Give your view on the development of the Northern and Western Region- make a submission on the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy

Just a reminder that the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) is currently out for consultation, with a closing date of 8th February 2019.

The National Planning Framework (NPF) published last year, provides a framework for development and investment over the coming years. Under the umbrella of Project Ireland 2040, it was published with its companion, the National Development Plan (NDP), a 10 year strategy for public investment.

The NPF is a framework for the development needed to underpin population growth in Ireland of up to 1 million people (by 2040) with approximately 50% of this growth to be in the five main cities.  The Framework is underpinned by 10 National Strategic Outcomes and, central to it, is the concept of Compact Growth identifying where new growth can take place within the existing envelope of our Cities, Towns and villages.

The primary vehicle for delivering the NPF is through the implementation of Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES) for each of the three NUTS 2 Regions shown on the map below.  The Assembly in each of these Regions (the Northern and Western Region, the Southern Region  and the Eastern and Midlands Region) has a draft RSES currently under consultation.

The NWRA, through the RSES, aims to provide regional level strategic planning and economic policy in support of the implementation of the National Planning Framework and provide a greater level of focus around the National Policy Objectives and National Strategic Outcomes in the Region.  The challenge for the NWRA was to take the high-level framework and principles of the NPF and work out more detail at regional and local authority levels.  This NWRA RSES introduces the concept of a Growth Framework with ‘Five Growth Ambitions’ defining the priorities for the Region and how they are mutually intertwined. The five are:

  • Growth Ambition 1: Economy & Employment – Vibrant Region
  • Growth Ambition 2: Environment – Natural Heritage
  • Growth Ambition 3: Connectivity – Connected Region
  • Growth Ambition 4: Quality of Life
  • Growth Ambition 5: Infrastructure – Enabling Our Region

The draft NWRA Strategy can be viewed or downloaded here.

Written submissions or observations with respect to the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Regional Assembly and the accompanying reports may be made between 19th November 2018 and 5pm on 8th February 2019 (both dates inclusive) through one of the following media:

On Line: Completing the RSES Web Submission Form available here.

Email: rses@nwra.ie

Mail: ‘RSES Submissions’, NWRA, The Square, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon. F45 W674

The focus of this post has been on the NWRA RSES.  In a future post we will outline key elements of the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Southern Regional Assembly  (consultation closing date is 8th March 2019).  The Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly Draft RSES is also currently out for consultation, with a closing date of 23rd January 2019.

 

Helen McHenry

The Education Sector in the Western Region

The WDC recently published the third in our ongoing series of ‘Regional Sectoral Profiles’ analysing employment and enterprise data for the Western Region on specific economic sectors and identifying key policy issues. The new report examines the Education Sector, the Western Region’s fourth largest employer.

The full report ‘The Education Sector in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile’ and the two-pageWDC Insights: The Education Sector in the Western Region’, which summarises the key points, can be downloaded here

The Education sector plays a vital role in society, educating our young people, providing lifelong learning and personal development opportunities, as well as the necessary skills for the economy. It includes all those working in public, private or community/voluntary pre-primary, primary and secondary schools (e.g. teachers, support staff) as well as staff of further and higher education institutions and colleges. The sector also includes other types of educational activity such as music schools, adult education and driving schools.  Discussions of the Education sector generally focus on provision of services. This ‘Regional Sectoral Profile’ however focuses on its role as a key economic sector and regional employer.

Employment & Enterprise in the Education Sector

A few of the key findings from the report on employment and enterprise in the sector include:

  • 32,349 people were employed in the Education sector in the Western Region in 2016. Education plays a greater role in the region’s labour market than nationally, accounting for 9.7% of total employment compared with 8.8%.
  • Education is most important in Donegal (10.8% of all employment), followed by Galway County (10.2%). These are the highest shares working in Education in the country.
  • Moycullen in Co Galway (19%) has the highest share of residents working in Education across Ireland’s 200 towns and cities. The towns with the next largest shares in the region are Bearna (13.3%), Strandhill (12.2%) and Carndonagh (11.9%). It must be noted that this data refers to residents of the towns, although some may travel to work elsewhere e.g. NUI Galway, IT Sligo.
  • The number of people working in Education in the Western Region grew by 4.4% (2011-2016), weaker growth than the sector nationally (5.7%) and also weaker than total employment growth in the region (7.5%).
  • At 32.2% and 25% of total Education employment respectively, ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ are the two largest Education sub-sectors, with a higher share working in both in the region than nationally. In contrast the region has a lower share working in ‘Higher Education’ (15.2% v 16.8%).
  • ‘Pre-primary Education’ saw the strongest jobs growth, +44.8% in the region (2011-2016) largely driven by introduction of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme providing a free pre-school place to all children.
  • 7% of all working women and 4.4% of all working men in the Western Region work in Education. The sector plays a more significant role in both female and male employment in the region than nationally.
  • In 2016 there were 2,710 Education enterprises registered in the Western Region. Education enterprises account for 5% of all enterprises in the region, above the 4.4% share nationally.  Sligo is where the sector accounts for the largest share of enterprises (5.5%) with Clare and Galway next highest (5.2%).

Key Policy Issues for the Western Region’s Education Sector

  • Higher reliance on the Education sector in the Western Region: Education is a more significant employer in the Western Region than nationally and plays a critical role in providing professional career opportunities, including in more rural areas where there may be fewer alternatives. While the main focus for Education policy must be the provision of quality services, the sector’s parallel employment role should also be a factor in policy decisions.
  • Central role in female employment: 3 out of 4 people working in the Education sector in the Western Region are women. Galway City has the lowest female share, and Roscommon and Leitrim have the highest, indicating that Higher Education has lower female involvement than other Education sub-sectors. Any future development in Education will have a far greater impact on female than male employment levels.
  • Demographic Factors: The most recent projections from the Department of Education and Skills indicate that primary school enrolments peaked in 2018, while for second level education the numbers are projected to peak in 2024. The expected decline in demand for primary and secondary education in the medium-term will impact on future Education employment trends. Demand for third level education is more varied. As well as direct transfers of young people from secondary school, demand also comes from mature students returning to education and from international students, while staff are also engaged in other activities e.g. research, which are separate to student enrolments.
  • Lifelong Learning: There is increasing recognition of the importance of lifelong learning and the need to continually update skills, or acquire new skills, to adapt to changing technology and an increasingly flexible labour market. As well as the demands of the labour market, lifelong learning is also pursued for personal development. There are regional differences however in participation in lifelong learning. In the Border region, just 5% of adults were engaged in formal education, in the West region it was 8% while it was highest in Dublin at 12%. Meeting the Government’s target of 10% of adults to be engaged in formal lifelong learning by 2020 (15% by 2025), particularly in the Border region, will require a very substantial increase in participation representing a growth opportunity for the Western Region’s Education sector.
  • Regional Skills: The Education sector is largely responsible for providing skills needed by the regional economy; skills needs which are continually changing. Provision of regional skills involves a wide range of education providers and close engagement with employers. Regional Skills Fora provide a useful structure. Changing skill demands impact on Education employment, as emerging skill needs can only be met if Education professionals with expertise in these new areas e.g. artificial intelligence, big data, are available.
  • Emerging Opportunities: The introduction of the ECCE had a very dramatic jobs impact on Pre-primary Education. This shows the potential for developing new opportunities in the Education sector, where job creation may not be the main objective but is nonetheless an important outcome. Brexit presents another potential opportunity. It is estimated that 10,000 students from the Republic of Ireland study in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the UK and institutions such as Letterkenny IT and IT Sligo in the Western Region, could attract some of these students. Also students from EU member states wishing to study abroad in an English-speaking country are more likely to choose Ireland following Brexit. Another opportunity is the Western Region’s growing number of retired people who represent potential new demand for Education services. Given demographic trends, increased demand for Education services from adults, including retired people, is an area of potential growth.

Download the full report ‘The Education Sector in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile’ and the two-page WDC Insights: The Education Sector in the Western Region’ which summarises the key points, here

Pauline White

Capacity at Ireland’s State Airports – WDC Submission

WDC Submission on the Consultation on Review of Future Capacity Needs at Ireland’s State Airports

The WDC made a submission to the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport on the Consultation on Review of Future Capacity Needs at Ireland’s State Airports, December 2018. Some of the key points noted are outlined below.

International Air Access

International air access is particularly important for an island economy and for connecting geographically remote regions such as the Western Region.  Without efficient air access, companies in the Region are placed at a competitive disadvantage to companies elsewhere. Infrastructure is a necessary condition for regional development and lagging regions need to have a similar quality of infrastructure as is available in more successful regions so that they can compete on a more level playing field[1]. There are two airports, Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock, which are located in the Western Region and offer a range of international air services[2].

An EU report measuring potential accessibility by air (using an index where EU 27 = 100), found that Dublin was the only region within Ireland above the EU average, measuring 135.[3] The Border region[4] (60.2), West region[5] (66.5) and Mid-West region[6] (80.6) all recorded accessibility scores considerably below the EU average. Since this analysis there has been a reduction in air services to the regional airports through the reduction of PSO services which would suggest a lower accessibility score for the Northern and Western regions than that measured in 2009.

Nationally, the airports of Dublin, Cork and Shannon are the most important international access points. Unlike much of the country, most of counties Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal and part of Roscommon and Galway have a greater than two hour drive-time to these airports. These centres are not adequately served by the three larger airports and Ireland West Airport Knock as the only international airport in the Northern and Western (NWRA) region, serves this catchment.

Policy Context National Planning Framework, Ireland 2040 NPF and RSES

The National Planning Framework (NPF) published in February 2018, is a planning framework to guide development and investment to 2040. Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES) are currently being prepared and are to give more detail at a regional level as to where growth should occur. A key element in the NPF vision is set out on page 11.

We need to manage more balanced growth … because at the moment Dublin, and to a lesser extent the wider Eastern and Midland area, has witnessed an overconcentration of population, homes and jobs. We cannot let this continue unchecked and so our aim is to see a roughly 50:50 distribution of growth between the Eastern and Midland region, and the Southern and Northern and Western regions, with 75% of the growth to be outside of Dublin and its suburbs.

In order to ensure the NPF can succeed, departmental and State and Semi-State Agency expenditure decisions and allocations, including the National Investment Plan need to be fully aligned with the spatial priorities outlined in the NPF and RSES.

Current policy

The National Aviation Policy predated the publication and consideration of Ireland 2040, both the National Planning Framework and the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies. The national aviation policy can be seen to unduly reinforce the dominance of the larger airports (Dublin in particular).  Now that the NPF is Government Policy, the National Aviation Policy should be reviewed and reassessed in light of the overarching objectives of the NPF.

 Even aside from the NPF and RSES, Irish Aviation policy should ensure that policy on air access should be linked to and consistent with tourism and enterprise policy objectives. National aviation policy also needs to fully recognise the international transport function Ireland West Airport Knock provides, ensuring direct international air services to a region much of which is not in the catchment of the other international airports, Dublin, Cork and Shannon.

Increasing dominance of Dublin Airport

  • The focus of investment and ever greater expansion in this Review is at Dublin Airport despite the spare capacity at the other three main airports and the ability of these airports to serve their catchments and help drive further development in their regions. The current focus on Dublin Airport only serves the ‘business as usual’ scenario and militates against each of the other airports fulfilling the role envisaged of them and delivering better regional balance.
  • Exports: In late 2018, the Irish Exporters Association (IEA), in its policy paper titled, ‘Building a transport infrastructure that fosters Irish exports to the world’, noted that Ireland’s regions form an important counterbalance to Dublin’s economic strength. Further growth, however, is stalled by limited accessibility to high-class transportation infrastructure. Addressing connectivity in Ireland’s West, in particular, should be a strategic priority to support economic growth and regional competitiveness… The IEA specifically cited the increasing dominance of Dublin airport as an issue.
  • The Costs of Congestion: The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has undertaken research estimating the costs of congestion in the Greater Dublin Area (July 2017). Further growth at Dublin Airport will only exacerbate this.
  • The report addresses ‘Options for making best use of existing infrastructure’ but focuses on Dublin Airport (section 5.1.1, pages 105).The WDC believes the best use of existing infrastructure would be by promoting further traffic at Shannon and Cork and the regional airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock. This was the explicit policy position of Government as set out in the National Aviation Policy.
  • The increasing dominance of Dublin Airport in terms of national market share is likely to result in stranded asset issues and increasing spare capacity at the other international airports, Shannon, Cork and Ireland West Airport Knock.

Other Policy Options

The WDC submission also identifies Future Capacity Needs at Ireland West Airport Knock and the value of wider economic impacts for example in the Tourism sector.

The Submission also identifies policy supports which can help support increased passenger growth and an increased share of passengers at Ireland West Airport Knock and at Shannon Airport. These include route support, route development and airport enterprise promotion.

The WDC submission to the Department of Transport, Sport and Tourism on the Consultation on Review of Future Capacity Needs at Ireland’s State Airports can be downloaded here (696 KB)

[1] WDC, 2010, Why care about regions? A new approach to regional policy

[2] Donegal airport provides services to and from Dublin and Glasgow.

[3]www.espon.eu/export/sites/default/Documents/Publications/TerritorialObservations/TrendsInAccessibility/accessibility_data.xls

[4]  Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth

[5] Galway, Mayo and Roscommon

[6] Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary

SMEs in Ireland: What are the issues?

Earlier this year the WDC made a submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. They are currently investigating the issue of Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland.  Last Tuesday we were among 15 individuals and organisations invited to address a public hearing of the Seanad on the topic.  A video of the hearings is available here (the WDC’s contribution begins at 3:48) and the final report will be published by the Seanad early next year.

The inputs to the public hearing covered the owner, national and regional perspectives on SMEs in Ireland.  Over the course of five hours a very broad range of topics and issues relevant to the operation and future of SMEs in Ireland was discussed, here are just a few of the themes which emerged.

Incentivising entrepreneurship:  How can we make it more attractive for people to choose to establish their own business?  It was suggested the idea should be encouraged at primary school level, before children enter the ‘points race’, by adding entrepreneurship to the list of potential career choices.  It was also noted that some entrepreneurship, especially in rural areas, may ‘grow from the ashes’ as a result of the closure of a large business and limited alternative employment.  Reducing personal risk as a barrier to entrepreneurship was raised in terms of social insurance, as well as the issue of the rate of capital gains tax acting as a disincentive.

Varied forms of entrepreneurship: It was proposed that more varied forms of entrepreneurship and ownership models, including co-operatives and social enterprise, should be encouraged.  With a more socially conscious generation of young people, it was recognised there could be more demand to buy from socially and environmentally conscious local businesses.  It was suggested that this could support succession planning for family-run businesses with more options for buy-outs by worker co-operatives.

Attracting skills and management capacity:  As the labour market tightens, SMEs increasingly have to compete for employees with large multinationals. SMEs can lose trained staff to FDI companies paying higher salaries and this particularly restricts the development of management capacity as SMEs find it difficult to compete with FDI companies on salaries for high level management roles.  But a strong management team is central to SME success and can also help with succession through a management buy-out.  Incentives to retain staff, such as the Keep scheme, were seen as important to tackle this.  The diaspora was also highlighted as a potential source of key skills for SMEs and a number of initiatives to attract people back to rural, regional and Gaeltacht locations were outlined. For counties in the Greater Dublin Area, promoting ‘reverse commuting’ with SMEs encouraged to establish in commuter towns to take advantage of the pool of talent currently commuting into Dublin, was highlighted.

Education and training: To meet the skill requirements of SMEs there was a need for them to identify their current and future skills needs. EI are currently running ‘spotlight on skills’ workshops for companies which aim to help with this.  Close collaboration between SMEs in a region and local education providers (ETBs, IoTs, Universities) is critical to providing the pipeline of skills needed for future jobs as well as facilitating accredited lifelong learning to upskill current staff.  Increasing the range of sectors covered by apprenticeships and making the apprenticeship path more attractive were also raised.

Costs and regulatory burden:  The rising cost of utilities and insurance and the impact this is having on SMEs.  For example a number of key insurers have left the insurance market for retail businesses in Ireland and there is uncertainty how UK insurers providing cover in Ireland will be impacted by Brexit.  Initiatives to spread costs more evenly, such as the timing of Revenue payments, could help with SME cash flow.  The Government was urged to ‘think small first’ when developing new regulations and to take into consideration the cumulative impact of numerous regulations on small businesses, rather than looking at the impact of one regulation in isolation from others.

Procurement: The potential for public procurement as a market for SMEs.  The ‘bundling’ of contracts could put some public projects out of reach of SMEs and it was felt that, as far as possible within EU tendering guidelines, SMEs should be facilitated to access public procurement

Broadband and remote working: SMEs will not be able to connect with their markets in the absence of high-speed broadband across the country.  The lack of high-speed broadband in some rural and regional locations is a critical issue and has in fact led to the relocation of some companies.  It was noted that 4G /5G mobile technology was not sufficient the needs of SMEs and fibre broadband was the most future proofed technology.  Broadband could also facilitate remote working for employees and entrepreneurs.  The provision of digital hubs and innovation centres could facilitate networking and social interaction. It was noted that there needed to be a culture change in terms of remote working.

Scale and performance:  Recent Irish economic growth has mainly been driven by FDI and Irish SMEs are not performing as well in terms of exports or innovation.  It was felt that they were not living up to their potential, as research by the Enterprise Research Centre has shown that Irish micro-enterprises have greater growth ambition, digital adoption and use of innovation than their UK or US counterparts. Growing the scale of Irish SMEs and diversifying their markets, especially beyond the UK, were seen as priorities for improved performance.  It was also noted that some SMEs may be caught in the ‘middle’, too large for LEOs but not exporting so not within EI’s remit.  Brexit makes it difficult for any SME to plan and it was suggested that some companies may need more direct support to adapt to the Brexit impact.

Investment and finance:  There is a need for more investment in SMEs, who currently largely rely on short-term debt financing rather than longer term equity investment.  Investors need to be incentivised more to make equity investments in SMEs, while SME owners should be encouraged to be more open to equity investment.  While new, high-tech companies were very open to the idea, more established SMEs may be reluctant to seek such investment.  It was also noted there was a lack of private sector early stage and venture capital funding in the regions.  In relation to lending to SMEs, a Local Public Banking model, similar to that in Germany, was proposed.  Based on relationship banking, these local public banks could provide loans to SMEs and would operate on a non-profit basis.

The ultimate outcome of the consultation will be a strategy proposal document on SMEs in Ireland which the Seanad will publish early next week and propose to the relevant Government Minister.  It is hoped this will place a renewed focus on the role and importance of indigenous SMEs to the Irish economy and regional development.

Pauline White

Enterprise in the Western Region 2016

Earlier this week we published our latest 2-page WDC Insights publication.  ‘Enterprise in the Western Region 2016’ analyses the latest data from the CSO’s Business Demography which measures active enterprises in 2016.  This data assigns enterprises to the county where they are registered with Revenue, so if they have multiple locations (e.g. banks, chain stores) they are only counted as one enterprise in whichever county they are headquartered (often Dublin).   Therefore the county data presented here measures businesses which are registered in the Western Region.

In 2016 there were 54,410 total enterprises registered in the Western Region.

To examine the size of enterprises, we can only consider ‘business economy’ enterprises which are a subset of total enterprises (excluding Education, Health, Arts & Entertainment and Other Services).  There were 42,737 ‘business economy’ enterprises in the Western Region in 2016 and 92.7% were micro-enterprises.  Roscommon (94.6%) and Leitrim (94.4%) have the highest shares of micro-enterprises in the state.

Between 2008 and 2016 there was a 4.3% decline in the number of ‘business economy’ enterprises in the Western Region, compared with 3.9% growth in the rest of the state (all other counties) (Fig. 1).  Donegal, Mayo and Roscommon suffered the largest declines in enterprise numbers over the period.

The 2016 data confirms an ongoing recovery in enterprise numbers that began in 2014, with all counties experiencing an increase over that two-year period, Clare and Donegal most strongly.  Although all western counties (and all but seven counties nationally) still had fewer enterprises in 2016 than they had in 2008.

Fig. 1: Percentage change in ‘business economy’ enterprises in western counties, Western Region and rest of state, 2008-2016 and 2014-2016.  Source: CSO, Business Demography 2016

Compared with the rest of the state, the Western Region has a higher share of enterprises in traditional sectors, as well as local and public services (Fig. 2).  With 1 in 5 enterprises in the region involved in Construction, it is the region’s largest enterprise sector and plays a larger role in the region’s enterprise profile. Accommodation & Food Service is another area where the region has a significantly greater share of enterprises, an indication of the important role of tourism.

The knowledge intensive services sectors are of less significance to the region’s enterprise profile, with lower shares in Professional Services, Information & Communications and Financial Services.

The relative importance of sectors to the enterprise profile of individual western counties varies, although Construction and Wholesale & Retail are the two largest for all counties, with Professional Services third largest for all western counties except Donegal where Accommodation & Food Service is third.

Fig. 2: Percentage of total enterprises in each sector in the Western Region and rest of state, 2016. Source: CSO, Business Demography 2016

As noted above, the period 2014-2016 showed growth in enterprise numbers. At a sectoral level, there was growth in all sectors in the region except for a small decline in Transportation & Storage.  The largest percentage growth, albeit from a low base, was in Financial Services with an increase of 15% in the number of enterprises registered in the region, followed by Real Estate (11.5%) and Administrative Services (8%).

For these three sectors, the growth in the region was higher than in the rest of the state, with the number of Financial Services firms actually declining elsewhere in that time. The region also experienced stronger growth than the rest of the state in Industry, Education, Professional Services and Arts & Entertainment.

The CSO also produces data for a composite ‘ICT’ sector which combines elements of ICT hardware manufacturing with IT services, the number of ICT enterprises in the Western Region increased by 11.4% between 2014 and 2016 compared with 9.8% growth in the rest of the state.

The profile of the Western Region’s enterprise base contributes to a number of the issues and challenges faced by the region’s SMEs which the WDC highlighted in its recent submission to the Seanad’s public consultation on SMEs in Ireland. See the blog post here.

Download ‘Enterprise in the Western Region 2016’ here.

Issues for the Western Region’s SMEs

The WDC recently made a submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the important topic of Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland.

In our submission we highlighted that the Western Region is a predominantly rural region with 65% of the population living in rural areas (outside centres of 1,500).  Trends in the location of FDI investments, especially in the period of the recovery, have shown increasing concentration in Ireland’s cities and their hinterlands, although this year has seen greater distribution (e.g. to Sligo) as Dublin’s cost of living and housing shortages drive multinationals to seek other locations. Regardless of this however, FDI is only one element of job and enterprise growth and is not the solution for the vast majority of the Western Region.  Therefore supporting the start-up, expansion and viability of Irish indigenous SMEs is at the core of both the region and Ireland’s future growth.

Indeed the important role of SMEs in regional development will be among the topics discussed at this Friday’s Regional Studies Association Annual Conference at IT Sligo, on the theme City-Led Development & Peripheral Regions.  International keynote speakers Professor Mark Partridge (US) and Dr Andrew Copus (Scotland) will be joined by academics and policymakers from Ireland to consider how (or indeed if) a ‘city-region’ regional policy approach can really bring benefits for peripheral regions and rural areas. Register now

SMEs in the Western Region

In 2016 there were 54,410 enterprises registered in the seven-county Western Region, and only 50 of these were large (250+) enterprises.[1]  Next week the WDC will publish a new WDC Insights publication examining enterprise data for the Western Region.

In our submission, we noted that SMEs located in the Western Region, including those in small and medium-sized towns, villages and rural areas, face some specific challenges:

  • Small local markets and distance from larger markets;
  • Poor transport connectivity (for staff and freight) with no motorway in the Western Region north of Tuam and often poor quality local and regional roads linking to primary and secondary routes;
  • Weaker broadband infrastructure (access and speed) constraining online operations;
  • Poor mobile phone coverage for voice calls and data;
  • Difficulties in identifying and recruiting suitably qualified staff, especially at senior managerial and technical levels;
  • Lack of regional seed and early stage venture capital funders;
  • Declining populations in some areas, especially in the economically active (and higher spending) age categories;
  • Reduced activity and footfall in smaller town centres with the growth of online retail and improved transport access to larger urban centres offering greater retail and service choice;
  • Isolation and lack of networking opportunities;
  • For SMEs based around Galway city, traffic congestion can be a major constraint;
  • SMEs in Border counties and throughout the Western Region currently face uncertainty regarding the implications of BREXIT. After March 2019 there may be very significant impacts on their businesses.  These smaller businesses are most vulnerable, lacking staff and resources to change and develop in response to changes in their commercial relationships with the UK.

The submission then goes on to set out some specific policy recommendations on access to finance, recruitment and retention of suitably qualified staff and infrastructure.

Read the full submission here.

Pauline White

 

[1] CSO (2018), Business Demography 2016

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.

 

One Region One Vision Conference Video Highlights

For 2018 the Western Region will be recognised as European Entrepreneurial Region. Recognising the success of our indigenous and small enterprises. Our commitment to innovation will see us become one of the most resilient places in Europe.

The One Region One Vision Conference took place in Galway on November 28th.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) was delighted to collaborate on this conference with the North Western Regional Assembly.

According to the CEO of the WDC , Ian Brannigan, “The Western region is entering a period of real growth and as such the bringing together of key regional stakeholders and businesses is essential to optimise this opportunity. The One region One vision provides a forum for change for the region “.

One Region One Vision celebrated achievement, whilst also promoting investment in our competitiveness through Structural Funds and launching our Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy. The Conference was concluded by the Chairperson of the WDC Dr Deirdre Garvey.

So get your 2018 moving by watching the One Region One Vision inspirational speakers including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Harry Hughes of PortWest, Mary Rodgers (Portershed), Adrian Weckler (INM) and many more.

 

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