.
I do not know what the source of that figure is.
That is the live register figure. As it is based on the quarterly national household survey, it is the authoritative number.
Within this broadly encouraging national picture, I want to focus on what we must do better if we are to inspire hope that Ireland can provide a better future for many of our fellow citizens who do not share this belief. I referred this morning to Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy's suggestion that 800 children in Ireland were made homeless in the first ten months of this year and that 45 families were made homeless last month. That is the reality.
We are still failing to capitalise on the full potential of the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. According to the latest ISME quarterly bank watch survey, as published on 2 December, 50% of companies that applied for bank funding in the last three months were refused. The decision of Danske Bank and Rabobank to exit the Irish market has left many small and medium-sized enterprises with significant problems in getting the existing banks to refinance their loans. The head of the Credit Review Office, Mr. John Trethowan, who is usually quite measured, sounded the alarm bells when he said that this refinancing "will be a challenge for the wider economy and recovery" with significant numbers of small and medium-sized enterprises "exhibiting some form of financially challenged condition" and the remaining banks applying "strict lending policies and limited risk appetites". I appeal to the Minister to address this "challenge for the wider economy and recovery" by seeking greater transparency in the murky world of banks and small and medium-sized enterprises and getting a better response to the legitimate lending and refinancing needs of such enterprises. I have spoken in this House previously about my doubts that the new strategic bank corporation will improve credit access, given that the existing banks will still be responsible for taking credit decisions and risks. I strongly encourage the Minister to support Mr. Trethowan's recommendation that the microfinance scheme loan limit should be increased from the current €25,000 to at least €50,000 and possibly to €100,000. I assure the Minister that Mr. Trethowan knows what he is talking about.
We should do more to capitalise on the massive untapped potential of women as entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurship policy paper I mentioned earlier shows that a man in Ireland is 1.9 times more likely than a woman to be "an early stage entrepreneur". The ratio has been improving, and we are now level with the average across the 28 EU member states. In the words of the policy document, "it still shows untapped potential amongst female entrepreneurs". There has been an increase in the number of female-led projects approved by Enterprise Ireland. Sixteen female-led projects were supported financially by Enterprise Ireland in 2012, but this number had increased to 41 by last year. This is surely a vindication of the responsiveness of women to the specific initiatives taken to encourage them as entrepreneurs. If we do not develop the full potential of half of the population by getting more women to be more active as entrepreneurs, we will not develop the full potential of the country. We need to see more women in the technology sector. We should actively oppose the male-dominated "testosterone-fuelled Silicon Valley" practices that were eloquently described by Karlin Lillington in an article in The Irish Times on 20 November last. I am sure the Minister read the article, which was entitled, Boys being boys' attitude in the tech sector needs to end. The new chief executive officer of Enterprise Ireland, Julie Sinnamon, is in a unique position as the first female head of an organisation that is charged with encouraging more female entrepreneurs. I encourage the Minister to support the expansion of Enterprise Ireland's ambitious women initiatives and to increase the annual funding for the female feasibility funds and the start-up funds.
There is a real danger of a divide between Dublin and the rest of Ireland when it comes to providing modern facilities and encouraging entrepreneurs. There are real fears in most of the country that the economic recovery is mostly evident in Dublin and will not spread to their areas. I am sure the Minister is aware of the concern in the regions that foreign direct investment is increasingly concentrated in Dublin and Cork. As Senator Paschal Mooney has pointed out, County Leitrim got just one visit from IDA Ireland in recent years. It appears that most of the high-potential projects approved by IDA Ireland and the vast bulk of the seed capital and venture capital funds are concentrated in Dublin and Cork, with some presence in Limerick and Galway. It is in the interests of balanced regional development and the economic vibrancy of all counties and regions for imaginative ways to be found to foster high-potential start-ups in all regions to a much greater extent. We need to capitalise on the existing business know-how in the area, the expertise of the nearest universities and colleges of technology and the third level education of the sons and daughters who leave their native areas. We have to capitalise on the abilities of people who are leaving by encouraging them to stay. I strongly support the recommendation on page 49 of the Minister's entrepreneurship policy statement that we need "to build world class entrepreneurial hubs and achieve greater regional spread of such hubs". It is imperative for the Minister to roll out as a matter of urgency the specific initiatives needed to implement this regional ambition.
We must all unite to convince our fellow citizens that Ireland can provide a better future for them. I refer particularly to the long-term unemployed and to the graduates who are leaving our shores. I understand that 56% of unemployed people are deemed to be long-term unemployed because they have been out of work for over a year. I do not deny that this number has decreased. Half of the graduates who leave have jobs already. We must address this issue in Ireland. Why are these graduates not staying? I understand that many people want to spread their wings by going abroad and learning new things, which is natural and inevitable, but one often hears people asking why they should stay in Ireland in light of the pessimistic atmosphere here. I am concerned about the economic loss caused by the departure of so many young people with valuable skills and education. Despite the economic recovery, approximately 80,000 people, half of whom were Irish nationals, emigrated in the year to last April. The Australian Government is delighted that so many skilled people from Ireland are taking up jobs there. Their skills, training and education which were paid for by the Irish taxpayer, are welcomed in Australia.
I draw the Minister's attention to a report I discovered last week, which relates to the effects of the recession on Ireland's older people. The report which is part of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, TILDA, was published on 4 November last.
Mothers of adult emigrants who left Ireland during the recession are now more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health issues than those whose children are still living in Ireland. The study indicates that despite the fact that older people in Ireland lost 45% of their financial assets, it has not affected them mentally. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing has drawn our attention for the first time to the fact that when children emigrate, mothers get depressed. The same extent of depression does not affect fathers. That is another issue to be considered. I was rushing a bit, but I compliment the Minister on his efforts.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton. The Opposition of every hue has been calling for spending increases on every conceivable project since this Government entered office. I suppose that is the wont of opposition. Unfortunately, the previous Government never had difficulty with answering these calls with large sums of money obtained from an unsustainable over-reliance on taxation from the property sector. It was an easy but self-defeating way to govern, as we now know to our cost. There is no doubt, however, that increases in spending in various sectors are warranted and, as the economy continues to improve, further appropriate increases will occur. That process was started in the most recent budget.
The only way to have sustainable public services is to have them underpinned by taxation arising from high rates of employment in sectors that are strong and growing. The previous Government cost this State 320,000 jobs, which were lost before actions were taken by the Government to arrest that landslide. Thanks to the previous mishandling of the economy, Irish unemployment almost trebled, peaking at 15.1% in mid 2012. Since then, the Government, through the Action Plan for Jobs, has been unrelenting in focusing on getting the country back to work. Two and a half years later the success can be seen, with today's figures indicating our unemployment rate is at 10.7%, with the prediction that it will continue to fall.
I will quote from the OECD report on Ireland's Action Plan for Jobs, APJ. It indicates "The APJ's most striking innovation in the Irish public policy context is a co-ordination mechanism that ensures high-level political buy-in and oversight, whole-of-government engagement and the establishment of quarterly targets underpinned by a robust monitoring system." As Senators will gather, this is both praise for the job undertaken and an implied criticism of previous public policy. We have a terrible record of such policy initiatives being announced with fanfare and being left wither on the vine. For the first time in any area, the Action Plan for Jobs was underpinned by total cross-government coordination, targets and timeframes. There was complete political buy-in. The plans and follow-up steps were published, and the Government is completely open in publishing the targets met and those which have not been met. The Minister is held responsible when targets are not achieved and praised when they are. To date, I am glad to say, an overwhelming majority of the input has been praise. This is an experience that can be transferred to other areas of policy.
I will refer to another OECD comment. Unlike other areas of recession in Europe, Ireland alone has changed its employment mix, ensuring that highly skilled workers gained employment. That reflects our warranted change from traditional, low-tech industry to creating employment opportunities that cater for our increasingly well qualified people. The OECD also confirms that we are well on track to deliver the 100,000 jobs promised by 2016. It also notes that the target of 2.1 million people in employment by 2020 is firmly within our grasp. Although we can never create enough jobs quickly enough, the story so far is one of positive progression and that is to be welcomed. I fully support the continuation of the current policy.
There are two linked issues I wish to highlight, namely, the small and medium enterprise, SME, sector and the question of "red tape". There are approximately 300,000 SMEs in Ireland and they are, as the Minister will acknowledge, the lifeblood of our economy. That is particularly true in terms of creating employment. It is also the case that these businesses have a disproportionate reliance on the banking sector for their external funding requirements. The banking crisis had a crippling effect on this sector but I note from recent statistics that the banks are again lending in this area. AIB this week indicated it had increased lending to SME's by 60%, which should be welcomed. However, the potential game-changer for SMEs and their capability to create employment is the advent of the Government's Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland legislation. The fiscal discipline shown by Government to date enabled the creation of this fund to support our indigenous industry.
There are valuable initiatives such as the National Pensions Reserve Fund delivering €850 million of funds in a range of supports for the SME sector, the pillar bank lending targets being increased to €4 billion each, a seed and venture capital scheme run by Enterprise Ireland worth up to €700 million, the development capital scheme worth €225 million to support growing mid-sized indigenous companies and the Credit Review Office recruiting additional staff to support monitoring work. In his preparations for next year's budget, I urge the Minister to stress to the Minister for Finance what is still a high cost of doing business in this country. Employers' PRSI, for example, is still far too high, and the Minister should try to ameliorate that burden in the next budget.
With regard to red tape, I note the Minister has, among other measures, increased the number of businesses exempt from the requirement to hire external auditors to the maximum level permitted under EU law. In that regard, I urge the Minister to continue to review the constriction on SMEs in this area. Regulation should be suitably strict but not so severe as to stifle job creation. According to the recent World Bank Doing Business report, Ireland is ranked 13th in the world and second in Europe in terms of the ease of doing business but that survey was conducted with the heads of multinationals and not our own indigenous business owners, who would have a different view. The World Bank report is welcome but we cannot rest on our laurels and I again urge the Minister to review the area.
The plan has been shown to work, with 80,000 net jobs created. This shows that in public policy terms, a positive plan, properly resourced with exacting standards which are properly monitored, can work. I congratulate the Minister on his achievements to date.
I welcome the Minister and it was delightful to hear him speak. He did not read from any script and his speech came from the heart. His ability and control of his brief are very clear. Yesterday, I attended the innovation showcase and if anybody else had the chance to go, they know it was worthwhile. I only gave myself a couple of hours there but I could have spent much longer there. It was interesting to see thousands of people at the Convention Centre dealing with information and communications technology, food, health, manufacturing and materials, business processes and energy. They were linking with and learning from each other. I congratulate people on the work being done. It has been interesting to hear Senators Hildegarde Naughton and Mary White speak, as they both made a great deal of sense. I hope the Minister can develop some ideas from their contributions to today's debate.
There is potential for the Government to set more concrete targets in the Action Plan for Jobs. In particular, we should be looking to be one of the top five countries in the world to set up a business; according to the World Bank's Doing Business report, Ireland is only ranked 19th in the world. We have work to do in that regard. It takes four procedures and as long as six days to start a business in Ireland, which is simply too long. It is a real disincentive for people in establishing a business. In New Zealand it takes just one procedure and half a day to set up a business, with a cost of just €100. The procedure to set up a business in New Zealand can be done totally online and we should aim towards this benchmark. It should be possible to set up a business in Ireland with just one procedure in one day at a very low cost.
Specifically in Ireland, the four procedures to set up a company are as follows: the founder of a company swears before a commissioner of oaths; the relevant parties need to file necessary materials with the Companies Registration Office; a company seal must be procured; and the parties must register for corporation tax, PAYE, PRSI and VAT with the Revenue Commissioners. These four procedures could be done totally online, in one place for a maximum once-off payment of say €50. Will the Minister indicate if we are moving in this direction at all? We could go through the process electronically, so it would be very easy for people trying to set up a business. New Zealand has set the conditions to set up a business with one procedure and less than one day and we could set that target in the next action plan for jobs. It could happen in two years. In the European Union alone, Portugal, Belgium, Slovenia and Lithuania are ahead of us in terms of ease of establishing a business, so we can do a lot better. Will the Minister comment on whether he would be open to setting this target in the next action plan for jobs?
The more businesses we encourage to start, the better. Whether they fail is not the issue. We should encourage the formation of businesses, as the Minister said.
With regard to the overall ease of doing business, Singapore is ranked No. 1 in the world by the World Bank while Ireland is ranked No. 13. We should set a goal to break into the top ten in the next Action Plan for Jobs. That would be a good, concrete target.
One of the main issues affecting retailers remains upward-only rent reviews. We have to make progress on this issue because it would be a massive benefit to retail businesses, not to mention the wider economy. Both Fine Gael and the Labour Party promised in their election manifestos to tackle upward-only rents, but nothing has been done. I raised this issue previously and it is the elephant in the room. The House passed a motion in this regard and it was accepted that we would do something about this issue, but nothing has happened since.
The third issue I wish to raise relates to languages and business. I have a daughter married in Paris. She has four children, one of whom has just graduated from Shanghai University with a masters degree. It is interesting to observe that other countries are doing so much more with languages and not just European languages. The Government sought submissions relating to the Action Plan for Jobs on designing a languages strategy by next summer to create more jobs. It has been stressed in the Government consultation document that there is a need to develop language skills for emerging or expanding markets such as China. EUROSTAT recently reported that Ireland had the lowest level of foreign language tuition in Europe, and that the study of at least one foreign language at primary school level had become compulsory in every European country except Ireland. This is sending the wrong message if the Government is serious about crucial matters like job creation.
IBEC recently recommended that all students should have a strong early foundation in the core subjects of mathematics and science and literacy in two modern languages. I am a huge enthusiast of the Michel Thomas method, which I have mentioned previously to the Minister. It teaches language without having to study grammar. The Guardian reported that when Michel Thomas taught French in a disadvantaged school in London for a week:
He astounded staff at a school in north London by teaching a group of teenagers deemed incapable of learning languages. In one week, they learned the amount of French it normally takes five years to acquire.
I recall going to the Gaeltacht. I learned more Irish in three weeks than I had in three years learning grammar.
As Senator Hildegarde Naughton alluded to, we should get rid of redundant regulations to help businesses. I have raised this point previously and something which is not addressed in the Action Plan for Jobs is the question of whether small businesses should be subject to the same regulations as big businesses. In France, for instance, small businesses are not subject to the same rules as large multinationals and rules come into effect if a business employs more than 50 people. The Government should consider giving an exemption in certain cases. The Action Plan for Jobs makes refers to "reduced costs though smart regulation". Why do we not move beyond smart regulation and get rid of some regulations completely to make it easier for business? We also need to look to abolish regulations that are redundant. We have done a little of this but not nearly enough. The UK has introduced an interesting concept, which is to take out two older regulations for every new regulation introduced. That is a great idea.
I refer to crowdfunding. I am involved with Linked Finance. I am a great believer in crowdfunding, but we could do with regulation. Some people are afraid. There is uncertainty around the crowdfunding process, particularly due to lack of regulation. The new Action Plan for Jobs 2015 must make much more concrete reference to crowdfunding and, in particular, to state whether the Government will bring in legislation in this area.
Banque de France has a credit register in France which allows lenders see at a glance the creditworthiness of thousands of companies. This sets the conditions for further investment. I understand that the European Central Bank is building a cross-border database for the same purpose.
There is a need to collect data on employment outcomes. We have a problem that is very much related to job creation, which should be considered in the next action plan. When students graduate, we do not systematically collect, analyse and distribute information on what they end up doing, be it in employment or further education. There are opportunities in this regard. I have been involved for some time with Springboard. I am impressed with this programme. The Minister mentioned JobBridge and what these programmes can do.
The Minister can initiate a number of measures in the next action plan. I had a visit recently from a man I met in China some time back. He brought six investors from China to Europe and the two countries they visited were Ireland and Holland. That was the result of personal contacts. I had met him some years ago. He visited Ireland, spent two days here and then travelled to Holland to spend a few days there. Well done to them for picking Ireland. It was probably due to personal contacts, but it gave me the opportunity to explain to them what we do here.
I am impressed by what Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the Minister and his team are doing. I hope they will continue with the same enthusiasm they have shown up to now.
I welcome the Minister. I compliment him and the Minister for Social Protection on many of the initiatives they have introduced in recent years, which are working well. A great deal of good work has been done to create jobs and there has not been enough appreciation of what has been happening considering the position we were in a number of years ago. The unemployment rate is down to 10.7% and 144,000 people have left the live register over the past 12 months. Another 150 new jobs were announced earlier.
The youth development initiative will deliver an additional 1,500 places for disadvantaged young people aged between 18 and 24. The JobsPlus scheme, which I first suggested three years ago to my party, has been modified to deal with those aged under 25 years in order that they do not have to wait 12 months on the live register. If they are on the live register for four months, they can qualify for the scheme. There has been progress on the Youth Guarantee implementation plan. Approximately 16,500 of the 28,000 places had been taken up by the end of October. Pathways to Work is working well while 60% of those who participate in the JobBridge scheme secure full-time work subsequently. During the week beginning 17 November, 1,755 new jobs were announced involving 16 companies in six counties. The following week, 1,800 new jobs were announced by five companies in counties Dublin, Laois and Galway The unemployment rate has decreased for the 28th month in a row.
Major new supports for job creation were delivered in quarter 3 under the Action Plan for Jobs and the agrifood industry was on show during a trade mission to China. Many good initiatives are taking place. A new Youth Guarantee initiative was announced to further help those aged under 25 to secure employment.
Senator Mary White raised the issue of the difficulty of acquiring credit from the banks. However, 56% of the appeals to the Credit Review Office have been upheld in favour of the borrower. Eight out of ten SMEs have reported higher sales over the past six months, according to the SME credit demand survey.
I have a number of suggestions for the Minister, one of which relates to commercial rates. Many businesses, including hotels, closed during the crash and if they are to reopen, they will need a break on rates in a phased basis in order they can re-establish themselves over a period of, say, three years. A pilot valuation project is under way, which assesses small pubs in certain counties. They are being assessed on the basis of turnover and profit and not square footage. For example, if one walks down Shop Street in Galway, every pub is full. There are people falling out the door onto the street. Those pubs pay the same rates as a pub two miles outside the city in which there are two customers at night. That is wrong.
Where such pilot schemes have been put in place, they have proven to be successful. The businesses which are making the most money are paying higher rates, while smaller businesses are not. The way to deal with this matter is to take it away from the Valuation Office and transfer responsibility for it to the Revenue, which has all the relevant figures available to it - including those relating to turnover and profit - in order to set commercial rates.
On the previous occasion on which the Minister came before the House I raised the issue of a Saudi Arabian businessman who wanted to come here to do business with a company in Galway. The individual in question encountered major difficulties over a six-month period while attempting to do so. His requests for permission to do business here were continually refused for various reasons. The Minister pursued the matter on my behalf and the relevant Department wrote to him providing incorrect information. I was obliged to contact it and highlight the fact that it had provided information that was incorrect. Eventually, the man to whom I refer was granted permission to do business with the company in Galway. Thankfully, even though frustrated and in circumstances where most people would have done so, he did not give up on his quest. He has subsequently invested millions of euro in the company in question and has given those involved with it hope for the future. I cannot say much more about the issue but I hope that matters will improve for the company.
The Saudi Arabian businessman to whom I refer spent four or five months trying to obtain a visa to enter the country. Ultimately, he was successful in doing so. Yesterday, I was contacted by an Irish national in respect of three Libyan businessmen who want to come to Ireland in order to buy cattle for live export. One of these individuals has been in Ankara for the past 19 days waiting to obtain a visa. Surely there is a need to deal with this matter on the basis of better interdepartmental co-operation. Another Department is delaying the Minister's Department in the context of attracting both jobs and investment to Ireland. Perhaps he will outline his views on the matter.
Previous speakers referred to balanced regional development. For the past three years I have been informing people in Roscommon that things are great in Dublin and that there is no sign of a recession here. From a business perspective, pubs and hotels are full and shops are busy. Everything is going well in Dublin. The position elsewhere is not the same. When I return home each week, I see the opposite of what I see in Dublin. There is nothing happening outside the capital. We are doing nothing to help small businesses or attract industries to rural areas. Representatives from IDA Ireland have visited Roscommon on three or four occasions in the past five years but nothing has resulted from those visits. What can the Minister's Department and IDA Ireland do to encourage businesses to create jobs in the west?
I welcome the Minister. We all join him in welcoming the continuing reduction in the unemployment figures. However, to pick up on the theme explored by Senator John Kelly, this is not much comfort to people in the part of the country in which I reside. On Friday last, 160 people walked out of their employment at the former MBNA facility in Carrick-on-Shannon and will not be returning. The Minister is aware of the facility and has visited it on a number of occasions. I appreciate the fact that he is also aware of the impact of the continuing loss of jobs there. The question we must ask is what is happening. This is a state-of-the-art facility and the workforce there has developed skills relating to the financial services sector. This makes the members of that workforce somewhat unique in my part of the country. All of that to which I refer will be lost unless immediate action is taken to try to attract study visits to Carrick-on-Shannon from potential employers.
I am not going to seek to be negative in my contribution to this debate, but, God knows, I have reasons to be negative with regard to job creation in County Leitrim. There are some great positives in evidence. Will the Minister address the MNBA issue and provide some indication of what is happening with regard to either the provision of alternative employment or the restructuring of the facility? What is IDA Ireland doing about the matter at present? Is the Minister in possession of any information he could provide to the House in order to give some sort of comfort to the people in my area?
There is another issue which I would like the Minister to address. Why is it that so many jobs are being created in Dublin?
On a point of information-----
The Minister can answer my questions when he is replying to the debate.
I will grant the Minister some latitude, but he should remember that he will have an opportunity to reply to the debate.
I only have six minutes in which to make my contribution.
I apologise for intervening, but what the Senator said is just not true.
The perception in areas outside Dublin-----
It is a perception.
-----is that the vast majority of jobs in the high-tech sector are going to Dublin.
Therefore, the Senator is referring to high-tech jobs.
I was about to develop the point that, presumably, one of the main reasons for this is that clusters have been created in the Dublin docklands, where Google, Facebook and other companies established their European headquarters. Subsequently, even more high-tech jobs have been created in the area in question. The Web Summit, which took place recently and which has been held here for a number of years, is very much focused on developing and improving those clusters by creating more high-tech jobs. That is my perception. I accept that jobs have also been created in Cork and Galway. However, earlier today it was announced that another high-tech company is to create 150 new jobs in the capital. Why did that company choose Dublin, which seems to be crowded with high-tech businesses? Dublin is becoming Silicon Valley, Irish style. I do not in any way begrudge the jobs in question being created in Dublin, especially as they contribute to the economy of the city and the greater Dublin area and also to the national economy. However, will the Minister indicate why an over-proportionate number of these jobs are being created in Dublin at the expense of other major centres and why smaller centres are not gaining at all?
If I am correct about the cluster effect, when he was in Drumshanbo the Minister would have visited the food hub. Over 40 people are employed by the eight companies which form this hub. The companies involved are involved in distilling, brewing and baking. In addition, there is a FETAC level 5 course relating to the hospital sector on offer at the hub and some 50% of those who graduate from it obtain employment. Can Drumshanbo use the hub, which has established itself as a centre of food excellence, to attract more jobs? This is a community-inspired concept which has already created real jobs and the indications are that it is going to create even more. Will the Minister indicate if it would be possible to attract even more companies to the hub? In the context of study visits, could IDA Ireland refocus its efforts to concentrate on companies which might be involved in activities similar to those carried out by the businesses already located at the hub? Would what I am suggesting reflect Government policy or is there an insistence the IDA Ireland should visit counties only because specific companies might be interested in establishing particular operations there? I am seeking to discover the criteria IDA Ireland applies in the context of study visits. How does it grade particular locations and what are its priorities in the context of trying to attract potential investors? Is the food hub to which I refer an advantage for Drumshanbo in this regard? Would its existence lead IDA Ireland to seek to attract suitable companies with a view to their establishing new industries there?
I do not wish to be in any way churlish or negative. I want to be as positive as possible. In the context of the Carrick-on-Shannon situation, I hope the Minister will redouble his efforts. It seems a crying shame that 160 jobs have been lost and that the skills and expertise which have been built up in Leitrim's county town over many years may also be lost forever.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Seanad. Creating new jobs will continue to be the top priority for the Government. Too many people throughout the country have yet to see evidence of the recovery that is taking place. That is why the Government designated 2014 as the year for jobs.
It is critical to create more jobs and to improve living standards. Just as we had a plan to exit the bailout, we now have a plan for the creation of jobs. The Action Plan for Jobs 2014 has a strong focus on the domestic economy, improving competitiveness and supporting our entrepreneurs and small businesses. There can be no let-up in the Minister's effort until we return to full employment.
The Government came to office when Ireland was losing 7,000 jobs each month. Now we are gaining 5,000 jobs per month. We must not forget this. I honestly believe we are wrong not to blow our trumpet more about generating these jobs. We should be highlighting the facts more vociferously and more often.
We can afford to be more confident about our prospects than at any time since the crisis began. It is now time to focus on the future and finishing the job of economic recovery, of creating more jobs and building a better Ireland. To do we need to focus on supporting the construction industry, which has gone from being overblown during the boom to being undersized in its wake.
Some two and a half years ago when the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation published the first Action Plan for Jobs he stated there is no big bang solution to the employment crisis. We need to build systematically brick by brick a sustainable growing economy which can create the jobs we need. During the past two years we have been grinding out the reforms very successfully and have implemented more than 500 actions to improve our competitiveness, support Irish and multinational companies and target sectors of potential. The Minister is not blowing his trumpet often enough. We have seen the results. Our competitiveness rankings are improving, our exports are growing and we are now creating jobs faster than any other economy in the EU. Despite this, many people are not experiencing the impact of these results and we have a long way to go, but real progress is being made. Where previously we shed 1,600 jobs per week, we are now benefiting from an additional 1,200 jobs a week. That is great news.
A couple of years ago I identified in this Chamber what I believe is an absolute necessity, that is, the development of small industrial sites. From my experience in the Border county of County Louth, I am aware of four SMEs which I have been following from their inception. In two cases these small enterprises are exporting to the five continents of the world. One business, which has between 12 and 15 employees, was started in the kitchen and developed to the space in the garage, but due to the lack of available space, they had to go to Northern Ireland. They have grown to the extent that they cannot expand any further because of the lack of space in the unit in Northern Ireland. I know of three other similar cases of growth. I think it should be the aim to create facilities through IDA Ireland and in co-operation with local authorities in order that we establish developed industrial sites of a couple of thousand square feet to avail of the opportunity. I am from the Cooley Peninsula and I see that the local SMEs have to cross the Border to Northern Ireland to get adequate space in these industrial units. The four local concerns employ 60 people between them, some of whom are from the Cooley Peninsula. There is an opportunity to develop small-scale sites in different parts of the county to facilitate the SME sector.
It would be remiss of me not to congratulate the Minister. He speaks with great enthusiasm and gusto and he is doing a fantastic job.
I welcome the Minister and thank him for taking statements on this issue. He has been in the House several times to be held to account as well as to outline his initiatives and the Government policies on jobs. That should be commended.
It is difficult in the time available to critique Government policy, to commend it and offer solutions. I tend to do my work in the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and I have published a comprehensive report on the south-east economic development strategy which sets out a number of very clear actions, many of which have not been implemented. These actions are realistic, practical and deliverable. They need to be delivered.
I have taken on the responsibility of publishing on behalf of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation a report on low pay and the living wage. That is important in the context of the contribution I will make because unemployment is moving in the right direction, in terms of fewer people being unemployed and more jobs being created. We should commend the Government on the positive initiatives it has undertaken. There are areas of concern in relation to the overall figures of which policymakers and Government need to be conscious.
Ireland has the third highest rate of underemployment in the European Union, with 127,300 workers across the State underemployed. We know that more than 400,000 people have emigrated. If they were still here, the unemployment figure would be much higher. Many people are on labour activation courses, having come off the liver register, but are not in employment. I accept that more people are in work, more jobs have been created, and fewer people are unemployed, but we must look at the complete picture. While some of it is down to the positive work of the Government, much is also down to the fact that entrepreneurs and business people are doing their best in difficult circumstances, especially in the SME area. High levels of low pay and underemployment will undermine the sustainability of the economic recovery and deepen inequality.
The lopsided economic development has been mentioned. The south east was the area with the highest unemployment rate in the State, but now we are the second highest. Obviously there have been some interventions with more jobs being created. We are no longer the unemployment blackspot or region with the highest rate and have been replaced by the midlands. It shows that those areas of the south east and the midlands are not getting the attention they need and we are not creating the jobs to the extent that we should. I have no difficulty with clustering jobs in Dublin, such as high-tech jobs because that is good for the entire State. We also must have similar clustering in the regions. The south east, as Members know, has major high-tech industries and technology linking in with the institutes of technology in Waterford and Carlow. We also do very well in life sciences and in the pharmaceutical, farming and agribusiness sectors. We have to look at the strengths of all of the region and then put in place policies that play to those strengths, exploit them and address the weaknesses. That is what the Government should do. While some of that is being done in the south east and I welcome some of the positive interventions the Minister has made, we still have a long way to go in the south east, the midlands and other parts of the country. Many people in Waterford say to me, but it might be a perception, that when they turn on the radio, they hear about jobs being created in Dublin, Cork and Galway but seldom an announcement about the creation of jobs in Waterford.
We have had some recovery but nothing like the scale we have seen in bigger cities. That creates a perception and, for many, a reality that we have a two-tier economic recovery; that there is a greater recovery in bigger urban centres, but not so much outside Cork and Dublin, and to a lesser extent Galway also.
I wish to deal with some of the issues arising from the Minister's strategy, including the jobs plan. When the Government announced the credit guarantee scheme two years ago, the Minister told us that €450 million would be available to benefit 5,600 businesses creating 4,000 jobs in three years. The Government has clearly fallen short on those figures. The volume of loans guaranteed to date is €15 million - which is far short of what the target was meant to be - creating 110 companies and creating 870 jobs. I am not benchmarking the Minister against my aspirations, but I am doing so against the targets set by the Minister and the Government.
The promised credit guarantee Bill is supposed to address shortfalls in the original scheme. It was due to be published during the current Dáil session but we have seen no sign of it. I am being told that I must conclude but in six minutes it is difficult to make a constructive, wholesome contribution on an issue as important as jobs.
While I welcome some of the positive contributions and interventions that have been made by the Government, we still have a long way to go. Unemployment is still far too high and we have a problem concerning regional development. The current administration and leadership of IDA Ireland seem to have a different mind-set and a more positive outlook on regional development than their predecessors. I welcome that because it will be good news for the south east as well. We need to look holistically at this matter. In addition, the Minister needs to work with his partners in Government.
One of the big issues in the south east was the creation of a university but that seems to have fallen apart at the seams. I am sure the Minister recognises it would be a game-changer in terms of job creation in the region.
There should be a joined-up approach between Cabinet Ministers who should be alert to all these issues. They should be providing solutions not just for the bigger urban centres of Dublin, Cork and Galway but also for Waterford and other cities, in addition to rural areas.
For the information of colleagues, according to the Order of the House, I have to call the Minister to reply at 1.10 p.m. Unless the acting Leader agrees to extend the time, not everybody will have an opportunity to speak. I have three Members offering and would like to facilitate them, but I would have to seek an extension.
I have a one-minute question.
I am happy to share time with Senator Michael Mullins.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister and commend the Government's Action Plan for Jobs. The Minister's input has reaped significant rewards after one of the most challenging economic periods on record, both nationally and internationally. In reflecting on the performance of the Action Plan for Jobs, it is important to consider all that this programme has achieved. As it stands, just under 80,000 additional people are at work compared to 2012 when the Government launched and began implementing the action plan. Jobs recovery has now taken hold, broadening and deepening across the country with seven out of eight regions showing job gains since the action plan first commenced.
Employment has increased in 11 out of 14 sectors of the economy in the past year, with increases particularly focused on key domestic economic areas such as construction and retail, which is most welcome. Just under 100,000 additional people are at work in the private sector today compared to when the action plan was launched in quarter 1 of 2012. Most significantly, unemployment is now at 10.9%, the lowest level since March 2009. There is no doubt that this marks a major turning point in Ireland's recovery and shows how decisions taken by this Government are turning the tide for Irish people.
I wish to raise one issue that has been brought to my attention. Greencore, one of Ireland's most successful companies nationally and internationally, was recently reported in the UK media concerning its recruitment of employees from Hungary to serve the needs of its Northampton plant. After reading this article, a constituent contacted my office in Galway querying why a company with such strong Irish ties is not attempting to recruit Irish workers in a similar fashion. What can the Minister do to ensure that a similar practice is not employed by this company's Irish operations or by any other Irish company?
I appreciate that there is a cost differential to be taken into consideration, as well as the practicalities involved. I want to make it clear that I am not against the free movement of people throughout the European Union. Nevertheless, in the light of Ireland's blossoming recovery, we must emphasise the important role that Irish businesses can play in supporting Irish workers and the economy. As Ireland returns to prosperity, I urge the Minister to call upon companies to hire Irish in so far as possible and to buy Irish wherever possible in order to support our country further.
I welcome the Minister and compliment him on the tenacity with which he has been driving the Action Plan for Jobs in the past three years. It is clearly working. When the Government took office, we were haemorrhaging jobs at an alarming rate. Today's CSO figures, however, show that we have the lowest rate of unemployment for several years at 10.7%. That is to be welcomed. Over 144,000 people have left the live register in the past year.
We all welcome the significant job announcements around the country in the past year in particular. We appreciate that companies will decide to locate where they see fit. We also need to address the issue of balanced regional development and ensure IDA Ireland is working to spread jobs throughout the country. In the past decade my own town of Ballinasloe has lost 1,000 industrial jobs. I was disappointed with the recent response I got from Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland on the level of visits to Ballinasloe. This town is in the centre of Ireland, on the motorway and has an excellent infrastructure. It also has good housing, as well as affordable available development land much of which is State-owned. A town that was capable of attracting two major multinationals in the 1970s is not seen as capable of attracting significant industry now. That issue needs to be examined.
The issue of competitiveness has been referred to and I agree with everything Senator Feargal Quinn said in that regard. I am somewhat concerned that demands for wage increases are premature. I would prefer to see people's disposable income being enhanced by adjustments to our taxation system and a reduction in the USC. We need to do everything possible to keep business competitive so that we can continue to attract jobs at the current rate.
Online retail is getting away from traditional retail, but the latter sector is still creating many jobs in small towns and villages. We need to examine rates, parking charges and everything else that makes it difficult for the retail sector. We will resume this debate early in the new year when the Action Plan for Jobs 2015 is on stream. In the meantime, I compliment the Minister on what he has been doing so far. I urge him to continue the good work.
Senator Thomas Byrne wishes to share time with Senator Fidelma Healy Eames.
I was struck by Senator HIldegarde Naughton's speech when she referred to the fall in unemployment. She is correct, but she should look at the figures from 1997 onwards when there were 1 million people employed in the country. It went up to 2 million and then went down temporarily. We are working constructively with the Government, in so far as we can, to get that employment figure back up to 2.1 million. Huge progress was made under the Fianna Fáil Government in that long period before the crash.
This morning the Meath Chronicle and Cavan and Westmeath Herald reported an imminent jobs announcement in Gibbstown, County Meath, or Baile Ghib. I suppose that is connected to Údarás na Gaeltachta, as well as the Minister's Department. Can the Minister give us details of that matter?
The Minister is very welcome and I thank him for listening. There is no doubt that progress is being made but more can be made. The key area that many Senators have touched on is the need for regional recovery, as well as recovery in the larger cities.
I am thinking particularly of rural Ireland. The Minister can make the nation more tax competitive. The World Economic Report has well documented that we are way behind the United Kingdom. We rank 93rd for tax competitiveness out of 144 countries, compared with the United Kingdom which ranks 33rd. SMEs in Galway tell me they are being offered six months' free rates and rent to open businesses in the United Kingdom. That could be just an office for export purposes, which would be fine. It could, however, mean moving the operation and losing jobs here too. We would then face not only a brain drain but an SME drain which we must counteract.
Capital gains tax here is absolutely out of whack. If I sell my business here I pay 40% capital gains tax but if I go 60 miles up the road to Northern Ireland I would get all the plum rewards for setting up a business in the United Kingdom. We cannot afford our nearest neighbours being that tax competitive. When our foreign direct investment, FDI, offer was so attractive Prime Minister Cameron and the UK Government got up on their high horse and told us where to go. What are we saying to them about their attractiveness for SMEs? Probably nothing because when we deal with other countries in Europe our self-esteem is very low. We have to step up to the mark. We are a sovereign nation, although a member of the European Union. We are well able to do business. We are a creative and innovative nation. We are a resilient people but let us not be sold out by our tax policies.
The Government now has well over €3 billion in an alternative to bank finance in the marketplace. We are putting in other things because banks will be more risk averse. To be fair to the banks the refusal rates, as reported by a Red C survey, are falling. They are down from 30% to 19%. There is some growth in credit from the banking system. There is change afoot but we are not where we want to be.
I doubt Senators would be able to list the top three regions for employment growth since the recovery started. They are the Border region at a figure of 10%, the south east at 9% and the midlands at 7%. The figure for Dublin is 5%.
The Minister can see in the Action Plan for Jobs where he needs to get more balance.
These are Central Statistics Office figures. There is a perception that all jobs are going to Dublin, but that is not borne out by the statistics. There is a good spread. I agree with Senators that we need a stronger regional strategy.
I will be the first Minister to put in place a regional enterprise strategy, which I will do in the next 12 months. We will go into each region, sit down with the stakeholders, decide where the competitive strengths are, and to take up Senator Mooney’s point, the Drumshanbo food cluster is a real strength and can be developed. We will want to give a leg up to companies that have the capacity and ambition to build and export. Yes, by all means, there should be a regional enterprise strategy but we need a realistic debate about this. Senator Mary White knows particularly well that FDI companies represent 8% of our employment. A total of 92% of employment is in sectors driven by Irish-based companies. Too much of the regional debate is just about IDA Ireland. It has a role but the 92% have a very important role. We need to develop entrepreneurship.
That is exactly the point I was trying to make about the food cluster.
I agree. Many sectors such as food, tourism, engineering and agricultural machinery have a strong regional base where we are competitive and can grow more competitive companies. That will be a focus. The total focus in this debate on how many IDA Ireland visits came to X, Y or Z town or village is not a realistic way to build the competitive strengths of our regions. We have to consider sectors that we can grow in those regions-----
On the point where I referred to Senator Paschal Mooney, the MBNA is-----
I will get to the-----
He said 1%.
Senator Hildegarde Naughton asked if employer's PRSI is too high. We brought down the low rate temporarily. That was funded by the pension levy which has been dropped. It did have an impact that we saw on tourism and other sectors. We are moving to a point where we can start selectively to consider taxes where the boot is pinching and the Minister for Finance will do that each year.
We are considering the audit exemption and there will be a heavy emphasis in next year’s plan on how to make it easier to do business. Sometimes that is through quicker processing of work permits and sometimes reform of company law. We will soon, with the Senators’ support, have new company legislation, which will be like Delaware. It will be the best in class. It will be simple, quick and easy to set up a company. To answer Senator Feargal Quinn, I will study those four procedures and see what we can do about them. I will not make a commitment-----
I hope we do not get the reputation Delaware has for some of its companies.
We will not.
The Senator should give me a list of the things on which we can have a small business exemption and I will consider them. Most regulation concerns the environment and protection of workers. We protect people with good reason. These are good standards for doing business. We do not want to dilute important ones. We can consider flexibility for some companies. Crowd funding has potential. It is probably untested. I will look to see if we can do something in that area. It is one in which several Deputies and Senators are interested.
I agree absolutely that we need to get more information out about how students fare. The fact that some areas of engineering get a 100% placement and could get 200% if we had the places does not get through to career guidance counsellors or to parents who are influencing the choices. The information on where the new economy is creating employment is not flowing back effectively into the education system.
Senator John Kelly asked whether we can move from valuation to turnover and profit. That really involves a corporate tax, not a property tax. I have seen the revaluation which is based on the rental value in Waterford where it causes as much frustration as gain. I cannot remember whether it was hotels or nursing homes that saw a big increase in valuation. Industry saw improvement. Other sectors saw damage. Revaluation is not a universal boon. If one is trying to raise €500 million, revaluation is only sharing it out among businesses, it is not reducing the amount. We need to focus on trying to reduce the €500 million and every local authority is reducing its business rates. I am not sure about shifting to profits. That is not the basis for a property tax. There is a debate about whether it should be site value. If the Senator can give me examples of the Libyan involvement, we can examine the individual cases to see what went wrong. I would be very keen to look at that issue.
IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are searching their portfolios to identify companies that could use the MBNA workforce. There is a stronger business process outsourcing sector with a lot of strong regional companies. I am determined to keep after that opportunity. I dealt with Drumshanbo and absolutely agree with Senator Paschal Mooney.
Does the Minister have any specifics on Carrick-on-Shannon?
I have no specifics. Several leads are being followed but like all of these matters, they are commercially sensitive and we do not discuss people’s interests in public. There is a joint IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland task force because it is equally attractive to both and we are pursuing that aspect. If the Senator gives us examples of the shortage of suitable buildings in Border regions, we can examine them. We have not been in the business of building advance buildings for a long time.
We have done it very strategically in Waterford, Athlone and Letterkenny in the area of medical technology. We are looking very strategically at some buildings. If there are companies that are that strong, I am surprised the sector is not able to respond to the demand.
I agree with Senator David Cullinane that the credit guarantee scheme needs to be improved. We intend to improve it. The Senator, in terms of his statement that 400,000 people have emigrated, tends to distort the statistics in that the figure represents the gross number of people who have emigrated. The net figure is 100,000 and that is falling. Many Polish workers have left Ireland and the statistic in that regard is reflected in the emigration statistics referenced by the Senator. I agree that emigration is too high but the only response to an emigration challenge is job creation. Some 80,000 jobs have been created and emigration has decreased by 34,000 or 30%. We need to sustain that and the best way of doing so is further job creation.
I agree with the general view that we need more regional focus. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland plans which will be put in place following each agency's strategy review will include greater focus on regional development because I have insisted on that focus. Also, the broader regional enterprise strategy will tap into other stakeholders in the region. We learned from the south east that collaboration across stakeholders can be as good in the creation of a hub as is finding new money.
I take the point made by Senator Michael Mullins regarding IDA Ireland visits. We need to examine the strengths of villages and towns around their broad competitive advantage and the sectors therein that are strong and then build upon that. If as part of that IDA Ireland involvement is required it will be forthcoming. We need a broader view of the growth of the regions.
Reference was made to the need for a hire Irish policy. I do not think that is possible. There is in place a hire EU policy which provides that under work permits one cannot recruit internationally unless it is not possible to fill a post with an EU person. This is the basis of our work permits system and will continue to be our policy. Clearly we have obligations to everybody equally.
I will not comment on speculation in the Meath Chronicle and Cavan and Westmeath Herald. I can assure Senator Thomas Byrne that we continue to work hard for that area.
Is a jobs announcement expected this week?
I am unsure of what issue Senator Fidelma Healy Eames was raising in terms of tax competitiveness. Ireland is the most competitive in terms of corporate tax.
I was referring to taxes on SMEs.
Personal tax rates are decreasing, which as the Senator will be aware were raised during the crisis to levels that are too high. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have indicated that we are now firmly on a downwards route in this regard, with reductions in the USC and in the top rate of income tax. We are pretty tax competitive but we can do more. The CGT rate is 33% rather than 40%, although I think it was Sinn Féin that proposed it be set at 40%. Capital gains tax is always under scrutiny. I believe we should examine the issue of CGT for entrepreneurs rather than CGT generally. If there is any case to be made, it is entrepreneurs who should be given the opportunity to realise the benefits up to a certain threshold, which I understand applies in the United Kingdom. Some of those practises are worthy of examination.
I thank the Minister for his responses and for coming to the House for this debate.