Since becoming Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I have made regional development my top priority. Indeed, enterprise development and job creation in the regions is a key policy priority of this Government.
We want to create a situation where all regions are enabled to realise their potential as contributors to economic recovery and growth, and thereby reduce regional disparities.
A total of 18,600 more people are in employment in the Midlands in Q1 2019 compared to Q1 2015 when the Regional Action Plan for Jobs initiative was launched. Unemployment in the region has reduced from 14.9 percent to 6.2 percent in the same period. The State average figure at Q1 2019 is 4.8% and so unemployment in the Midlands is currently outside that 2020 target.
The Government remains committed to achieving an overall jobs uplift of between 10 and 15 per cent in each region by the end of 2020 and to bring and/or maintain unemployment levels in each region to within at least one percentage point of the State average.
To that end, during February and March this year, I launched 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 pleased to say that implementation has commenced in all regions.
I launched the Regional Enterprise Plan for the Midlands region, which covers Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath on 6 February in Mountmellick, Co Laois. The Steering Committee for the Plan, chaired by Dr. Anne Cusack, has already met to commence its implementation.
There are seven ‘Strategic Objectives’ in the Midlands Plan. These include: ensuring that the Midlands is well positioned to address the challenges posed by the transition to a low carbon economy and renewable energy; position and support the growth of the Midlands as an advanced manufacturing centre of excellence; strengthen the attractiveness of the Midlands as a destination to visit; and ensure the availability of skills and talent to realise the Midlands’ economic potential and address upskilling requirements.
The Strategic Objectives and actions in the Midlands Plan are set out alongside the Enterprise Agencies’ (Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland) and the LEOs’ core activities in the region. Earlier this week, I launched Enterprise Ireland's new regional plan 'Powering the Regions' which sets out the focus of its activities in each region, including the Midlands, to expand the reach of the Enterprise Ireland client base over the coming years.
The focus for the Midlands over the period to 2020 under the Regional Enterprise Plan will be to maintain an emphasis on employment growth, aiming to out-perform the rate of growth achieved since 2015 to date, reduce unemployment to within one percentage point of the national average, and ensure that sustainable, quality jobs are created and maintained in the region. The collaborative Strategic Objectives and actions in this Plan will support this. Guided by the Regional Enterprise Plan, and with all stakeholders working together, including those in Longford and Westmeath, the Midlands region is well positioned to realise its enterprise potential and see better quality, sustainable jobs and investment in the region.
The Government has put several funding streams in place to support regional development, and both Longford and Westmeath have attracted funding through these. They include my Department’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund; and the Rural and Urban Regeneration and Development Funds under Project Ireland 2040.
Under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), the Midlands region has already secured total funding of over €3.4 million under two completed Calls, including the IMR in Mullingar (€2.16m) and the development of a Digital Hub in Longford in a joint project with Leitrim and Cavan (€1.28m). Earlier this week I launched a Third Call under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund for up to €45 million and I encourage strong collaborative proposals from the Midlands to apply to the Scheme.