At the most recent meeting of the Economic Development & Enterprise SPC at County Hall (19 Sept 2017) they heard how the South East is the forgotten corner of Ireland when it comes to job creation and inward investment.
Presenting the latest South East Economic Monitor report Dr Ray Griffin and Dr Cormac O’Keefe, both of WIT, outlined how the region has been neglected for too long by the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.
They say that, while the region’s economy has seen some recovery, this is well below growth in other regions and well below the national average.
They cite “a pronounced deficit in … regional higher level education capacity, acute hospital services, IDA and Enterprise Ireland activity.” Net result? Fewer jobs, lower quality jobs, persistent brain drain, lack of “fair play” and a general knock-on effect on the region’s ability to move forward. They also say that poverty levels in the South East are higher than in other regions.
Resulting from the presentation by the two experts the three PPN (Public Participation Network) representatives on the Economic Development & Enterprise SPC are calling on the government to address the glaring structural weaknesses in the South East’s economy. Breda Meagher (Social Inclusion), Dan Kennedy (Community & Voluntary) and Senan O’Reilly (Environment) say that the reason the South East is falling behind other regions is down to a lack of state investment in the region and a failure to implement policy.
According to Sean McKeown of the South East Action Plan for Jobs the South East is not reaching its target for increasing employment. While other regions have managed to get unemployment to within 1% of the national average, the South East is 2.6% above it (national 6.7% v southeast 9.3%). McKeown also points out that the region has the highest percentage, nationally, of unskilled and semi-skilled workers.
IDA-supported jobs generally pay well. However, with 10% of the state’s population the South East has just 6.7% of all IDA jobs. While the region now has an IDA Regional Manager it is still lagging behind the others.
The PPN reps praise the efforts of Wexford County Council on its progressive stance to local economic development. In addressing the shortage of modern office space and good quality industrial units, and partnering with the private sector in developing technology and innovation hubs in the principle towns, the Council is, they say, creating the conditions for increasing graduate-level employment in Co Wexford. They also give the thumbs up to the Council’s Invest Wexford initiative which presents Wexford as a great place in which to both live and work. They go on to say, however, that despite the Council’s efforts, until the county, and the region, gets a fair share of state structural funding progress in county/regional economic development will continue to lag behind the national average.
The PPN reps are also unhappy with the lack of state investment in education and health in the South East. Wexford, and the other counties in the region, suffer from the effects of a persistent brain drain – over 2/3 of those seeking higher education leave the region. This carries with it an average cost per student p.a. of €11k. The vast majority do not return to work in the South East not least because of the lack of employment opportunities.
Educational opportunities for unemployed is behind that in other regions. Low educational attainment is linked to poor job quality which means lower disposable income. This has an obvious knock-on effect on the wealth of the region.
On a structural level the lack of capital investment in higher education in the South East is holding back economic growth in the region. Academics and business leaders alike are frustrated at the foot-dragging when it comes to developing a technological university in the South East. A university in the region would both keep a greater percent of students in the region, attract students from outside the region and give a welcome boost to the local economy.
Like education, healthcare in the region suffers from poor state investment. This can be seen in the below average spend on hospitals and healthcare in the South East.
The PPN reps say it’s time the government stopped treating the South East as the forgotten region. They want a proper regional commitment from both the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. They want a Government commitment to acknowledge the lack of investment in the region, and County Wexford in particular, and to work with local authorities and state agencies in putting in place a framework for sustainable development. This, they say, will involve increased capital investment across multiple sectors; creating the conditions for increased employment (and better quality jobs); giving more third level students an opportunity to stay in the region by establishing a technological university in the South East; bringing expenditure in the region on healthcare and social infrastructure in line with that in other regions. Above all they say they are simply looking for a fair share for the South East.
Breda, Dan and Senan are members of groups affiliated with County Wexford Public Participation Network. All three are members of the Economic Development & Enterprise Strategic Policy Committee. On this committee they represent the views of the three electoral colleges – Social Inclusion, Community & Development, Environment). SPCs bring together elected members (Councillors), and people actively working with social, economic, cultural and environmental bodies to review, and contribute to, the development of Council policies and services. SPCs prepare the groundwork for policies which are then decided on by the Local Authority.