Thursday, 7 March 2019

Ceisteanna (10)

Pat Deering


10. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the regional enterprise plans; her views on the way in which this will benefit County Carlow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11204/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Business)

I ask the Minister the status of the regional enterprise action plans and how they could benefit County Carlow especially which is part of the south-east region and has been lagging behind in the last period.

Both the Minister and I have met the Deputy on many occasions. In April 2018 the Department asked the regional action plan for jobs implementation committees to start a process to refresh and refocus all regional plans to ensure their relevance and impact up to 2020 in order that we could continue to deliver jobs across the country in every region and be robust in addressing the challenges we faced, including trade wars and Brexit. The outcome of the refresh process is nine new regional enterprise plans to 2020 which have been built on the very strong progress made in employment creation under the regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015 to 2017. We are launching the new plans, with eight already launched.

County Carlow is part of the south-east region which has been included in the regional enterprise plan to 2020 for the south east which will be launched in March. The regional enterprise plan for the south east will be focused on a number of strategic objectives, each of which will involve a focus on County Carlow as part of the south-east region. Objectives for the south east will include putting a focus on enhancing the existing environment for enterprise activity and company growth and building regional economic resilience; effective marketing of the region as a place of choice for talent and investment; developing skills and talent in the region; and regional place-making. The strategic objectives and actions included in the south-east plan will be set out, with the core objectives of the enterprise agencies and the local enterprise offices in County Carlow and the wider region. In this way, the plan will add value and support the work of the agencies on the ground in the south east through a collaborative approach.

It is encouraging that the unemployment rate in the south-east region which includes county Carlow, with counties Kilkenny, Wexford and Waterford, reduced from 11.7% in quarter one of 2015 to 7.7% in quarter four of 2018.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The focus for County Carlow and the south east in the period to 2020 under the new regional enterprise plan will be to maintain an emphasis on employment growth, aiming to outperform the rate of growth achieved since 2015 to date, and to ensure sustainable, quality jobs will be created and maintained the region. The aim will also be to reduce the regional unemployment rate to within 1% of the State average by 2020.

It is important to note that the Government has put several funding streams in place to support regional development, including my Department's regional enterprise development fund; the rural and urban regeneration and development funds under Project Ireland 2040; and the town and village renewal scheme.

Under the €60 million competitive regional enterprise development fund, REDF, the south-east region has secured total funding of over €10 million to date in the two completed calls. One of the projects is situated in County Carlow - the Insurtech Network Centre DAC - which aims to facilitate the development of a strong insurance and insurtech ecosystem in the south east and involves an investment of just over €1.4 million under the REDF. Guided by the forthcoming new regional enterprise plan to 2020 for the south east, the region and County Carlow are well positioned to build on this success and continue to see the benefits and results of collaborative and innovative initiatives that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the region.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. I am delighted to hear about the south east plan to be launched in March. From time to time Carlow feels that because it is the northerly part of the south east, it is left out of the south east equation. I have highlighted this before to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister of State, Deputy Breen. It is ideally located, a little over an hour from Dublin, and we feel disappointed that there is not more progress in respect of jobs. I acknowledge that a lot of progress has been made in recent years. Employment has increased by 50% since 2012, which is a phenomenal figure, but we do feel there is more progress to be made in that regard.

Will the Minister of State give me more information on an issue that arose before, the advance facility that was due to be constructed in the Carlow area in the past year but has dragged on? It has been eagerly awaited.

I know Deputy Deering has a great interest in enterprise. Carlow is a great county. I have been there on several occasions with Deputy Deering.

We take a collaborative approach with the agencies and with local government, which is very important. Carlow is very lucky to have an information age technology college and the innovation centre attached to it, which plays a very important role in job creation. There have been some recent important job announcements in Carlow, from the IDA and indigenous enterprise. Recently, some rural enterprise development funding, €1.4 million, went to an Insurtech Network Centre in Carlow. We have also seen some other regional funding go to Borris railway viaduct and to Altamont House and Gardens. The local enterprise offices, LEOs, working hand in hand with local authorities and others, have had some success. Indigenous jobs are very important.

We receive many questions from Members asking why there are not more site visits or foreign direct investment in the county. SMEs account for almost 98% of the enterprises in the country and employ almost 70% of the workforce throughout regional Ireland. LEOs play a very important role, Enterprise Ireland plays an important role. This collaborative approach by all the agencies, including the third level institute in Carlow, will ensure that the regional plan that the Minister will launch will be successful and will build on the number of jobs we said we would create under the Action Plan for Jobs, that is, 145,000 jobs by 2020. We have already exceeded that and we will do a lot more. As one party on the other side of the House said once, "a lot done, more to do".

I concur with the Minister of State's final statement, "a lot done, more to do". Carlow is ideally located and has the facilities, the road infrastructure and an outstanding educational facility in the Institute of Technology Carlow. Yesterday, I had the honour of attending the local enterprise awards and the number of new businesses coming on stream is phenomenal. They all play a huge part in their areas. The final piece of the jigsaw would be for the advance facility that has been promised to be delivered in this coming year. It has dragged on for a while. I would always be a glass half full person. A lot of work has been done in the area. The figures have increased substantially in recent times. If this advance facility could be completed in this calendar year, it would be of great benefit.

That advance unit is very important because there has to be a facility for a company that is ready to move in. Carlow is very well located geographically. It is near Dublin and it has been a recipient of inward investment. Only recently the IDA announced 170 jobs in MSD there, Enterprise Ireland announced a Crowley Carbon investment in Carlow-Kilkenny, and Netwatch, an indigenous company, has announced 220 jobs in Carlow. The Minister and I have been working hard to ensure the advance facility is progressed further and is in place if Enterprise Ireland or the IDA has an employer ready to move into that area. The IDA is very much focused on having those advance facilities to ensure we can create jobs and to ensure that the unemployment figures will reduce in Carlow, as they have gone from a high of 11.7% in 2015 to 7.7% now. A stream of funding will continue under the rural regeneration project and the town and village renewal scheme under the regional enterprise development fund.