WDC Brexit Study and Document Repository

Given current discussion of Brexit and the form it may take, today is probably a good day to let you know about the WDC Brexit Repository.

As I noted last year there has been much discussion of Brexit and what it will mean for Ireland, for businesses here, for different sectors, and for social and cultural interactions.  The discussion was then (October 2017), and is now, of course, taking place in the context of multiple unknowns.  Nothing can be said definitively about Brexit and how it will impact on the region and communities most affected by the border.  Some of the issues were considered in this post and in this presentation (PDF 1.2MB).

Despite the lack of information and lack of certainty, it is still important to consider possible implications and to look at data that could give us a better understanding of what might occur and what policy might be needed to mitigate or address the issues that could arise from Brexit.

The WDC has, therefore, put together a ‘Brexit repository’ which is a PDF document (1MB) containing brief summaries and links to selected Brexit studies and documents on Brexit and its potential impacts which are relevant to businesses, large and small, and to communities and organisations which may be impacted by Brexit.

The PDF will be updated quarterly as new studies are published or as we become aware of older, relevant studies.  It is not an exhaustive list but a collection of documents which may be useful.  If you have any documents or studies which you think should be added please get in touch.

And perhaps by Friday 29th March 2019 the form of Brexit and its implications will finally have become clear.

 

Helen McHenry

Regional Agency-Assisted Jobs 2017

In August the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation published the Annual Employment Survey (AES) for 2017.  This provides an analysis of employment in Industrial and Services companies under the remit of IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta.  This type of employment is referred to as ‘agency-assisted’.

In 2017, total permanent, full-time employment (PFT) in agency-assisted companies in Ireland was 379,810.  This was an increase of 19,369 jobs (5.4%) on 2016, continuing the growth trend in evidence since 2011.  Part-time, temporary or contract employment in agency-assisted firms also increased by 1,796 jobs in 2017 and now stands at 48,221, the highest number recorded in the 10-year period.

Combining PFT and Temporary/Part-time jobs brings total agency-assisted employment in Ireland to 428,031 in 2017.  This was 19.5% of total employment in the country in that year (average employment of 2,194,150 across the year, based on CSO’s Labour Force Survey).

The AES data includes a detailed regional breakdown of agency-assisted employment by employment type and ownership in Appendix B.

Regional agency-assisted employment

We will begin by looking at the three larger regions of the Border, Midlands & West (BMW), South & East and Dublin.  All three initially experienced declines in assisted employment but have shown strong recovery since 2012 (Fig. 1). The South & East region has consistently been the largest, though in recent years as Dublin has grown more rapidly it has narrowed the gap somewhat.  Meanwhile the gap between the BMW region and the others has widened in recent years.

Fig. 1: Total agency-assisted employment in BMW, South & East and Dublin regions, 2008-2017. Source: DBEI, Annual Employment Survey 2017, Appendix B.

To consider this in more detail, we’ll look at the BMW’s share of total agency-assisted employment in the State.  The BMW region’s share has followed a downward trend across all types of ownership (Fig. 2). For Irish-owned employment, its share fell from 27.1% in 2008 to 25.6% in 2017.  While for foreign-owned agency supported jobs, its share fell from 19.2% to 18.9% over the 10-year period though it was higher during 2011-2014.  The region has consistently accounted for a higher share of all Irish-owned employment than of foreign-owned.

Fig. 2: BMW region’s share of total national agency-assisted employment, 2008-2017. Source: DBEI, Annual Employment Survey 2017, Appendix B.

At the more detailed regional level (Fig. 3) the share of total agency-assisted employment in each region changed between 2008 and 2017.  Dublin’s share of total assisted jobs grew steadily from 34.4% in 2008 up to 37.6% in 2017.  The second largest region is the South West and its share also grew from 14.8% to 16.3%.  While the South East was third largest in 2008, by 2017 the West had moved into third position, with the South East dropping to fifth.  Only three regions – Dublin, South West and West – had a higher share of total employment in 2017 than in 2008.

Fig. 3: Percentage of total national agency-assisted employment in each region, 2008, 2012 and 2017. Source: DBEI, Annual Employment Survey 2017, Appendix B.

 

While the share of total assisted employment located in several regions declined, all regions experienced growth in their actual number of agency-assisted jobs between 2008 and 2017 (Fig. 4). Clearly the South West (36.3%), Dublin (34.6%) and West (27%) (influenced by Cork, Dublin and Galway cities) had very strong growth over the 10-year period, with the South East (5.1%) and Mid-East (7%) performing least well.  This helps to explain their deteriorating relative positions.

Looking at the most recent performance (2016-2017), Dublin, the Mid-West and South East had the strongest growth, up 6.2% in the year. While most other regions had growth of around 5% the Mid-East actually saw a decline in agency-assisted employment in the year.

Fig. 4: Percentage change in total agency-assisted employment in each region, 2008-2017 and 2016-2017. Source: DBEI, Annual Employment Survey 2017, Appendix B.

Regional employment by type

Data is provided on two types of employment – Permanent, full-time and Temporary, part-time or contract employment (referred to as ‘Other’).  The percentage of total employment that is ‘Other’ has generally increased over the 10-year period, though with considerable volatility.  Nationally 11.3% of total employment in 2017 is ‘Other’ compared with 9.1% in 2008.

At 13.4% the West region has the highest share of Temporary/Part-time/Contract employment in 2017 and the share has been increasing since 2015.  In Dublin however, which has the next highest share (12% in 2017), it has been declining (Fig. 5). At 8.9% the Mid-East has the smallest share of ‘Other’ employment.

Fig. 5: Percentage of total agency-assisted employment that is temporary, part-time or contract employment in each region, 2008-2017. Source: DBEI, Annual Employment Survey 2017, Appendix B.

Regional employment by ownership  

The balance between foreign and Irish-owned agency assisted employment differs substantially at regional level (Fig. 6). The three regions with the largest number of agency-assisted jobs, and also the strongest growth during 2008-2017 (South West, West and Dublin) have the highest shares of foreign-owned employment at over 57% in 2017.  The Mid-West is the other region where the majority of assisted jobs are foreign-owned.

The Midlands and Border regions have the lowest shares of foreign-owned employment and therefore the largest shares of Irish-owned employment. Two-thirds of assisted jobs are in Irish companies.

Fig. 6: Percentage of total agency-assisted employment in foreign-owned and Irish-owned firms in each region, 2017. Source: DBEI, Annual Employment Survey 2017, Appendix B.

Fig. 7 shows that over the 10-year period, the South West, Dublin and West all had 40+% growth in agency-assisted foreign-owned jobs.  At 21.5% the Border also had strong growth in such jobs, though from a lower base.  In contrast, the Mid-East and Midlands both experienced a fall in foreign-owned assisted employment.

It should be noted that some of the changes in job numbers by ownership may be due to a transfer of ownership e.g. an Irish company bought by a foreign company or a foreign company becoming an Irish company through a management buy-out etc.  When a company changes ownership, jobs in that company are re-classified as Irish or foreign and the changes back-dated to previous years.

Irish-owned assisted jobs grew across all regions during 2008-2017, most strongly in the Mid-East somewhat compensating for declining foreign-owned employment.  The South West, Dublin and Midlands also had around 20% growth in Irish-owned assisted jobs with the South East and Border regions performing worst.

Irish-owned assisted employment out-performed foreign-owned in three regions (Mid-East, Midlands and Mid-West). In the case of the West, growth in foreign-owned assisted jobs was over three times greater than growth in Irish-owned assisted jobs, in Dublin and the South West it was about double.

Fig. 7: Percentage change in total agency-assisted employment in foreign-owned and Irish-owned firms in each region, 2008-2017. Source: DBEI, Annual Employment Survey 2017, Appendix B.

Over the past year (Fig. 8), all regions experienced growth in both foreign and Irish-owned assisted employment, except for foreign-owned jobs in the Mid-East. The South East (9.4%) and Dublin (7.2%) had strong growth in foreign-owned jobs with the Mid-East, Midlands and Border performing least well.  For Irish-owned jobs, the Mid-West, West and Midlands performed strongly.

In general there was less regional variation in the performance of Irish-owned assisted employment compared with foreign-owned.  Irish-owned firms out-performed foreign-owned in all regions except the South East, Dublin and South West.

Fig. 8: Percentage change in total agency-assisted employment in foreign-owned and Irish-owned firms in each region, 2016-2017. Source: DBEI, Annual Employment Survey 2017, Appendix B.

Conclusion

The strong growth trend evident in agency-assisted employment for the past number of years continued in 2017. All regions had a greater number of agency-assisted jobs in 2017 than they had in 2008.  There were considerable regional variations however, with the South West, Dublin and the West experiencing extremely strong jobs growth over the decade, substantially driven by foreign-owned companies, which led to their combined share of total assisted jobs increasing from 58.5% in 2008 to 63.5% in 2017. These three regions also have the highest shares of foreign-owned employment and two of them (West, Dublin) have the highest shares of Temporary/Part-time employment.

While all other regions have also seen growth in the numbers working in agency-assisted firms, this has been at a substantially lower level. The Mid-East and Midlands actually have fewer jobs in foreign-owned assisted firms in 2017 than they had in 2008, though growth in Irish-owned assisted jobs compensated for this, leading to overall growth.  The Border and Midlands show the highest shares of Irish-owned assisted employment and in the past year (2016-2017) Irish-owned firms out-performed foreign-owned in these two regions, as well as in the West, Mid-West and Mid-East.

While the foreign-owned sector has been a strong driver of assisted employment growth, especially in the Dublin, South West and West regions and in the initial stages of the recovery, the Irish-owned sector has responded strongly in more recent years and shows a more even geographical spread.

Pauline White

City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions- Conference Report

The Regional Studies Association Irish Branch Annual Conference was held in the Institute of Technology Sligo on Friday 7th September.  Appropriate for the location, it had the theme “City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions”.  The presentations are available here.

Figure 1: Dr Chris O’Malley from Sligo IT

The conference covered a range of themes relating to regional development and how urban areas interact with their rural regions.  It was opened by Dr Chris O’Malley from Sligo IT who discussed the role of Sligo IT in the development of industry and manufacturing in the region and the IT’s role as an integrator of national policy at regional level.  Dr Deirdre Garvey, chairperson of the Western Development Commission, welcomed delegates to the conference noting how pleased the WDC was to be sponsoring the Annual Conference.  She also welcomed the fact that the conference was taking place in the North West, given the recognition in the National Planning Framework of the specific challenges for the region and how the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) process highlight the distinct challenges and opportunities for our predominantly rural region.

These addresses were followed by a very interesting session on the history of Irish planning over the last 50 years.  Dr Proinnsias Breathnach (Maynooth University) presented on regional development policy following the 1968 Buchanan report and its impact on industry locations and spatial development.  Dr Breathnach also presented the paper by Prof. Jim Walsh (Maynooth University) who was unable to attend the conference.  He examined the influence of both the Buchanan report and the 2002 National Spatial Strategy, considered the learnings from these and the factors which will influence the success of the National Planning Framework process.  Finally in this session, Prof. Des McCafferty (University of Limerick) presented on the structural and spatial evolution of the Irish urban hierarchy since Buchanan, and examined urban population data over time and the distribution of population across the settlement hierarchy.  He noted that it was important to understand changes projected by the NPF in the context of historic trends

Figure 2: Dr Proinnsias Breathnach (Maynooth University), Prof. Des McCafferty (University of Limerick) and Deirdre Frost (WDC)

After coffee the session on Regional Strategy and Planning covered a broad range of topics.  Louis Nuachi (DIT) presented on the importance of social and cultural objectives in town planning using a case study of planning in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.  David Minton, the CEO of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) discussed issues for the development of the North and West in the RSES, some of the historic development of the region and a number of the challenges in developing a region wide approach.  Finally in that session, John Nugent (IDA) discussed the IDA role in attracting Foreign Direct Investment to the region and some of the important factors which influence the location of FDI, including the importance of having a strong indigenous sector already in place and the ways the indigenous and foreign sectors are mutually beneficial.

After lunch international perspectives were provided by Dr Andrew Copus from the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and Professor Mark Partridge, the C. William Swank Chair of Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University.

Dr Copus paper  The Scottish City Region Deals – A rural development perspective noted that optimistic assumptions about how a wider functional region benefits from city investments, are commonplace and generally unquestioned, despite meagre evidence of such impacts.   He discussed the two strands of ideas on policy for urban rural development that of polycentricity and rural urban co-operation (theories which are stronger in EU countries and in OECD work), and City Regions (which have tended to have more focus in the UK).  He highlighted the importance of defining what is meant by rural when considering the impact of such regional policies and  he discussed the development and implementation of regional policy by the Scottish and UK governments in Scotland.

He noted that in general in these deals the dominant rationale relates more to “Smart Specialisation” than to any kind of urban rural cooperation, interaction or spread effect concept, but the way growth deals developing for rural areas of Scotland will fit into the Post Brexit rural development landscape remains to be seen.

Figure 3: Audience at the conference

Prof. Mark Partridge’s paper Is there a future for Rural in an Urbanizing World and Should We Care? noted how rural areas have received increased attention with the rise of right-wing populist parties in Western countries, in which a strong part of their support is rural based. Thus, bridging this rural-urban economic divide takes on added importance in not only improving the individual livelihoods of rural residents but in increasing social cohesion.

He discussed the background of rural and peripheral economic growth, noting the United States is a good place to examine these due its spatial heterogeneity.   He showed that, contrary to public perceptions, in the US urban areas do not entirely dominate rural areas in terms of growth.  Rural US counties with greater shares of knowledge workers grow faster than metro areas (even metros with knowledge workers).

He had some clear suggestions for regional policy, noting that governance should shift from separate farm/rural/urban policies to a regional policy though a key issue is to get all actors to participate and believe their input is valued. In rural development it is important to leverage local social capital and networks to promote good governance and to treat all businesses alike and avoid “picking winners.  Rural communities should be attractive to knowledge workers and commuters, while quality of life, pleasant environment, sustainable development; good public services such as schools are important to attract return migrants.  Building local entrepreneurship is key too and business retention and expansion is better than tax incentives for outside investment.

Figure 4: Dr Chris Van Egeraat (Maynooth University)

In the final session ‘Understanding Regional and Urban Dynamics’ I gave a presentation on what regional accounts can tell up about our regional economies and discussed some of the issues associated with the regional data and the widening of disparities among regions.  Dr Chris Van Egeraat (Maynooth University) presented a paper, written with Dr Justin Doran (UCC) which used a similar method to Prof. Partridge to estimate trickle down effects of Irish Urban centres and how they influence the population in their wider regions.  Finally Prof. Edgar Morgenroth (DCU) presented on the impacts of improvements in transport accessibility across Ireland highlighting some of the changes in accessibility over time and noted that despite these changes human capital is the most important factor influencing an area’s development.

While the conference had smaller attendance than previous years there was good audience participation and discussion of the themes.  The conference papers are now available on the WDC website here and will shortly be available on the RSA website.

 

Helen McHenry

New research on Economic & Social Impact of the West of Ireland creative sector

National University of Ireland, Galway has recently published a series of reports ‘Economic & Social Impact Assessment’ of the creative sector in five different regions across Europe’s Northern Edge including the West of Ireland.  The five reports are available to download here:

Funded through the EU Northern Periphery & Arctic (NPA) Programme co-funded ‘a creative momentum project’, the research was conducted by Dr Patrick Collins, Dr Aisling Murtagh and Dr Ben Breen of NUIG’s Whitaker Institute and Discipline of Geography. The WDC is lead partner for this transnational project.

Silvia Guglielmini, WDC; Aisling Murtagh, NUIG; Pat Collins, NUIG; Pauline White, WDC; Leo Scarff; Leo Scarff Design at the launch of the assessment report. Photo Credit: Brad Anderson, Photo One Photography

As the report states, assessing the value of the creative sector (defined in the report as Advertising, Animation, Architecture, Craft, Cultural Facilities, Design, Film, Games, IT and Computer Services, Marketing, Music, Performing Arts, Photography, Publishing, Radio, Software, TV and Visual Arts) is a complex task.

Combining existing knowledge and official statistics, with survey data (152 respondents made some reply to the online survey) and in-depth interviews with nine creative sector entrepreneurs from the region, the impact assessment presents key economic estimates but also goes beyond traditional economic measures to encompass a wider socio-economic focus.

Economic Impacts

Sales

Total direct sales of the creative sector in the Western Region amounted to €486.2 million in 2016. Making use of a multiplier, the researchers derived a total value of the sector to the Western Region of €729.2 million.

Average company sales differ across sub-sectors. The sub-sector which the researchers designate as ‘creative industries’ (Media/Advertising, Architecture/Design, R&D, Professional Services, Software & App Development) reports average sales close to twice that of enterprises in the ‘craft industries’ (Traditional Craft, Print & Recorded Media Production, Electronic Manufacturing, Other Manufacturing) and ‘cultural industries’ (Performing Arts & Education, Publishing, Film & TV).

Exports

46% of survey respondents derived some portion of their sales from exports. Across the sector this accounted for 18% of direct sales or €87.4 million. Smaller and younger companies were least likely to export their produce.

Length of establishment

The sub-sector which the researchers designate as ‘creative industries’ is the youngest sub-sector with more than half of operations surveyed less than five years old and close to 10% had been in existence for less than one year.

Employment

The analysis found that the overall creative sector in the Western Region consists of a large number of small and micro enterprises with an average of 2.6 employees per firm.

Official statistics from the CSO indicate that a total of 12,871 people were employed in the sector in the Western Region in 2015. The largest sub-sector was ‘creative industries’ (57.3%, 7,380) followed by ‘cultural industries’ (30%, 3,847) and ‘craft industries’ (12.7%, 1,644). Geographically, employment was concentrated in counties Galway (22%), and Donegal (18%).

The results of the survey suggest that employment in the overall creative sector grew in recent years. Employment in ‘cultural industries’ increased by 2.3% (2012-2015) while in ‘creative industries’ there was stronger growth of 15.8%. ‘Craft industries’ however showed no significant change.

Infographic of Economic Impacts of Creative Sector in West of Ireland

Social Impacts

The report authors note that studies have found the creative sector has a range of wider benefits and spill-over impacts. Such benefits are difficult to measure precisely, but their assessment suggests the contribution is significant. A range of wider socio-economic contributions from the creative sector in the Western Region are examined in the report:

Place-based impacts

  • The creative sector is locally embedded, facilitating strong local economy value capture. But it is also internationally and globally focused, supporting economic growth. The creative sector can contribute to re-inventing perceptions of peripheral regions as attractive, creative places to live, work and visit.
  • The qualities of creative sector entrepreneurs are an asset that facilitate harnessing of local opportunities, such as from place-based resources including culture, traditions, landscape and heritage.

Human and social capital impacts

  • Inter-sectoral mobility of creative labour, as well as strong knowledge transfer to emerging talent and other entrepreneurs, strengthens the human resource capacity of the region.
  • The open and collaborative approach of creative sector entrepreneurs builds a supportive entrepreneurial environment aligned with the concept of ‘coopetition’.
  • Creative sector entrepreneurs also contribute to positive social and community impacts.

Infographic of Socio-economic impacts of creative sector

To support the consideration of the socio-economic impacts of the sector three case studies are included in the assessment:

  • Festival impacts: Willie Clancy Summer School
  • Arts impacts: Gaeltacht areas in the Western Region
  • Tourism Impacts: Creative and cultural assets

Conclusion

The analysis suggests the creative sector has significant economic and social value in the Western Region of Ireland. It highlights the important role of the creative sector in supporting more balanced, sustainable development in peripheral and rural regions. The sector’s structure, composed of small locally engaged businesses, is an important part of its value.

Placing the creative sector as part of a regional development strategy can support a move away from reliance on service and primary sectors and towards a more diversified economy focusing on new sources of economic competitiveness. Synergies between the creative sector and other indigenous industry sectors, such as agriculture, the marine and tourism, provide avenues for exploration to support future sustainable growth.

The researchers conclude by noting that this is a one off report based on limited evidence. Better evidence can help to identify benefits of particular creative sub-sectors so local agencies can focus on sectors which best address specific local development needs.  To more fully capture the value and needs of the creative sector regularly published official statistics measuring key socio-economic indicators by region and creative sector are needed.

Download the report here

Pauline White

Developing a Strategy for the Northern and Western Region

The Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Region will implement the targets set out in the newly published National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040.  The WDC recently made a submission on the Issues Paper for the Strategy for the Northern and Western region and it can be downloaded here (or you can read the summary here).

The Northern and Western Region probably has the most challenging targets to meet in Ireland 2040 with a target of a population increase of 160,000-180,000 people and 115,000 jobs in the region.  However, when broken down into annual growth rates over the next 21 years (2019-2040) the targets appear more manageable,  For example the target that larger towns should grow by 40% to 2040 is an annualised growth rate of 1.62% p.a. for 21 years while rural population growth of 15% over the period amounts to less one percent (0.67%) annual growth.  Galway, which has the largest growth target of 50-60% to achieve a population of at least 120,000 can do this with an annual growth rate of 1.95%.  Nonetheless, these are ambitious targets and achieving them will need considerable resources and direction.

Ireland 2040 also places a significant responsibility on the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) in particular and the urban centres of Galway, Sligo and Letterkenny, as well as other large towns, as the key drivers in the region.  Some of these urban centres, which are targeted for 40% growth in the NWRA area, are not very well connected though they may be well located to serve as a driver for their region. These towns need their connectivity improvements prioritised so that they have some chance to achieve the planned targets.

Successful, sustainable regional growth will require a clear Strategy with strong goals and objectives, appropriate resources, a well-developed implementation process and an implementation body with the capacity, resources and powers to achieve co-ordinated action.

Population & Employment

As was noted throughout the WDC submission, the solution to maintaining and growing the regional population is the availability of employment, which in turn requires supporting policy for infrastructural development, a strategy for education and skills and stimulation of entrepreneurship and enterprise growth.  Infrastructure, the ‘3Es’ (Enterprise, Employment and Education) and Innovation are the key levers for regional development.  When they work together they drive regional growth.  Each has a distinctive role, and needs its own policy focus, but they are most effective when addressed through an integrated policy approach.

The RSES should be explicit on the targeted location of jobs within the Northern & Western Region and the balance between jobs growth in Galway city, large towns and the rest of the Region.  These targets should be supported by a clear statement on how employment growth at different spatial scales will be facilitated and supported through the RSES.  It is important that the Strategy is clearly focused on creating real opportunities to keep people living in the region and to attract more people, whether to cities, towns or rural areas.

It should be remembered that during the early part of this century (2000-2007), when there was rapid economic growth throughout Ireland, rural areas responded rapidly with significant increases in the numbers employed and in workforce participation and, in turn, in local populations.  The region is ready to respond and targeted policies to stimulate employment and entrepreneurship will help to achieve targets.

The urban hierarchy

Specific details of the role to be played by different areas in the Region’s settlement hierarchy and the investments needed for these areas to fulfil their roles must be included in the Strategy.

In order to ensure that Galway city, the strategically located regional centres of Sligo and Letterkenny, other towns and rural areas all fulfil their regional development potential, with service and infrastructure levels appropriate to each type of area, investment at the appropriate scale needs to happen in all these places.  Too often a strategy is made which is supposed to be for all people and areas, but the focus becomes that of cities and other areas are left without appropriate investment.

In the Northern and Western Region there are only 5 towns (and Galway city, as well as part of Athlone) which have a population of more than 10,000, yet it is a relatively large region in the Irish context.  Therefore the Strategy should focus on the function of towns and the role they pay in their hinterland, rather than being too concerned with population size as a criterion for investment.

The nature and role of the smaller towns including county towns must be considered in more detail in the RSES and in County Development Plans.  It is important to be aware, in the context of the Strategy that these towns, as well as being important drivers of their local economy, are also essential to those living in other even smaller less serviced towns, in villages or in the wider countryside.

Although smaller towns can face significant challenges they also have key assets such as cultural heritage, historic buildings, local businesses and high levels of social capital.  These all provide opportunities for diversification and adaptation of the town and its social network to embrace future opportunities, whether it is improved tourism product, attracting people to live there, or developing knowledge and sectoral clusters such as creative industries.  Many towns have strong indigenous industries which may be exporting and a substantial number have some small scale foreign direct investment.  There are other enterprises and employers too, and important local services sectors and small scale manufacturing serving a local market.  These are very significant parts of the local economy and important local employers.  All of these can be leveraged to support the development of local communities.

Brexit

Brexit is a key strategic issue for the Northern and Western Region.  Cross-border linkages including cross-border commuting, access to services, retail and trade are areas which will undergo massive changes in the context of Brexit.  Planning for how to mitigate the impact of Brexit on border communities and the economy of the Border region in particular must be a core priority of the RSES.

Conclusions

Development of a strong regional spatial and economic strategy for the Northern and Western region will require coordination with central government, local authorities, enterprise agencies, and alignment with the Action Plan for Jobs and the Action Plan for Rural Development as they are developed over time.   The involvement of education providers, employers and people in the region will all be needed to ensure the targets are achieved.  The Strategy should be appropriately resourced (with money, expertise and time, as well as involvement of key stakeholders).  It would be better to have a more focused, limited strategy that can be implemented than a vision which is beyond the possibility of effective implementation.

Of course, the Issues Paper is just the first stage in the process of developing a Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western region.  There are many steps to be gone through, and further consultation, before the Northern and Western Regional Assembly publish a final Strategy, hopefully before the end of the year.

Detailed answers to the questions in the Issues Paper and consideration of specific needs are in the full WDC submission and an overview of key points in the summary.

 

Commuting in the Western Region

Census 2016 results, Profile 6 has highlighted some key trends in relation to commuting patterns across the country. What are the trends in the Western Region and how do they compare with the national picture?

More commuting to work

The number of people living in the Western Region and commuting to work in 2016 was 306,359, an increase of 7.4% (21,136) since 2011, somewhat less than the national increase of 10.7% over the five year period.

Within the Western Region all counties experienced an increase in workers commuting though only Galway city experienced a rate of increase that exceeded the national average (11.7%). This was followed by County Galway (9.5%), Donegal (8.8%), Clare (7.4%) and Leitrim (6.3%). Counties Roscommon (6%), Mayo (4.4%) and Sligo (1.2%), all had increases, though well below the national average.

Travel to work in the Western Region

Commuting by car

  • Most commuters in the Western Region travel to work by car (72.4%[1]), either as a driver or passenger – less than 7% of car commuters are passengers. Nationally 65.6% of workers commute to work by car to work, a decrease from 66.3% in 2011. As the numbers at work has increased over the period, this indicates an even greater change than the percentage share might suggest.
  • In the Western Region the share travelling by car stayed the same – 72.4% since 2011, but as the numbers employed have increased (excluding not stated, by 21,478 or 7.4%)  it indicates a greater number of people in the Western Region are travelling by car than in 2011,(+15,816 or 7.5%) the opposite trend to that occurring nationally.
  • Within the Western Region, all counties had a minimum of 71% of commuters travelling by car, ranging from a high of 75% in Clare to 71.8% in Mayo. Only Galway city had a lower share of car commuters – 61.9% – reflecting the greater public transport availability and more walking and cycling options there.

Public Transport

  • In the Western Region the share of commuters using public transport increased from 1.8% in 2011 to 2.1% in 2016, while nationally, the share of commuters using public transport increased from 8.4% to 9.3%. All counties showed a percentage increase apart from counties Donegal and Mayo, though most change was marginal apart from Galway city.
  • All western counties had increases in the numbers both travelling by bus and train which given the extent of the train network in the region suggests many of those travelling by train are commuting to destinations outside the Region.

Cycling

  • In the Western Region, the share of those cycling to work increased from 1.1 to 1.3% between 2011 and 2016, while nationally the rate has increased from 2.3% to 3%. Within the Western Region all counties except Roscommon and Leitrim showed an increase in the numbers and percentage share of commuting by cycling to work.

Walking

  • Within the Western Region, there was a slight decline in the share of commuters walking to work, from 7.8% to 7.4%, though there was an actual increase of 440, obviously less than the rate of employment growth in the Region.
  • Nationally there was a decline in the share of commuters walking to work, from 9.9% to 9.3%, though this masks an actual increase of over 4,500 persons walking to work. Within the Region, Galway city has the highest rate of walking to work, 17.2% in 2016 up from 17% in 2011.

Longer journey times to work – more congested routes or longer distances travelled?

  • Of the over 300,000 people in the Western Region travelling to work, nearly 30% (29.9%) had a journey time of less than ¼ hour while a further 29.7% have a journey time of between ¼ and ½ hour, see Figure 1 below.
  • This indicates a majority of workers living in the Western Region (59.6%) have a journey time of less than ½ hour, less than in 2011 (61.9%) indicating people’s journey times have become longer.

Figure 1. Percentage Share of Working Population and Time Travelled to Work, 2016

Source: CSO statbank. Profile 6, Commuting Table E6023.

Nationally 52.2% of workers have a journey time of between ¼ and ½ hour in 2016, a decline in the share in 2011 of 55.9%. The extent to which people are travelling longer distances or travel times are longer, (because of congestion due to the greater numbers travelling), is less clear.

Within the Western Region, workers living in Galway city and Sligo have the shortest journey times, with 67.4% and 66.6% respectively with a travel time of less than ½ hour. Close to two-thirds of workers in Donegal (64.7%) and Mayo (63.8%) have journey times to work of less than ½ hour.

The share of commuters with journey times of less than ½ hour is less in the counties of Roscommon (59.7%), Clare (59.1%), Leitrim (55%) and County Galway (47.6%), indicating generally longer commutes for people living in these counties.

In the case of workers living in County Galway, 34.1% have a journey time of between ½ and 1 hour, while a further 8% have a journey time of between 1 hour and 90 minutes suggesting many are travelling some distance and/or travelling on congested routes into Galway city.

Further analysis, examining where people work and the extent to which they travel for work will be examined in forthcoming WDC policy analysis.

 

Deirdre Frost

 

[1] This excludes the ‘not stated’ category.

Self-employment – What does the Census tell us?

Regular followers of the WDC Insights blog will know that self-employment is a topic we’ve examined a number of times before, drawing on Quarterly National Household Survey data.  However this can only tell us what is happening in the Western Region as a whole, not in the individual counties.

The publication of Census 2016 – Summary Results Part 2, included some initial data on labour force status including self-employment. Again, as mentioned in our previous post on Principal Economic Status, it must be remembered that the labour market definitions used in the QNHS and in the Census are different, so the figures are not directly comparable.  In the Census, self-employed are referred to as ‘Employer or own account worker’.

Share of self-employed in workforce 

In 2016, according to the Census, there were 61,107 employers or own account workers (self-employed) living in the Western Region. This was 18.3% of all working people in the region. As we’ve mentioned before, self-employment is a particularly important source of employment in the Western Region.

From Fig. 1 it is clear that there is a very strong spatial pattern to self-employment. The State average is that 15.6% of those in employment are employers/own account workers.  The cities are where this is least common. Only 10% or less of workers in Cork and Dublin cities are self-employed. Galway city is next lowest at 11.1% and shows a very different pattern to the rest of the Western Region.

Besides these three cities, it is the other Dublin local authority areas, counties in the Greater Dublin Area and the other two cities (Limerick and Waterford) which have the lowest incidence of self-employment. Indeed the 11 areas with the lowest share of self-employment are the five cities and the Mid-East.

Fig. 1: Percentage of all ‘at work’ who are employer/own account worker by county, 2016. Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016 – Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ003: http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=EZ003&PLanguage=0

 

At the other end of the spectrum are the most rural counties. Co Kerry has the highest share of self-employment nationally at 21.1%, followed by Leitrim (20.3%), Cavan (19.9%) and Roscommon (19.9%).  In total, five of the Western Region counties are in the top  ten in terms of share of self-employment, with Mayo (19.6%), Galway county (19.5%) and Clare (19.5%) also having almost 1 in 5 of their workers self-employed.

The strong spatial pattern of self-employment in Ireland is related to many factors but notably the sectoral and occupational pattern of employment. Agriculture is a major influence, with construction trades also having high shares of self-employed. These sectors play a more significant role in the economies of rural counties. The relative lack of alternative employment opportunities, especially in the more remote rural areas, means that more people choose (or are necessitated) to turn to the self-employment route.  The WDC will be conducting further analysis of the sectoral and occupational data from the Census and its link with employment status, over the coming months.

Change in the share self-employed

In every county in Ireland, a smaller share of the workforce was self-employed in 2016 compared with five years earlier.  The national average declined from 16.9% of workers to 15.6%, with a decline from 19.9% to 18.3% in the Western Region (Fig. 2).

Leitrim, Galway county, Roscommon, Mayo and Clare all had shares above 20% in 2011, with only Leitrim remaining over 20% by 2016.  Among the western counties, Sligo had the smallest change in the share self-employed, declining from 18.2% down to 18%. From Fig. 2 it is also clear how strongly Galway city differs from the rest of the region.

 

Fig. 2: Percentage of all ‘at work’ who are employer/own account worker in western counties, Western Region, State and Rest of State, 2011 and 2016. Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016 – Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ003: http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=EZ003&PLanguage=0

 

One of the key reasons for the declining share of self-employment in the inter-censal period is the recovery in the jobs market.  During the depth of the recession 2008-2011 employment declined hugely.  Self-employment was not quite as impacted as some people who lost their job turned to self-employment, existing employers and own account workers may have been able to sustain their own jobs while having to let to employees, and there was the continuation of the trend of some jobs becoming contract/self-employment that would previously have been employees. Therefore as overall job numbers fell, the relative importance of self-employment as a share of total employment remained strong. As the jobs recovery began from 2012 and more employment opportunities emerged, the relative importance of self-employment declined.

Change in numbers self-employed

From Fig. 3 it is clear that between 2011 and 2016 the number of employees grew far more strongly than the number of self-employed. Nationally the number of employees in 2016 was 12.9% higher than in 2011, whereas the number of self-employed was only 2.3% higher.  In the Western Region the number of self-employed actually declined in this period, down -1% while the number of employees grew by 9.8%.  It is notable that for both forms of employment, the Western Region’s performance was weaker than the State average and the Rest of State.  The decline in the numbers self-employed in the region is of some concern given its continuing greater significance in the labour market, especially in more rural counties (see Fig. 1 above).

 

Fig. 3: Percentage change in number of employer/own account workers in western counties, Western Region, State and Rest of State, 2011-2016. Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016 – Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ003: http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=EZ003&PLanguage=0

 

Across the region, Mayo, Galway county, Roscommon and Leitrim, the four counties where self-employment continues to play the largest role in their labour market (see Fig. 1) and the most rural, experienced declines in the actual number of people self-employed between 2011-2016.  All other western counties had some growth in the numbers self-employed with the strongest growth in Galway City (2.8%), which nevertheless continues to have a low share of self-employed.

In all cases the growth in self-employment was always substantially less than the growth in the number of employees.  The main exception to this was Sligo, which had very low growth in employees at only 2.6%. Indeed Sligo had the lowest growth in employee numbers in the State in this period.

Conclusion 

While the relative importance of self-employment within the labour market declined between 2011-2016, largely due to the strengthening jobs market, it remains a very significant form of employment. In the five most rural western counties of Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway county Clare, 1 in 5 of those at work, work for themselves.  Nationally there is a very strong spatial pattern of higher rates of self-employment in rural counties, with the lowest shares in the cities and Mid-East.

Some of the region’s most rural counties experienced a decline in the numbers self-employed between 2011 and 2016, the underlying reasons for this will only be apparent when the sectoral and occupational pattern of employment change in these counties is explored.

 

 

Pauline White

 

 

 

What are the levers for effective regional development?

‘What are the levers for effective regional development?’  was one of the most interesting questions posed recently by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government in its recent ‘Issues and Choices’ consultation paper for the National Planning Framework.

In our WDC Submission to the consultation, we drew on previous WDC analysis including the WDC Policy Briefings ‘Why care about regions? A new approach to regional policy’, ‘Education, Enterprise & Employment – How Can Better Integration Of The 3Es Drive Growth In The Western Region?’ and ‘e-Working in the Western Region: A Review of the Evidence’ to answer this question.

In our submission we argue that Infrastructure, the ‘3Es’ (Enterprise, Employment and Education) and Innovation are the key levers for effective regional development.   The central aim of regional policy, the National Planning Framework and the upcoming Regional Economic & Spatial Strategies should be to provide the conditions for regions to grow and realise their full potential.  Developing infrastructure, the 3Es and innovation is the way to do this.  When these three areas complement and support each other, they drive regional growth.  Each has a distinctive role, and needs its own policy focus, but they are most effective when addressed through an integrated regional policy approach.

Infrastructure

Investment in infrastructure has always played a prominent role in regional policy.  The expectation that improvements in physical infrastructure will generate productivity gains for local businesses and increase the attractiveness of an area for investment and for tourism has been a recurring theme.  Less developed regions need to have a similar quality of infrastructures for their residents and businesses as is available in more successful regions. Infrastructural connectivity has a critical influence on choice of location for both indigenous and foreign investors.  The Western Region, and particularly the North West, is disadvantaged in terms of several forms of infrastructure.  For example Sligo was the only NSS Gateway which was not connected to Dublin with a motorway under the Major Inter-Urban motorway investments between 2006 and 2010 and was the only NSS Gateway or Hub to have a 0 improvement in its ‘accessibility to employment’ score as a result of this period of intensive investment, according to research by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

In its submission to the NPF, the WDC makes a range of specific recommendations in relation to infrastructural investments needed to facilitate development in the Western Region.  The proposed investments include transport (national roads, regional and local roads, public transport (rail and bus), air and ports), communications (broadband and mobile coverage) and energy (electricity and natural gas).  These infrastructure investments are also highlighted in the WDC’s submission to the Mid-Term Review of the Capital Plan.

While infrastructure is critical, OECD[1]  work emphasises that transport and other infrastructure developments are not enough by themselves; to have an impact on regional development they need to be associated with, and complemented by, human capital and innovation developments.

The ‘3Es’: Enterprise, Employment and Education

Regions are successful because enterprises in these regions are successful.  When enterprises grow, employment grows and this depends on skilled and educated people.  Policy to support the ‘3Es’ of enterprise, employment and education must work together at both national and regional level to create dynamic regions.[2]

One of the most important issues that needs to be recognised and addressed by the NPF is that narrow definitions of ‘job’, ‘work’ and ‘employer’ as a full-time permanent employee travelling every day to a specific work location is extremely limited and does not recognise either the current reality of ‘work’ or the dramatically changing patterns likely to emerge up to 2040. Self-employment, the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, contract work, freelancing, e-Working, multiple income streams, online business are all trends that are dramatically redefining the conception of work, enterprise, and their physical location.

A study conducted for Vodafone in 2016 found that nearly one in four broadband users in rural Ireland use the internet at home in relation to their work and one third have remote access to their company network. An estimated 150,000 rural workers avoid commuting some or all of the time because they can connect to work remotely.  This trend is likely to continue.

If the NPF mainly equates the term ‘employer’ with a large IT services or high-tech manufacturing company, many of which (though by no means all) are attracted to larger cities, then it will only address a small proportion of the State’s population and labour force, and will not help to achieve effective regional development. The NPF must recognise and support existing and new sole traders, micro-businesses and freelancers working in sectors where lagging regions have comparative advantage or which are not location dependent.

Quality of life is a key determinant in the location decision of many people and current trends in the world of work and technology will increasingly help people to work from the same location where they want to live.

Enterprise

Enterprises create most jobs.  The NPF must recognise the need to enable and support the diversification of the Irish economy.  It must provide a support framework for indigenous business growth.

Many of the references to enterprises in the NPF Issues and Choices paper focus on high value, high skill exporting enterprises, which are central to export-led growth and tend to cluster in cities and larger urban centres.  However such enterprises cannot provide a full solution for regional development or jobs growth.  While they play a significant role, and have considerable multiplier impacts in other sectors, direct employment in such enterprises only accounts for one in five jobs nationally (2016 there were a total of 400,985 jobs in IDA and Enterprise Ireland supported companies nationally (DJEI) which was 19.5% of total employment (QNHS, Q4 2016)).

Enterprises in employment-intensive, lower-skill sectors are central to maintaining and growing employment both nationally and regionally.  This is termed a ‘whole of enterprise’ approach acknowledging that enterprises across all sectors have the potential to innovate and increase productivity but vary in how they contribute to growth and employment.  If the NPF focuses too narrowly on high skill, high growth enterprises and/or Foreign Direct Investment it will not lead to effective regional development.  Recognising the role and needs of entrepreneurs in local and personal services is important for sustaining as well as creating jobs, in particular in smaller centres and rural areas.  93.1% of registered enterprises in the Western Region are micro-enterprises, employing fewer than 10 people, and in general the region is characterised by smaller enterprise size (CSO, Business Demography 2014).

While Ireland has emerged from recession, enterprise numbers are not back to pre-recession levels and even more so in the Western Region and particularly more rural counties.  Between 2008 and 2014 (latest data available) the Western Region lost 8.6% of its enterprises, compared with a loss of 2.4% nationally. Construction, Wholesale & Retail, Professional Services and Accommodation & Food Service are the largest enterprise sectors. Indeed fewer than 5% of the Western Region’s enterprises are in the Financial & Insurance and Information & Communications sectors combined.  The region’s enterprise base is currently quite concentrated and diversification of the enterprise base is a key objective.

Employment

As stated in the NPF, a skilled workforce will attract high value enterprises to a region, but a skilled workforce are less likely to locate in a region unless the job opportunities already exist.  In reality this relationship is not so straightforward.  Job opportunities are a critical, but not the only factor in people’s decisions on where to live, many other personal and social factors influence this decision.  In Ireland many people have selected to live in one location but commute to work elsewhere in some cases e-Working for a number of days a week. Equally, areas with large pools of skilled labour e.g. counties in the wider Dublin commuter belt, have not necessarily been able to attract employers to locate there instead.  40% of workers living in the Mid-East region work in a different region.

In general, lagging regions have substantial reserves of unmobilised labour, indicated by higher unemployment rates and lower participation rates.  During the Celtic Tiger this pattern was largely reversed in the Western Region with rising participation rates, falling unemployment and high levels of inward migration as many people returned to the region on response to economic growth opportunities. The WDC’s LookWest.ie campaign effectively illustrated many case studies of individuals and enterprises who (re)located to the region at that time.  Labour markets in lagging regions have the potential to respond very positively to improved economic circumstances and stimulus.

The recession however led to high out-migration, which is particularly detrimental to lagging regions, as the propensity to migrate is higher among the more skilled, depriving the region of their skills and leaving the less skilled more dependent on local employment opportunities.  The creation of job or entrepreneurial opportunities for graduates in lagging regions will help retain and attract a highly skilled labour force and, in turn, stimulate further growth and employment.

A key characteristic of the Western Region is that 1 in 5 people who are at work in the Western Region is self-employed (75,000 people were self-employed in the Western Region, QNHS special run, Q1 2016). While farming influences this to some extent, self-employment is higher in the region across most sectors and is particularly important in the most rural counties.

Between 2012 and 2016 the number of self-employed in the Western Region grew by 31.3% but the number of employees only increased 0.6%.  Practically all recent jobs growth in the region has been driven by self-employment. In more rural areas and smaller towns, people who wish to continue to live in these areas have created their own job.  The NPF must both recognise and support this trend.  The Local Enterprise Offices, local development companies and local authorities are most active in supporting this type of business. It would be important to continue and expand initiatives to support them such as:

  • Roll-out of fibre broadband.
  • Provision of serviced, shared workspace including through Community Enterprise Centres, at a reasonable cost.
  • Mentoring and provision of grants for start-up and established businesses.
  • Network facilitation to allow self-employed, particularly in more rural areas who may be quite isolated, to connect with others in other own or other sectors.
  • Training and upskilling for owner/managers and self-employed across all sectors including personal services (hairdressing, childminding), building trades, retail and hospitality.

What is most interesting in recent trends is that since 2012 there has been quite strong growth in the numbers self-employed who are employing other people (from 14,200 up to 19,000) showing the potential for the self-employed to be job creators.

Education

Further and higher education has an important role to play in regional development.  Educational institutions build a region’s human capital assets, attract and retain talent.  Further education and training have a particular role in up-skilling those with lower education levels, who face higher unemployment rates and are at greater risk of long term unemployment.  Lagging regions generally have a greater share of their labour force with lower levels of education.  In 2011 54.7% of adults in the Western Region had only secondary level education or lower, compared with 51.9% nationally.

Higher education brings knowledge creation, knowledge transfer, cultural and community development and innovation to regions.  It can also stimulate entrepreneurship. Within the Western Region, NUI Galway is a key regional asset and economic driver. It greatly contributes to the attractiveness and economic development of Galway city and its wider hinterland.  To the North West the three Institutes of Technology of Letterkenny, Sligo and Galway-Mayo, are collaborating on the Connacht/Ulster Alliance, an initiative that has the potential to expand the contribution of higher education to regional development in this area.

The broader role of further and higher education, touching on innovation, enterprise and employment, needs to be a key focus of regional policy.  Where this works effectively it becomes part of a virtuous cycle producing graduates and skilled workers, and enabling them to find employment in developing enterprises.

Innovation

To remain competitive, manufacturing and service firms must continually upgrade skills and capabilities, access new ideas and technologies through industry networks, tap the knowledge of their workers, suppliers and customers and search for new market opportunities. This is all innovation.

Innovation policy is often focused on scientific and technological research, but while leading OECD regions produce several hundred patents per year per million inhabitants, more than one third of OECD regions generate fewer than ten patents per year.  Lagging regions need a different kind of innovation policy, one that emphasises absorption capacity and innovation by adoption.

Policy needs to address the issues of regions that are not innovation leaders.  A substantial element of innovation policy should be focused on adoption of innovations developed elsewhere and on initiatives in areas such as human resource management or implementation of new processes.  It should stimulate innovation activity in areas where rural regions have particular strengths such as renewable energy and agri-food.

Regional policy which addresses the levers of effective regional development – Infrastructure, the 3Es and Innovation – through a co-ordinated, place-based, cross-sectoral  approach is needed if the so-called, ‘business as usual’ spatial pattern of growth is to be disrupted and all regions facilitated to realise their potential for economic growth and provide sustainable livelihoods for those who live there.

 

Pauline White

[1] OECD, 2009, How Regions Grow: Trends and Analysis; OECD, 2009, Regions Matter: Economic Recovery, Innovation and Sustainable Growth

Key Issues for the National Planning Framework – Submission from the WDC

The WDC  made its submission on Ireland 2040 – Our Plan: National Planning Framework   yesterday.  The Issues and Choices paper covered a wide range of topics from national planning challenges to sustainability, health, infrastructure and the role of cities and towns.  A key element of the paper considered the future in a “business as usual” scenario in which even greater growth takes place in the Dublin and Mid East region with consequent increased congestion and increasing costs for businesses and society, while other parts of the country continue to have under-utilised potential which is lost to Ireland.  The consultation paper therefore sought to explore the broad questions of alternative opportunities and ways to move away from the “business as usual” scenario.

The WDC submission considers these issues from the perspective of the Western Region, the needs of the Region, the opportunities its development presents for Ireland’s economy and society as a whole and the choices, investments and policy required to achieve regional growth and resilience.

This post highlights the key points made in the submission.  The complete, comprehensive submission on the National Planning Framework by the WDC can be read here (4.5MB PDF).  A shorter summary is available here (0.7MB PDF).

 

What should the NPF achieve?

  • The National Planning Framework (NPF) provides Ireland with an opportunity to more fully realise the potential of all of its regions to contribute to national growth and productivity. All areas of Ireland, the Capital and second tier cities, large, medium and small-sized towns, villages and open countryside, have roles to play both in the national economy and, most importantly, as locations for people to live.
  • While spatial planning strives for ideal settlement or employment patterns and transport infrastructure, in many aspects of life change is relatively slow; demographics may alter gradually over decades and generations and, given the housing boom in the early part of this century, many of our existing housing units will be in use in the very long term. If the NPF is to be effective it must focus on what is needed, given current and historical patterns and the necessity for a more balanced pattern of development.
  • To effectively support national growth it is important that there is not excessive urban concentration “Either over or under [urban] concentration … is very costly in terms of economic efficiency and national growth rates” (Vernon Henderson, 2000[1]). Thus it is essential that, through the NPF, other cities and other regions become the focus of investment and development.

Developing Cities

  • As the NPF is to be a high level Framework, in this submission the WDC does not go into detail by naming places or commenting on specific development projects, as these will be covered by the forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES). The exception to this, however, is in relation to the need for cities to counterbalance Dublin.  In this case we emphasise the role of Galway and the potential for Sligo to be developed as the key growth centre for the North West.
  • The North West is a large rural region and Sligo is the best located large urban centre to support development throughout much of the North West region. With effective linkages to other urban centres throughout the region and improved connectivity, along with support from regional and national stakeholders, Sligo can become a more effective regional driver, supporting a greater share of population, economic and employment growth in Sligo itself and the wider North West region.

Developing Towns

  • While the NPF is to be a high level document and the focus is largely on cities it is important not to assume that development of key cities will constitute regional development. All areas need to be the focus of definite policy, and the NPF should make this clear.
  • While cities may drive regional development, other towns, at a smaller scale, can be equally important to their region. Recognising this is not the same as accepting that all towns need the same level of connection and services.  It is more important to understand that the context of each town differs, in terms of distance and connectivity to other towns and to the cities, the size of the hinterland it serves and its physical area as well as population.  Therefore their infrastructure and service needs differ.
  • Towns play a central role in Ireland’s settlement hierarchy. While much of the emphasis in the NPF Issues and Choices paper is on cities and their role, for a large proportion of Ireland’s population small and medium-sized towns act as their key service centre for education, retail, recreation, primary health and social activities.  Even within the hinterlands of the large cities, people access many of their daily services in smaller centres.  The NPF needs to be clear on the role it sees for towns in effective regional development.

Rural Areas

  • Rural areas provide key resources essential to our economy and society. They are the location of our natural resources and also most of our environmental, biodiversity and landscape assets.  They are places of residence and employment, as well as places of amenity, recreation and refuge.
  • They are already supporting national economic growth, climate action objectives and local communities, albeit at a smaller scale than towns and cities. But a greater focus on developing rural regions would increase the contribution to our economy and society made by rural areas.
  • The key solution to maintaining rural populations is the availability of employment. It is important that the NPF is truly focused on creating opportunities for the people who live in the regions, whether in cities, towns or rural areas.

Employment and Enterprise

  • In the Issues and Choices paper a narrow definition of ‘job’, ‘work’ and ‘employer’ as a full-time permanent employee travelling every day to a specific work location seems to be assumed. This does not recognise either the current reality of ‘work’ or the likely changes to 2040. Self-employment, the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, contract work, freelancing, e-Working, multiple income streams, online business are all trends that are redefining the conceptions of work, enterprise and their physical location.
  • If the NPF mainly equates ‘employer’ with a large IT services or high-tech manufacturing company, many of which (though by no means all) are attracted to larger cities, then it will only address the needs of a small proportion of the State’s population and labour force.
  • Similarly the NPF must recognise the need to enable and support the diversification of the Irish economy and enterprise base. It must provide a support framework for indigenous business growth across all regions and particularly in sectors where regions have comparative advantage.

Location Decisions

  • While job opportunities are a critical factor in people’s decision of where to live, they are by no means the only factor. Many other personal and social factors influence this decision such as closeness to family (including for childcare and elder care reasons), affordability, social and lifestyle preferences, connection to place and community.
  • Many people have selected to live in one location but commute to work elsewhere or, in some cases, e-Work for a number of days a week. The NPF needs to recognise the complexity of reasons for people’s location decisions in planning for the development of settlements.

Infrastructure

  • New infrastructure can be transformative (the increase in motorway infrastructure in recent decades shows how some change happens relatively quickly). Therefore it is essential that we carefully consider where we place new investments.  To do so, capital appraisal and evaluation methods determining the costs and benefits of different investment projects need to be re-examined if we are to move from a ‘business as usual’ approach.
  • Investment in infrastructure can strongly influence the location of other infrastructure with a detrimental impact on unserved locations. The North West of the country is at a disadvantage compared to other regions with regard to motorway access. This situation will be compounded if investment in rail is focused on those routes with better road access (motorways) in order for rail to stay competitive, or if communications or electricity networks are developed along existing motorway or rail corridors.
  • The WDC believes that the regional cities can be developed more and have untapped potential, however better intra-regional linkages are needed. The weaker links between the regional centres – notably Cork to Limerick and north of Galway through to Sligo and on to Letterkenny, are likely to be a factor in the relatively slower growth of regional centres in contrast to the motorway network, most of which serves Dublin from the regions.

Climate Change

For the future, the need to move to a low carbon, fossil fuel free economy is essential and needs to be an integral and much more explicit part of the NPF.  The National Mitigation Plan for Climate Change is currently being developed, and it is essential that actions under the NPF will be in line with, and support, the actions in the Mitigation Plan.

How should the NPF be implemented?

  • While much of the role of the NPF is strategic vision and coordination of decision-making, in order for the Framework to be effective it is essential that the achievement of the vision and the actions essential to it are appropriately resourced. The Issues and Choices paper does not give a detailed outline of how the NPF implementation will be resourced, except through the anticipated alignment with the Capital Investment Programme.
  • It should be remembered that policy on services and regional development is not just implemented through capital spending but also though current spending and through policy decisions with spatial implications (such as those relating to the location of services). Therefore it is essential that other spending, investment and policy decisions are in line with the NPF rather than operating counter to it.
  • While the NPF is to provide a high level Framework for development in Ireland to 2040, it seems this Framework is to be implemented at a regional level through the RSES. The Framework and the Strategies are therefore interlinked yet the respective roles of the NPF and the RSES are not explicit and so it is not evident which areas of development will be influenced by the NPF and which by the RSES.
  • In order to ensure that the NPF is implemented effectively it is important that there is a single body with responsibility for its delivery and that there is a designated budget to help achieve its implementation.

 

It is expected that a draft National Planning Framework document will be published for consultation in May.  Following that a final version of the Framework will be prepared for discussion and consideration by Dáil Éireann.

 

As mentioned above the full WDC submission on the Issues and Choices paper Ireland 2040 Our Plan- A National Planning Framework is available here (PDF 4.5MB) and a summary of key point and responses to consultation questions is available here (PDF 0.7MB).

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] http://www.nber.org/papers/w7503