I propose to take Questions Nos. 128 to 130, inclusive, and 140 together.
As a result of the Talk Talk closure in Waterford in September last, I launched the South East Employment Action Plan, which contains targeted actions to address the specific unemployment problems affecting the South East region. This Plan was published in late 2011.
I met with all the agencies, local authorities, CEBs, education institutions and other local representative groups from the South East at the end of last year. That meeting of the new South East Forum, to drive the implementation of this Action Plan was the first time that a group of that nature had met collectively with the focus solely on what can be done to improve the region's fortunes. I organized a second meeting of this group last month in Waterford, where we reviewed progress to drive the implementation of the Plan. It was agreed that a series of further specific actions would be developed by the relevant bodies. I intend convening another meeting of the Forum later this year.
In fact, I am pleased to say that there has been significant progress in developing employment in the South East region in the last 6 months. Following my direction to assign a clear priority to the region, IDA company site visits there in the first six months of 2012 were greater than the total for 2010 and 2011, which is a very positive indicator of future progress in attracting Foreign Direct Investment to the area.
IDA has been very active in seeking to win additional investment for Waterford. That Agency's overseas offices continue to target and engage with relevant companies to highlight the attractiveness of the Talk Talk facility as a potential opportunity for a Greenfield investment or as an expansion opportunity. IDA has developed a prospectus on the Waterford facility particularly focusing on the workforce skills sets and the facility’s suitability as a modern call centre. This has been circulated to IDA’s international network of offices.
In February 2012, the first phase of the €23m Belview Strategic Water Supply Scheme was officially opened. This scheme will facilitate industrial development and job creation in Waterford and the wider region. The total investment for this phase of the scheme is €13m, of which a significant amount was provided by IDA Ireland.
With regard to Enterprise Ireland (EI), there have also been a number of positive developments, including between 2011 and 2012 (to date) EI has approved almost €17 million to support a range of in-company and other enterprise related activities in the South East region and Eight High Potential Start-Ups (HPSUs) were approved in the South East region in 2011 — the highest ever figure in the region. Funding totalled €1.6 million.
Significant announcements by EI in the South East region recently include the following: The Eishtec Call Centre has expanded significantly and now employs 230 staff, well ahead of their planned development. In June 2012, Dawn Meats announced that it had won a five year contract with McDonald’s Ireland. The deal has led Dawn Meats to invest €14.5 million in a new purpose built, state of the art, beef processing facility in Carroll’s Cross, Co Waterford, creating 65 new jobs. In addition, over 100 construction jobs have been created during the construction phase of the facility, which commenced in December 2011. In June 2012, Danone Baby Nutrition announced an investment of €20 million in its Wexford manufacturing plant, to meet growing demand for its products across the European market. This investment will create approximately 45 new jobs. Eirgen a Waterford based drugs Manufacturer announced in June 2012 that it will create 30 new jobs. The South East Competitive Feasibility Fund, launched in January 2012, is a €200,000 fund. Over 40 applications were received with 14 high quality projects approved. Each start-up will receive individual one-to-one mentoring with the South East Business Innovation Centres. Further EI supports will be considered as each feasibility project evolves. In June 2012 the Pilot Innovation Graduate programme was launched in conjunction with Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT). EI clients in the region will employ graduates for 18 months to work on innovation projects in companies which are designed to enhance the innovation performance and capability in those companies. The graduate will receive a postgraduate diploma (level 9). It is intended that the Pilot, placing 15 graduates, will commence shortly. EI’s Potential Exporters Division was launched to prepare Irish companies to develop their exports. Workshops are being organised throughout the country, with one having been held in Waterford in May last, with 49 companies participating.
The FUSE Initiative is a two year initiative that was started by Enterprise Ireland but is run and driven by entrepreneurs from throughout the Southeast region. The intention is that it will ignite business growth in the region by harnessing the energy and skills of all entrepreneurs through their participation in a variety of projects that are all focused on job creation and business growth. To date it has over 200 members, many very significant employers from the region. Further Enterprise Ireland Initiatives include five Community Enterprise Centres having been approved for funding for a full-time Business Development Manager and, separately, there has been a high take-up of the EI Innovation Voucher Scheme in Waterford.
On a wider theme, there is a need to develop ‘new' sectors in the Region and to upgrade the skills base in general. The enterprise development agencies will adopt a ‘spotlight on Waterford and the South East Region' to the end of 2012, implementing such actions as; Continuing to focus on the sustainability and growth opportunities through intense engagement with client companies in the South East Region. Building on the potential in the Cleantech & Lifesciences sectors for the Region. Continuing to pursue opportunities for Waterford in the areas of Cloud computing, e-games, international and financial services, e-commerce and other content businesses, building in particular on the evaluation and research strengths in the Region.
In relation to assistance for micro-enterprises, Waterford County and City Enterprise Boards (CEBs) have primary responsibility for the delivery of State support to the indigenous micro-enterprise sector in the Waterford region. The CEBs support the sector in the start-up and expansion phases and stimulate enterprise potential at local level. Through the provision of both financial and non-financial support the CEBs are central in assisting many micro-enterprises in developing their growth potential and, in developing into strong export entities where they have sufficient mass to access the services of Enterprise Ireland. For the first six months of this year, it is very encouraging to note that Waterford City and Waterford County CEBs have, between them, supported the creation of a total of 58.5 new jobs. Waterford IT and Carlow IT formally launched their New Frontiers programmes on April 12th. Recruitment is well underway with a high level of interest. The programme is aimed at emerging entrepreneurs and is funded and has been developed by Enterprise Ireland.
I am pleased that Science Foundation Ireland has funded 8 research awards to Waterford IT valued at €308,000.
In relation to export data, this is not broken down by region, so it is not possible to provide specific trade figures for County Waterford for the years in question.
We must accept that the reality is that the structural challenges that the South East region faces have built up over many years and will not be reversed with a simple set of actions. What is required is to build a stronger enterprise base in the region as a whole. There are challenges for all agencies in the region to help build up the region's competitive advantage and then to promote it in a coordinated manner.