The past 12 months have been difficult for our enterprise sector, particularly from an employment perspective. We have one of the most open economies in the world and trends in world trade, global business investment and consumer decisions will directly influence trends in Irish economic growth, company development and job prospects more so than in other developed economies. The fact that the main State development agencies helped companies create almost 22,800 full-time jobs during 2003, displays both the resilience of our enterprise society and the efforts that these agencies have made to counteract the force of decelerating global growth. Nevertheless we can never be immune from the impact of world business events and unfortunately just over 30,000 jobs were lost during the past 12 months, among the agencies' client base. It is not possible to attribute the numbers of jobs lost due to business decisions such as relocation, etc.
However, employment among clients of the state development agencies is just a part of the job creation picture. The latest data from the Central Statistics Office's quarterly national household survey shows that employment growth across the whole economy continued in the third quarter of 2003 showing an increase of 26,000 in the year to 1,820,800.
There are indications that economic prospects are improving and our propensity to capitalise on trends in global growth is likely to again stimulate business expansion and real employment growth. The Government and the economic development agencies are undertaking a number of co-ordinated strategies to sustain and promote employment growth. Our objective is to capitalise on the potential for research and development, new process and product innovation and more complex services activity to expand higher quality and more sustainable employment.
Measures introduced in the recent Finance Bill, for example, will enhance our position as a holding company location and should prove significant for all inward investment sectors, as well as for the growing number of multinational Irish companies. Similarly, the introduction of tax credits for research and development expenditure will be particularly useful to technology sectors, and should lead to the creation of higher value added employment. We are also accelerating delivery of vital economic infrastructure for businesses such as broadband and electricity networks to reinforce the development potential of the important information and communications technology sector.
Furthermore, I have asked the enterprise strategy group, under the chairmanship of Eoin O'Driscoll, to recommend and prioritise new strategies and policies to ensure that the prosperity we enjoyed in the last decade will continue into the future. The enterprise strategy group will examine the issues that my Government colleagues and I need to take into account to help strengthen our enterprise environment, to promote an innovation and knowledge driven economy and help sustain those industries already providing employment here. The group is working towards submitting a report to me by the middle of 2004.