My Department and its agencies consistently engage with businesses throughout the country and across a variety of sectors to ensure an understanding of the existing and potential challenges faced by our businesses. This information is then used to develop Departmental policies and whole-of-government strategies that will help Irish companies to overcome obstacles and avail of opportunities in domestic and international markets.
In this context, Future Jobs Ireland is our plan to meet the challenges businesses are facing now. Launched on 10 March 2019, it includes ambitious targets and actions to drive this transformation of our economy. For example, Future Jobs Ireland commits to doubling our lifelong learning rate by 2025. It commits to investing in test beds, demonstrator sites and research and innovation centres in cutting edge technologies like Connected Autonomous Vehicles, advanced manufacturing and Cobotics. It commits to a national AI strategy which will ensure we are leader in exploiting AI technologies in our research centres, businesses and the public sector to secure greater levels of productivity and wellbeing.
Future Jobs Ireland also aims to make the Public Service a leader in technology adoption and innovation including in GovTech, healthcare and in the edelivery of services to the public. Future Jobs Ireland is an inclusive plan. We don’t want any group of people to be left behind so we will also prepare and equip vulnerable workers for changes in their jobs through Transition Teams. We will also enable older workers, women and people with disabilities to participate in the workforce through better childcare, more flexible working options and access to upskilling.
It is vital that all businesses assess their vulnerabilities with regard to Brexit, and other economic challenges that may arise. It is particularly important that businesses examine their supply chains in detail and work towards addressing any identified weaknesses.
My Department, through its agencies, provide a wide range of supports to enable companies to consolidate market share within the UK and also to become more resilient by broadening their sales to other international markets.
Enterprise Ireland's (EI) Strategy 2017-2020 aims to support entrepreneurs and bigger and better Irish companies to create 60,000 new jobs, to increase exports by €5bn (while reducing dependence on the UK) and to double client spend on innovation over four years.
EI is playing a key role in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation's strategic response to Brexit. Over the medium term, EI's strategy of supporting companies that can compete globally through scaling, innovation and market diversification is the sustainable response to Brexit and other global challenges.
Enterprise Ireland has a broad range of supports available to help companies prepare for Brexit including the Brexit Scorecard, Be Prepared Grant, Advisory Clinics, Agile Innovation Fund, Operational Excellence Offer, Market Discovery Fund, Online Customs Training and the Act On Consultancy Grant.
EI clients' exports for 2018 rose for a ninth consecutive year, and now stand at €23.8 billion, the highest level in the history of the State. This represents a 6% increase on 2017, and a €10.9 billion increase in exports since 2009. In relation to employment, as of the end of 2018 215,207 people are now employed by Enterprise Ireland supported companies. This is the highest in the history of the agency.
Enterprise Ireland manages the development of the 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) throughout the country. The LEOs are the "first stop shop" for advice on starting and growing a business locally. In 2018, 8,007 new jobs (gross) and 3,656 jobs (net) were created by LEO-backed client companies, with jobs growth across every LEO area. At the end of 2018 there were 36,666 people employed by 7,164 small businesses and start-ups that had received financial assistance from the Local Enterprise Offices.
The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) recently launched their customs training offering which is available to all companies. Furthermore, they have a number of enterprise supports in place cover a range of potential Brexit impacts. These include: liquidity support through short term and longer-term loans; restructuring aid for businesses in severe operating difficulties, including an EU State aid approved Rescue and Restructure Scheme to deal with sudden shocks; and an expanded network of overseas offices and in-market supports to help firms diversify markets and to consolidate market share in the UK where appropriate.
IDA Ireland continues to work with their client companies and prospective clients to promote Ireland as an excellent location to do business. FDI companies have a hugely positive effect on the local economy with over eight jobs being created for every 10 jobs in an FDI company. Direct employment of 229,057 along with indirect employment of 183,246 translates to 412,303 jobs supported by FDI in Ireland at the end of 2018.
In March 2017, DBEI launched the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF). The REDF is a €60m competitive fund complementary to the Regional Enterprise plans and with the overarching aim of driving enterprise development and job creation in each region throughout Ireland. The Fund is administered for DBEI by Enterprise Ireland and it is aimed at supporting collaborative and innovative projects that can have a significant impact on enterprise development and help to sustain and add to employment at a national, regional and county level.
During 2017 and 2018, 42 projects have been awarded funding as part of Government initiatives under Project Ireland 2040, over two completed Calls for Proposals worth a total of almost €60m, with collaborative projects supported in every region. A third REDF competitive call was announced last week with a fund of €45m to further align this fund with key policy developments including Future Jobs Ireland and in order to continue to build Brexit resilience in the regions.
The Government is nevertheless conscious of our need to continue attracting FDI from as many different countries as possible. In order to reduce over-reliance on a particular market for FDI, we need to build awareness of Ireland as a favoured investment destination in target countries, as well as improve competitiveness and consolidate Ireland’s traditional strengths in terms of talent, productivity and ease of doing business. We are also investing more in infrastructure, to help ensure our economy can support and foster the investment we are seeking.