I do not have plans at present to establish a task force to tackle unemployment blackspots. We have made extraordinary progress in reducing unemployment in recent years and there are a number of major initiatives currently underway to build on this success.
Employment continues to grow strongly with 49,900 jobs created in 2018, bringing total employment to 2,272,200, an all-time high. There are over 392,900 more people at work since the first Action Plan for Jobs was launched in Q1 2012. This includes a 19.7 per cent increase in employment outside Dublin. The Programme for Government set targets for 200,000 new jobs by 2020, with 135,000 of these outside Dublin. The 200,000 new jobs target was met in Q4 2018, while 133,000 jobs have been created outside Dublin, which equates to 98.5% of the target.
From Q4 2017 to Q4 2018 the unemployment rate decreased in all eight regions with, for example, the rate in the Mid-West region decreasing from 6.1% to 5.6%. This has declined from a high of 16.7% in Q3, 2012. In the Mid-West region, employment has grown from 189,000 at the start of 2012 to 211,000 at the end of 2018.
In April 2018, I asked all 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 out to 2020, so that they continue to deliver jobs in every region. The outcome of this refresh process is nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, with eight Plans launched to date. Shaped from the ‘bottom-up’ by regional stakeholders, and overseen by my Department, the new Regional Enterprise Plans complement national level policies and programmes emanating from the ‘top-down’ and, there is strong alignment with Ireland’s national enterprise policy, Enterprise 2025 Renewed and the forthcoming Future Jobs Ireland initiative. Regional stakeholders include the Local Authorities, the LEOs, the enterprise agencies, the Regional Skills Forum, tourism bodies, private sector ‘enterprise champions’, and others.
For example, the Strategic Objectives and actions in the Mid-West Plan are set out alongside the Enterprise Agencies’ (Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland) and the Local Enterprise Offices core activities in Co. Limerick and the wider region. In this way the new Plans add value and support the work of the agencies on the ground in the Mid-West, through a collaborative approach. Initiatives to be pursued under this Plan's objectives of particular significance for Limerick include the development of an Autonomous Mobility Testbed; the positioning of Limerick/Mid-West as a national centre for advanced manufacturing; and the development of a Sports Tech cluster - building on the initial study by Limerick City and Co. Council.
Guided by this new Regional Enterprise Plan, the Mid-West Region and Co. Limerick in particular are well positioned to build on this success and to continue to see the benefits and results of collaborative and innovative initiatives that can make a significant impact on enterprise development and unemployment in the region.
More broadly, I will shortly publish Future Jobs Ireland, a new whole of government, multi-annual framework designed with the aim of integrating innovation and resilience into our economy. It will ensure our enterprises and workers are well positioned to adapt to the technological and other transformational changes our economy and society will face in the years ahead. Future Jobs Ireland proposes a paradigm shift if we are to sustain and increase labour market participation by easing barriers to entry into the workforce including investment in Early Learning and Care, providing tailored activation and training supports and generating attractive employment opportunities. These actions will help to prevent and reduce unemployment, including in any blackspots.