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 across the country, in every region, and can be robust to address the challenges we face, including Brexit.
The outcome of this refresh process is nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, which build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. I am currently in the process of launching the new Plans, with eight Plans launched to date.
Shaped from the ‘bottom-up’ by regional stakeholders, and overseen by my Department, the new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020 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.
They are two-year, focused Plans, which are also ‘live’ documents, so new initiatives can be adopted during their operation by the regional stakeholders working together.
The principle behind the Regional Enterprise Plans is collaboration between regional stakeholders on initiatives that can help to realise the region’s enterprise development potential. These stakeholders include: the Local Authorities, the LEOs, the enterprise agencies, the Regional Skills Forum, tourism bodies, private sector ‘enterprise champions’, and others.
I launched the new Regional Enterprise Plan for the North-West region, which covers Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo, on the 25th February in Drumshanbo.
The Regional Enterprise Plan for the North-West is focused around six ‘Strategic Objectives’ and each of the six Objectives involves a focus on Co. Sligo as part of the North-West region; as follows:
1. Identify and enhance the visibility of skills available to employers and potential investors in the North-West;
2. Achieve a step-change in the level of entrepreneurship in the North-West;
3. Harness the potential of the blue economy and the North-West coastline as a source of new employment generation;
4. Maximise the potential of the Wild Atlantic Way and tourism for the North-West;
5. Develop a regional network of landing spaces to support co-working; and
6. Support the digitalisation of SMEs in the North-West.
The Strategic Objectives and actions in the North-West Plan are set out alongside the Enterprise Agencies’ (Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland) and the LEOs’ core activities in Co. Sligo and the wider region. In this way the new Plans add value and support the work of the Agencies on the ground in the North-West, through a collaborative approach.
It is encouraging that the unemployment rate in the Border region, which includes Co. Sligo (along with Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, and Monaghan) has reduced from 8.5 percent in Q1 2015 to 3.8 percent in Q4 2018, currently the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
The focus for Co. Sligo and the North-West over 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 that sustainable, quality jobs are created and maintained in the region. The collaborative strategic objectives and actions in this Plan, along with the core activities of the various Agencies and Bodies involved in supporting enterprise development over the coming two-year period will support this.
Finally, it is important to note that the Government has put several funding streams in place to support regional development, and the North-West has seen many successes through these ongoing initiatives. They include 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 North-West region has secured total funding of over €5.2 million to date under the two completed Calls - one of these projects, the development of a new enterprise centre at Strandhill involves an investment of just over €1.9 million.
Guided by this new Regional Enterprise Plan, the region and Co. Sligo is 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 in the region.