e-Work, Remote work and Hubs, Some Recent Evidence

Introduction

The WDC produced the Policy Briefing e-Working in the Western Region in March 2017, see here. This briefing aimed to quantify the extent of e-working in the Western Region and nationally and set out policy recommendations. Since then e-working or remote working and co-working spaces such as hubs have received a lot of attention, but to what extent is the activity on the increase?

In the Policy briefing, the WDC noted that the extent of e-Working is hard to measure, in part because of the paucity of data, and in part because the practice is sometimes not very visible; it is often in the absence of company policy and at the discretion of local management. Some recent data in relation to official statistics and company practice is presented here.

CSO Pilot for Census 2021

There has been limited official statistics measuring the incidence of working from home. To date the Census has asked the question ‘how you usually travel to work’? with one of the answers being ‘work mainly at or from home’. This is very limited as it only captures those that work from home most of the working week and excludes those who work from home one or two days per week, which some suggest is the most common pattern.

The CSO invited submissions to the consultation on questions for inclusion in Census 2021. In its submission, the WDC advocated for the inclusion of a question to more effectively capture the extent of Working from home/ e-working. Following the consultation exercise and a pilot exercise the CSO have now agreed to include a question measuring the number of days people work from home on a weekly basis in Census 2021. The results of the pilot survey were released earlier this year and they provide an insight into e-working. Some of the findings are highlighted below.

Among those at work, 18% declared they worked from home. The level of non-response among workers was low at 3%. Of those working from home, the breakdown by number of days was as follows:

Working from home 1 day per week was the most popular practice (35%), followed by 2 days a week (13%) and 5 days per week (by 11%). It should be noted over a quarter of those who said they worked from home did not state the number of days. One possibility may be that their pattern changes on a weekly basis.

Profile of those working from home

  • The pilot results showed that the percentage of those working from home increased as age increased, peaking at 19.6% of those at work in the age group 45-49. The proportion of home workers decreased among workers in older age groups. Among those in the 45-49 year age group, 32% worked one day from home.
  • Approximately 60% of people who work from home were male.
  • There were notable differences in the occupation of those who worked from home. e.g. 13.5% of those who worked from home worked in the ‘Science, research, engineering and technology professional’ occupation category.
  • In contrast only 0.6% of those who worked from home indicated they were in the ‘Process, plant and machine operatives’ occupation category
  • Over half of those who worked in ‘Computer programming, consultancy and information service activities’ indicated that they worked from home. This industry comprised 3% of all workers in the Pilot but 11% of all home workers were in this industry.
  • Of those who worked from home, 79% had fixed broadband internet, 18% had mobile broadband internet, and 3% indicated they had no internet connection. It is possible that that much of this 3% do not depend on internet access to conduct their work, for example those engaged in agriculture. See the CSO release here.

The WDC very much welcomes the inclusion by the CSO of the question on working from home in the next Census. This will allow a more thorough analysis of the practice based on comprehensive Census data.

Company Practice- Incidence of e-work in Ireland

Another part of the evidence base is data collected by companies on the extent to which they provide for flexible work practices such as e-working and the extent to which this is practiced by their employees.

IBEC have collected survey data on the extent of e-working for a few years now. Data has been recently published which shows an increasing prevalence of the practice based on a survey of IBEC members. For example,

  • In 2018, 37% of IBEC members (152 companies) had a practice of e-Working/ home-working, on one or two days per week basis, up from 30% (110) in 2016.
  • In 2018, 7% had a practice of e-Working five days per week, up from 5% in 2016.
  • The IBEC survey shows that the likelihood of e-Working among companies increases with company size, so that 54% of companies with 500+ employees cite a practice of e-Working on a 1 or 2 days a week basis.
  • There is a slightly higher rate of e-Work among foreign owned compared to Irish owned companies, 40% and 33% respectively, and both these figures are up on two years previously – 34% and 27% respectively.
  • Sectorally the highest rates are within the Electronic services sector (69%), followed by the Financial services sector (58%).
  • At a regional level IBEC members in the Dublin region have the highest incidence, with almost half (49%) report having an e-working policy of 1-2 days working from home per week. This rate drops to one-third of companies in the Cork region, one-quarter in the Mid-West and South-East and 24% in the West/North West.

This regional variation supports the idea that at least some of the e-working demand and take-up by employers is driven by congestion in larger urban centres.

Demand for e-working/co-working spaces/ Hubs

Another aspect of e-working or remote working is where the worker works from a hub rather than home. The success of initiatives variously called e-working spaces/ co-working spaces/ hubs also suggests e-working is on the increase. Some working spaces are funded by Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and some by the Department of Rural and Community Development. The hubs are variously classed as innovation, enterprise or community hubs, and many are focussed on start-ups and incubation spaces as well as providing e-working spaces for individual employees.

The Western Development Commission is coordinating an initiative with the Department of Community and Rural Development (DCRD) called the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) Enterprise Hubs project. This three year project aims to create an interconnected community network from the 101 hubs identified in the AEC region (the region from Donegal to Kerry) along the Western Seaboard.

This week the WDC is convening two workshops, one in Limerick (19th November) and the second in Sligo (Thursday 21st November) aimed at bringing all key stakeholders together to work together to optimise the operation of the hubs and how they can support regional and rural development, e-workers and remote workers throughout the region. For further information see here for more information.

 

 

Deirdre Frost

Agency Workers – How Many Are There and Where do they Work?

Introduction

There is much discussion about the growth of ‘atypical’ forms of work – such as e-working, remote working, the gig, shared economy and temporary work etc.

The WDC has previously examined various aspects of atypical ways of working, identifying the extent to which it occurs in the Western Region, whether patterns differ to that elsewhere in the country, all aimed at informing labour market policy and identifying recommendations to support better employment opportunities in the Region.

The WDC Policy Briefing (No. 7) e-Working in the Western Region: A Review of the Evidence, examined the extent of e-work (also referred to as teleworking or remote working) in the Western Region, see here. Working at or from home can take different forms and this Policy Briefing examines e-working in traditional employer-employee relationships. The WDC also published case-studies of e-working in the Western Region which highlights a wide range of e-working experiences, see here.

A two page WDC Insights paper examined the gig or shared economy and how broadband and online platforms have enabled new forms of work and income generation to emerge. The paper examines the evidence on the extent to which Gig economy exists in the Western Region, download here.

In the third of the series, the WDC examined working from home. Based on Census of Population data which identifies whether people work ‘mainly at or from home’. The Census definition is self-assigned and can include those who work full-time from home or working from home on at least three days of a five day working week, see here. The WDC have suggested a change to Census 2021, to which the CSO has agreed, which will include a question asking people to list the number of days per week in which they work from home.

Agency Worker Employment

Another aspect of atypical working includes agency worker employment. Sometimes it is suggested that this type of employment is on the rise and is often less secure or more precarious than traditional employment forms.  Agency work, especially that which is temporary, is often considered insecure employment. Is it a phenomenon largely associated with periods of high unemployment and a fragile economy where employers are reluctant to recruit permanent employees or is it a feature of the business model of some companies?

Research conducted for the European Parliament found evidence of an increase in temporary employment as a consequence of the global economic crash a decade ago. The report noted, The financial crisis and its aftermath has been one driver affecting risk of precariousness in Europe. As employers and employees find themselves operating in a more competitive and uncertain context post-crisis, new hirings have increasingly taken place on the basis of temporary and marginal part-time contracts. This rise in atypical contracting has meant that job insecurity has increased significantly in some countries, such as Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Latvia and Greece, involuntary temporary work has increased significantly in Ireland, but also in Latvia and involuntary part-time working has increased significantly in Italy, Lithuania, Spain, Ireland, Latvia and Greece. The link to the full report (5.4MB) is here.

Examining more recent data at a regional level in Ireland, the CSO provide a broad regional breakdown at NUTS 3 level. In this blogpost we review the latest CSO data on agency worker employment examining trends and how the regions compare, see here for full release published in August 2019.

CSO definition

The CSO Labour Force Survey captures the levels of agency workers by asking the following question of all employees in the LFS: Do you have a contract with an employment agency that placed you in your current job and your salary? Yes or No. Responses are therefore based on self-reporting.

Nationally, in Q4 2017, there were 56,200 employees classified as agency workers, and in Q1 2019 the number had decreased to 50,400, a decrease of 5,800.

Examining trends by region, the trends are somewhat different as graph 1 below shows. Both the Northern and Western region and the Eastern and Midland region have a somewhat similar trend, albeit at different levels, unsurprising given the relative size of the numbers employed in each region.

In the Northern and Western Region, (depicted by the black line), the numbers of agency workers at the start of the period was 12,700, there was a decline to 4,300 in Q4 2018 and at the end of the period (Q1 2019) it was 7,500. It should be noted that the LFS is a survey and the results are weighted to conform to population estimates broken down by age, sex and region. Where there are smaller numbers, estimates are considered to have a wider margin of error and so should be treated with caution. In the data above, this wider margin of error has occurred where numbers fall below 7,500.

The Eastern and Midland Region (the orange line), starts with a level of agency workers of 27,000 at the end of 2017. At the end of the period the number of agency workers in the Eastern and Midland region was 22,200.

The Southern region (green line), displays a different trend, starting at 16,500, rising to 20,900 in Q2 2018, dipping at the end of Q4 2018 and then rising again in Q1 2019 to 20,700. It is not clear why the trend in the Southern region is somewhat different and this will be discussed further below.

Regional Share of Agency Workers

Examining agency workers as a share and proportion of all employees, Graph 2 below shows the regional share of employees who are agency workers over the period Q4 2017 to Q1 2019.

At the end of the period, in Q1 2019, the Northern & Western Region accounts for 14.9% of all agency workers in the country, the Southern Region accounts for 41.1% and the Eastern and Midland region accounts for 44%. The respective shares have changed over the last two years, with the Northern and Western Region accounting for a decreased share (22.6% in Q4 2017 to [14.9%] in Q1 2019. The Southern Region has increased its share (from 29.4% in 2017 to 41.1% in Q1 2019.

Proportion of employees who are agency workers

Given the different sizes of each regional labour market it is important to see the extent to which agency workers as a proportion of all employees, varies across time and region. This is illustrated in Graph 3 below.

Nationally (depicted by the blue line), in Q4 2017 agency workers comprised 3% of all employees. This proportion declined to 2.6% at the start of 2019. Both the Northern and Western and Eastern and Midland regions had proportions below the national average.

The Northern and Western region, depicted by the black line, started the period with the highest proportion of employees as agency workers (4.1%), but this has since declined to 1.4% and was recorded at 2.4% in Q1 2019. The Eastern and Midland region trend (depicted by the orange line) is very similar to the national trend albeit at a lower level.

For most of the period, the proportion of employees who are agency workers is the highest in the Southern region (depicted by the green line). At the start of the period under review, Q4 2017, the rate in the Southern region is lower than the national figure – 2.8% and 3.0% respectively. However, from Q1 2018 through to the end of 2019 the proportion of employees that are agency workers is consistently higher in the Southern Region than the national average.

Conclusions

The Southern region comprises the Mid-West (Clare, Limerick & North Tipperary), the South-East (Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford) and the South-West (Cork and Kerry). In the absence of NUTS 3 regional data it is difficult to know whether there may be specific concentrations associated with a concentration in industry sectors that may be more prevalent in the Southern region.

The CSO data does provide other information on the profile of agency worker employment. For example, nationally 52% of agency workers are female. There is a sectoral concentration within the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Industry and Construction sectors where a quarter of all agency employees are employed. There is also a high concentration of agency workers in the Human health and social work activities sector, see here for full release.

Discussions with the CSO indicate it is difficult to ascertain why there is a relatively high share in the Southern region. The CSO point out that the LFS is a survey, the margin of error of the estimates can be greater with smaller cell sizes. More trend data will be needed to see if it is a more established trend and a particularly stronger feature of employment in the Southern Region or if it becomes a stronger feature of employment when economic growth is not as strong.

However, the availability of these data does allow us to monitor trends and helps us build a picture of the range and types of employment, all of which is critical to formulating and improving employment policy.

 

 

Deirdre Frost

Information Society Statistics – The Regional Picture

The CSO has recently published statistics on household use of the internet, measuring various aspects of the information society. Given the significant importance of the National Broadband Plan, aimed at delivering better internet access for all, especially those in rural areas, it is useful to examine the regional dimension of the Information Society Statistics, see here for the link to the CSO publication.

Household Internet Connectivity

In 2019, 91% of households have an internet connection, an increase of two percentage points since 2018. The regions with the lowest percentage of households with internet access are the Border (84%), the Midlands (85%), the West (89%) and South East (89%).  Some regions, such as the Border, have reported a slight decline in the rate between 2018 and 2019. It is not clear why this is the case, discussions with the CSO suggest it could be due to sampling and the fact that different households are selected each year, see note 1 below.

Type of Broadband Connection

The type of broadband connection also varies by region. Fixed broadband connection is highest in the Dublin region at 92%, compared with the Border and Midland regions, at 71% and 69% respectively. Narrowband connection is most prevalent in the Midlands, see table below.

Frequency of Internet Usage

Across the State the internet is used ‘everyday or almost everyday’ by 79% of individuals. The percentage rises to 85% in the Dublin region and the lowest rates are found in the Border (68%), the South-East (73%) and the West (75%).

Examining infrequency of internet use, nationally 12% of individuals ‘didn’t use it in the last 3 months’ and this rate rises to 19% in the Border region and 16% in the South-West and Mid-East. The CSO notes that frequency of use is related to age and principal economic status so that the younger age categories and students access the internet most frequently while those who are older and retired access it least frequently. The Border and West regions also have a higher age profile, especially in rural areas and this contributes to the higher rates among those who ‘didn’t use it in the last 3 months’ in these regions.

Types of Internet Activities

The CSO asked what type of internet activities were carried out by individuals in 2019. The

most popular activities were ’Finding information on goods and services’ and ‘email’ (sending and receiving emails), both at 84%. The Border region (73% using email) and the Mid-East (76% finding information on goods and services), reported the lowest rates in these types of internet activity.

Examining the use of the internet for financial transactions, nationally 42% of persons bought or renewed existing insurance policies online, see table below. This drops to 27% in the Border region while Dublin has the highest level – 48%, followed by the West at 46%.

e-Government

Examining the extent of e-Government use, that is engaging with public authorities and public services via the internet, in 2019, half of internet users (50%) Obtained information from websites or apps. Regionally, the Border region recorded the lowest rate in obtaining information from websites or apps – just 29% in 2019.

Nationally, 60% reported Submitting completed forms online. It is interesting to note that submitting completed application forms is more prevalent across all regions than obtaining information. The South West, Dublin and the West all had in excess of 60% of individuals submitting completed application forms online which highlights the value of e-Government in engaging with people in this way. While submitting completed forms online is very prevalent, there are some regions such as the Midlands and Border regions where rates were below 50% such as the Midlands – 46% and Border – 47%.

Across all types of contact with public authorities and services as outlined in the Table below, there is some evidence of a decline in rates between 2018 and 2019. It is not clear what is the reason for this, it is possibly due to sampling and different households are selected each year. It could also reflect an actual decline on yearly rates but measuring whether this is a trend or not will only become evident over a longer time period.

Shared Economy

Nationally in 2019 one third of internet users arranged accommodation from another private individual via dedicated website or app (such as a room, apartment, house, holiday cottage, etc.), such as Airbnb, which was an increase of five percentage points on 2018. This again varies by region, but here the West region has the highest incidence with 42% using Airbnb or similar. This is followed by Dublin 37% and the Mid-West by 36%.

The regions with the lowest rates are the South-East (24%) and the Border (26%). All regions reported an increase year on year, apart from the Midlands and the South West which remained stable.

As Table 1.5 shows, the practice of accessing transport services from another private individual online is much less prevalent. Unsurprisingly the rates in Dublin are the highest given the rate of activity there.

Internet Purchases

Considering online purchases, Clothes or sports goods were the most popular online purchase in 2019, purchased by over half (51%) of internet users. Here the regions with the greatest rates of online purchasing is the South west (56%), Mid-East (53%) and Midland region (53%). The lowest rates are in the Border region (41%).

There are clear differences between age groups in the types of goods and services bought online. The largest difference was for Clothes or sports goods, with 68% of individuals aged 16 to 29 years purchasing these, compared with just 23% of those aged 60 to 74. This age difference will also likely impact on regional variations with some regions having and older age profile such as the Border and West.

ICT Skills and Online Learning

Respondents were asked about online learning activities for educational, professional or private purposes which they undertook in the previous three months. Nationally 13% did a course online in the previous quarter and the highest rates were in the West (18%) and the lowest rates were in the Border region – 8%.

There is a greater incidence of people who Used online learning material other than a complete online course, across the State over one fifth (21%) did so in the last three months. Again, there is much regional variation with the highest rates reported in the West (29%), followed by 27% in Dublin. The lowest rates were reported in the Border and the Mid-East (13%).

Nationally, 14% Communicated with instructors or students using educational websites or portals. Here the regional variation is less pronounced.  The Border region reports the same as nationally – 14% while Dublin has the highest rate at 18%.

Home Smart Technology

In 2019, one eighth (12%) of internet users stated that they use home smart technology i.e., they use the internet to interact with household equipment or appliances that are connected to the internet (such as control of heating, control of lights and other building/apartment maintenance systems; household appliances e.g. oven, washing machine, robot vacuum cleaner; security systems e.g. locks, alarms, security cameras).

Regionally there are differences with the highest rates reported in Dublin (19%), followed by the Mid-East, Mid-West and South-West – all 11%. The regions of Midlands and West report 10% of internet users using home smart technology, while the lowest rates reported were in the South-West (9%) and the Border (5%).

Conclusions.

The information Society is very much embedded in how we conduct our lives. As the CSO data shows, the range of uses of the internet is extensive; from shopping for a wide range of goods and services to learning and accessing education services. And this release does not include information on the use of the internet to work from home on a regular or occasional basis.

The overall picture is clear, the use of the internet is pervasive and is becoming more so. The regional picture is less clear. On many of the themes, the Border region lags the national average, along with the West and South-East. On other variables such as arranging accommodation from another private individual online, the West has the highest rates.

Policy implications include the need to rollout the National Broadband Plan as soon as possible so as to ensure households without high speed broadband are not impeded in their use of the internet through a poor-quality service.

Other policy implications include the need to ensure ongoing provisions on high quality ICT skills and training such as the programme operated by the Department of Communications. It is clear that take -up is slower among the older age groups and some of this is due to a need for training.

Finally, it is clear that not everybody accesses goods and services online. Government services in particular need to continue to be delivered on an off-line method for those who are not able to or do not wish to access services online.

 

 

Deirdre Frost

Smaller Labour Catchments across the Western Region

Travel to Work Areas and Labour Catchments

Analysis of travel to work data can be used to identify the geographic catchment from which a town draws its workforce, otherwise known as its labour catchment. Measurement of labour markets based on Travel to Work Areas (TTWAs) has been well established in the UK for many years, helping to inform various public policies ranging from employment to transport provision. Companies and large employers use TTWAs to help identify optimal locations to access labour supply.

The use of TTWAs is less well established in Ireland, and where used has largely been focussed on the larger cities especially Dublin. There has generally been little focus on labour catchments in other centres or more rural regions.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has worked with the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO) to examine the labour catchments of towns across the Western Region based on Census of Population data 2006 and 2016. The town labour catchments show that area from which a town draws most of its labour supply; each catchment is based on the inclusions of Electoral Divisions (EDs) that are assigned to a town, based on commuting to work flows.

Last year the WDC published the findings on the labour catchments of the principal towns of the seven counties of the Western Region (Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon). The full report Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments is available for download here (14.2MB). Each of the individual town reports are also available to download separately (Galway City, Sligo Town, Ennis,  Letterkenny, Castlebar, Carrick-on-Shannon, Roscommon).

The WDC is now publishing the findings of the other smaller catchments across the Western Region. This is the first time such detailed labour market analyses have been undertaken for the smaller centres across the Western Region. These data and findings can inform local and regional economic development and help support appropriate policies to ensure optimal local and regional development.

Smaller Catchments

The WDC identifies 26 labour catchments, which complement the 7 labour catchments of the principal towns in each of the counties which were published in 2018, see above.

In these 26 publications, the WDC draws on Census 2016 POWCAR (Place of Work Census of Anonymised Records) data to examine the travel to work patterns in centres with a population greater than 1,000 across the Western Region.

These 26 smaller catchments provide insights into the travel to work patterns of workers living there which are then used to generate labour catchments which show the geographic area from which each town draws most of its workers. Each town’s labour catchment has many more workers living there than the Census measure of the town’s resident workforce and it is a better measure of labour supply. This is particularly useful when considering employment and investment decisions.

Socio-economic profiles

Each of the reports identify the place of work of the resident workforce and provides detailed analysis of the socio-economic profile of workers providing information on age, gender, education levels, and sector of employment. There are comparisons with the rest of the Western Region and the State Average. There is also trend analyses indicating the extent of change between 2006 and 2016.

For ease of presentation the 26 smaller catchment reports are presented by County. Below are links to each of the 26 reports. In practice labour catchments extend across county boundaries, indeed that is one of the rationales for considering labour catchments rather than administrative boundaries; people travel to work regardless of county boundaries and these patterns and catchments provide a better evidence base for informing policy.

Some key points include:

  • Labour Supply: All the town labour catchments have significantly more people at work than the Census population at work for that town and have therefore access to a larger labour supply than normal Census definitions would indicate.
  • Profile of ‘Rural’ employment: The profile of employment in these smaller centres provide important insights into ‘rural’ employment, which is much are complex and varied than the perception of rural as largely agricultural employment.
  • Trends: Changes over time, in both place of work and the socio-economic characteristics of workers indicate little change in the geography of labour catchments but much change in the profile of resident workers, most notably in their age and education levels.

County Clare

The two labour catchments within Co. Clare have both recorded an increase in workers resident in the catchments. The Shannon labour catchment is concentrated around the Shannon Free Zone and Shannon Airport and is geographically compact. The Kilrush labour catchment is more extensive and now incorporates a previously separate Kilkee labour catchment. In both there is evidence of longer distances travelled to work than previously.

County Donegal

There are 8 smaller catchments located within Co. Donegal, reflecting the large size of the county, its geography with an extensive border both with Northern Ireland and the sea, and the relatively small size of some of the catchments.

Of the 8 labour catchments, 5 recorded a decline in the number of resident workers in the decade between 2006 and 2016. The three that recorded an increase in resident workers are Donegal, Dungloe and Carndonagh,  illustrating that some more remote areas are experiencing growth.

Each report identifies the top 10 work destinations for residents living in each labour catchment and the extent of cross border commuting is presented.

County Galway

There are 4 smaller catchments located within Co. Galway and just one, Gort labour catchment, recorded a decrease in the number of workers living there over the decade 2006-2016. Clifden, Tuam and Loughrea labour catchments recorded increases of varying degrees. The data presented also shows the extent of commuting between catchments, for example from Tuam, Loughrea and Gort labour catchments to Galway city.

County Leitrim

Apart from the county town labour catchment of Carrick-on-Shannon, there is just one smaller catchment located within Co. Leitrim, namely Manorhamilton. The number of resident workers in the Manorhamilton labour catchment increased over the ten year period and there is data to show more people are now working in Manorhamilton . The influence of some key employers is evident. Data on dross border commuting is also presented.

County Mayo

There are 8 smaller catchments located within Co. Mayo. Just two of the eight recorded a decline in the numbers of resident workers between the period of 2006 and 2016, these were Belmullet and the Charlestown/Knock Airport catchment. The other 6 recorded increases of varying degrees from 31% increase in the Westport labour catchment to an increase of 2.4% for the Ballina labour catchment. The most important places of work across each catchment are presented along with the labour market profiles of workers living there.

County Roscommon

There are 3 smaller catchments located within Co. Roscommon. All 3 recorded a decline in the numbers of workers resident there. In the case of Boyle and Ballaghaderreen, the geographic size of the labour catchments also decreased slightly. The data presented show the sectors in which people worked, the extent to which people worked inside the town and those who worked outside the town but within the wider catchment and the changes over the 10 years. Across all catchments there is a very significant increase in the level of third level education among the workforce.

 

Deirdre Frost

Changing times! Looking back twenty years in the Western Region

The Western Development Commission (WDC) recently published its strategy for the next five years 2019-2024 ‘Work Smarter Live Better’.  It was launched in Ballinasloe on 15th April, and that launch provided us with an opportunity to look back at how the seven county Western Region has changed since the WDC was set up.

The WDC was established by the Western Development Commission Act in 1998 so it is interesting to consider the changes experienced by the Region since the WDC came into being.  As the seven counties (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Clare) which make up the Western Region (the area under the remit of the WDC) do not align with other statistical regions for data collection, the best Western Region data comes from sources which publish data by county, such as the Census of Population, which allow us to combine county data to get statistics for the Western Region.  Comparing the Censuses of 1996 and 2016 gives a good picture of change in the Region over two decades.  It is not often we look back so far but it is a useful exercise, highlighting how much has changed in twenty years.

In this post I briefly consider changes in population and demographics, labour force, employment, and finally, income.  There are many other areas which merit examination which will be covered in a future post.

 

The Western Region population.

Looking first at population change, in 1996 the population of the Western Region was 657,231.  By 2016 after a very significant 26.1% increase, it was 828,697.   Different counties grew at very different rates, showing (Figure 1) the uneven rates of development and change.

The largest population growth in the period was in Galway, which grew by more than a third (36%) and the smallest population growth was in Mayo (17%) and Sligo (17.4%).

Figure 1: Population Change in Western Region counties 1996-2016

Source: CSO Statbank E2001: Population at Each Census 1841 to 2016 by County, Sex and Census Year

 

Demographic change

The make up of the population has also changed over that period.  In 1996 13.7% of the Western Region population was over 65 and 3.3% was over 80.  By 2016, 15.4% were over 65 and over 65 and 3.7% over 80.

More significant changes occurred in the younger age categories, in 1996 24% were under 15 while 41% were under 25 and by 2016 this had changed to 21.1% under 15 and 33% under 25.

 

Employment and the Labour Force

The labour force has grown even more significantly than the population.  There were 266,102 in the labour force in the region in 1996 and this had grown to 387,770 by 2016, a 46% increase.  The percentage of the population (aged 15-65) in the labour force was 53.5% in 1996 and had increased to 59.3% by 2016.  This increase is largely the result of higher female participation and also reflects the changing age demographic.

Skills have also changed considerably.  In 1996 in the Western Region only 16.7% had a third level qualification but by 2016 39.2% did.

My colleague Pauline White is currently undertaking a detailed analysis of employment by sector in the region and has published on six sectors.  Looking at key Western Region sectors, the significant changes in employment are noted  here.

In 1996 15.6% were employed in Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing and by 2016 only 6.8% were.  Similarly, in 1996 19% of those in employment worked in Industry, and in 2016 13.7% did.  In contrast, in 1996 40.1% were employed in Services but by 2016 67% were.

Incomes

Finally, although the data discussed so far is from the Census of Population it is useful to consider how income has changed over the same period.  In 1996 Household Disposable Income per person was €15,032 in the Western Region (2016 prices) and by 2016 it had risen to €22,689 an increase of 51% over that period.  However, in 1996 Western Region disposable income per person was 89.2% of the State average, but by 2016 it had fallen to 83.5% of the state average.  Clearly the improvements in income have been greater in other parts of Ireland.

 

Conclusion

This short post has provided a useful reminder of how things have changed in the Western Region in the period since the WDC was set up.  A future post will focus on spatial changes in infrastructure and where people live.  Looking back, the changes that have taken place over the 20 year period examined have seemed dramatic, though many of them have taken place gradually.  It is interesting to contemplate how things will change between 2016 and 2036 but, unless the retirement age increases even more, I won’t be around to blog about them.  And perhaps blogging won’t be around either.

 

Helen McHenry

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

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

A Snapshot of the Western Region – WDC publishes a series of county infographics

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just published a series of eight infographics showing of key statistics for the Western Region and each of its seven counties.  The data is from the CSO’s Census of Population in 2016 with analysis by the WDC.

 

The infographic shows

  • The population of the county
  • The percentage living in rural areas.
  • The percentage of the working age population is in the labour force
  • Average time to travel to work in minutes

There is a different infographic for each county and there is also one for the Western Region.   The Region’s infographic  shows the Western Region population growth since the last Census in 2011 (1.0%) and the growth over the last ten years (8.7%).

The Region has more females (50.4%) than males and that 15% of the population are over 65 and more than a fifth are under 15 (21.1%).

Infographics are an entertaining way to provide information about the Region and its counties.  They show important county characteristics and information in an accessible and lively way.  We hope they will be used in schools and in workplaces and anywhere that people want to know more about the places where they live or are visiting.

There is a good mix of statistics highlighted on the infographics, showing access to broadband in the Western Region (64%) and also that most of the population consider themselves to be in very good health (57.6%).

The infographics also give information about work and education.  In the Western Region the average time taken to travel to work is 24.8 minutes.  59% of the working age population is in the work force and 39% have a third level qualification.  Two employment sectors are also shown.  Almost 14% of the Region’s workers are in Industry and 6.8% working in agriculture.

You can download the infographics for the Western Region and for the seven counties here:  https://www.wdc.ie/publications/reports-and-papers/

 

Helen McHenry

WDC Insights Publications on County Incomes and Regional GDP

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just published two WDC Insights: How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region and What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA.

Both of these examine data from the most recent CSO County Incomes and Regional GDP publication for 2015 (with preliminary data for 2016) and they have a particular emphasis on the counties of the Western Region and on our regional economy.

These two page WDC Insights publications provide succinct analysis and commentary on recently published data and on policy issues for the Western Region.  Both of these WDC Insights are shorter versions of the series of blog posts on County Incomes and Regional GVA which you may have read previously.

How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

In this WDC Insights data on County Incomes in 2015 are examined with a focus on the difference among Western Region counties and changes over time.

Five Western Region counties had Household Disposable Income per Person (Disposable Income) of less than 90% of the state average, while Galway and Sligo were both 93%.  They  had the highest Disposable Incomes in the Western Region in 2015 (Galway (€18,991) and Sligo (€19,001)).

Donegal continues to have a significantly lower Disposable Income than any other county in Ireland (€15,705 in 2015).  Disposable Income in Roscommon was also significantly lower than the state average at €16,582 in 2015. This was the second lowest of any county in Ireland, while Mayo had the fourth lowest.

Regional divergence was at its least in 2010 when all parts of the country were significantly affected by recession. Since then, incomes in some counties have begun to grow faster and divergence has again increased, particularly since 2012.

The WDC Insights How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region can be downloaded here  (PDF 260KB)

 

What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA

The most recent regional GVA and GDP data (for 2015 and preliminary 2016) published by the CSO is discussed in this WDC Insights with a focus on the regions which include the seven Western Region counties.

Between 2014 and 2015 there was very significant growth in GVA and GDP nationally (a level shift which occurred for a variety of reasons). It is therefore valuable to examine how this rapid economic growth was spread among regions. While data for the largest regions of Dublin and the South West has been suppressed by the CSO, to preserve the confidentiality, variation in growth and disparity in the other regions continues to be of national and regional importance.

The data shows that disparities are widening and economic activity, as measured by GVA, is becoming more and more concentrated.  The smaller contribution to national GVA from other regions highlights their significant untapped potential.

The WDC Insights What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA can be downloaded here  (PDF  350 KB)

 

If you find these WDC Insights on County Incomes and Regional GVA interesting and would like to read more detailed discussion of the data please visit these recent WDC Insights blog posts:

Leprechauns in Invisible Regions: Regional GVA (GDP) in 2015

What’s happening in our regional economies? Growth and change in Regional GVA.

How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

I hope that you find these WDC Insights useful.  Let us know what you think.  We’d welcome your feedback.

 

Helen McHenry

Regional Difference, Regional Strategies and a Ratio- employment and residence in towns in Ireland.

The National Planning Framework has a chapter on ‘Making Urban Places Stronger’ which covers settlements from cities to small towns.  In discussing Ireland’s urban structure (p58-59) it looks at population and employment and highlights a ratio of “jobs to resident workforce” as a key indicator of sustainability for a town.  Data is provided (in the NPF Appendix 2) on town population, resident workers and jobs in the town for 200 settlements with a population of over 1,500 people in 2016.  This is the only detailed data provided in the National Planning Framework.  It is useful to look at differences in the ratio across the regions to see if this indicator can help us better understand residence and employment as town functions.

The NPF suggests in the footnote to the discussion of this ratio that:

A ratio of 1.0 means that there is one job for every resident worker in a settlement and indicates a balance, although not a match, as some resident workers will be employed elsewhere and vice-versa. Ratios of more than 1.0 indicate a net in-flow of workers and of less than 1.0, a net out-flow. The extent to which the ratio is greater or less than 1.0, is also generally indicative of the extent to which a town has a wider area service and employment role, rather than as a commuter settlement. (Footnote 22 pg 176).

It suggests that those settlements with a high ratio of jobs to resident workforce are, by reason of accessibility, employment and local services, fulfilling important roles for a wider area.  This, as will be discussed later in this post, is particularly strongly indicated for towns in the North West.  Firstly, however, a scatter diagram (Figure 1) showing town size and the ratio of jobs to resident workers provides a good overview of the data.  For reasons of scale the five cities (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford) are not on this diagram but are discussed in more detail below.

Figure 1: Town Size and Jobs to Resident Workers by Regional Assembly Area.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2

The very different patterns among towns in the three regional assembly areas is clear in the diagram.  Towns in the Eastern and Midland Region tend to have lower ratios (most less than 1.0) with more workers leaving the town for jobs elsewhere than are travelling to the town.  In contrast towns in the Northern and Western Region, though generally smaller, are more often serving as centres of employment for their wider area.

As the NPF notes in relation to the North West, towns there tend to have ‘more significant employment and service functions relative to their regional and local catchment’ (p 59).  Table 1 below shows the ratio of jobs to resident workers for towns in the three Regional Assembly areas and the Western Region; the differences in the ratios again emphasise the different functions of towns in the Regions.

Table 1: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in towns over 1,500 in three Regional Assembly areas and Western Region.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (Western Region own calculations)

The low ratio for towns in the Eastern and Midland indicates the importance of commuting for many towns and the dominance of the large Dublin City region.  Indeed only 2 towns in EMRA have ratios higher than 1.5.  These are Longford (1.596) and Athlone (1.591) both of which are on the periphery of the EMRA, less under the influence of Dublin, and both have important employment and wider service functions for their hinterlands.  In contrast, 40 towns in the EMRA (just over half) have a ratio of less than 0.5.  In the NWRA area, where there are 44 settlements with a population of more than 1,500,  7 towns have a ratio of more than 1.5 while 4 have a ratio of less than 0,5.  In the Southern Region, with three key cities, a quarter of towns (19) have a ratio of less than 0.5, while 7 towns (9%) have a ratio of greater than 1.5.

Looking at the Western Region (the area under the WDC remit), the overall ratio is very high (1.26) and of the 39 listed 7 have a ratio of more than 1.5 while four have a ratio of less than 0.5.

Cities and Key Regional Centres

Given the focus on the development of cities and a few key regional centres in the National Planning Framework, it is useful to examine the ratios for the five cities and these regional growth centres (Table 2).  Somewhat surprisingly, Dublin City and its suburbs has a ratio of only 0.978 despite being the major centre for the Region.  This is likely to be related to the location of the boundaries of the suburbs and the fact that there is a larger Dublin Region agglomeration which has a spread of job locations and worker flows to towns that are essentially part of a greater Dublin.

As expected, the other four cities have ratios greater than 1.0, with Galway the highest of these (1.302).  Looking at the proposed regional growth centres, Athlone, Letterkenny and Sligo all have high ratios indicating their importance as employment and service centres in their wider hinterlands.  In contrast Drogheda and Dundalk (which are mentioned in the NPF as part of a “Drogheda-Dundalk-Newry” cross border network) both have lower ratios. Drogheda, in particular, has many people travelling to work elsewhere.

Table 2: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in Cities and Regional Growth Centres.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2, (EMRA towns in purple, NRWA in green and SRA in blue).

 

Patterns of employment and residence in the Western Region

Looking briefly at towns in the Western Region, Table 3 shows the settlements with the highest jobs to resident workers ratios in the Region.  There is no particular pattern relating to town size, but the top five are all ‘county towns’ and have particular local employment and service functions.  Other towns in the top ten often have key employers indicating the importance of employment spread.

Table 3: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in ten Western Region settlements with highest jobs to resident worker ratios.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (NRWA in green and SRA in blue)

In contrast to the towns in the table above, Table 4 below shows the Western Region towns with the lowest job to resident worker ratios.  These are all ‘dormitory’ towns serving Galway, Sligo and Limerick.  These are the only towns in the Western Region which have a ratio of less than 0.5 indicating perhaps, aside from these, a more sustainable region in terms of commuting patterns.

Table 4: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in five Western Region settlements with lowest jobs to resident worker ratios.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (NRWA in green and SRA in blue)

Conclusions

Understanding where people work and where people are most likely to travel to work is essential to our understanding of employment and economic activity in our Region.  The WDC will publish a detailed analysis of travel to work patterns and labour market catchments in the Western Region next month. It is based on data from Census 2016 will also provide a comparison the 2009 WDC study Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region which used Census 2006 data.

The use of the jobs to resident workforce ratio in the NPF is interesting.  It is quite a restricted indicator but the variation in the ratio among towns of all sizes and across the different regions serves to emphasise that the individual employment and other characteristics of each town are the key to the town’s pattern of, and opportunities for, development.  Therefore a clear understanding of the functions and areas which each town can develop is important.

For the Western Region, the ratio has served to highlight the importance of towns of all sizes as centres of employment in the region, while in contrast it shows the importance of commuting to many towns in the East.  Thus, there is a need for very different regional strategies in relation to towns in the North West and in areas of other regions where the influence of the cities is not significant.

A strong argument is made throughout the NPF that concentration in larger cities and towns is essential, but this data indicates that, in the Western Region at least, smaller towns often have high jobs to resident workers ratios and they are attracting workers, probably from their rural catchments.  It is therefore important that we consider the case for ensuring a wider spread of employment across towns of different sizes and develop better policies to do so.  If there is too much focus on the largest cities we risk replicating the problems in the East, where many towns have little function other than as dormitories for the cities.

Locating jobs where workers reside, and supporting those urban centres which have important local and regional functions could be a more sustainable approach and perhaps would be easier to achieve than concentrating residence in the largest urban centres.

 

Helen McHenry