Continued Focus on Infrastructure, Innovation and Growth Sectors Required to Drive that Growth
The Western Region is well placed to achieve strong future growth, thanks to the investments of recent years and its educated and skilled workforce. In order to optimise that potential, not only for the good of the region but for national growth and recovery, continued improvements in infrastructure, innovation and the ‘3Es’ (enterprise, employment and education) are vital.
This assertion comes in a new Western Development Commission (WDC) Policy Briefing, ‘How is the Western Region doing? Measuring regional development’, which shows that although the Western Region experienced an overall improvement in its level of development during the boom years it continued to lag the rest of the state in critical areas such as income, poverty and labour force participation.
Gillian Buckley, Acting Chief Executive and Investment Manager of the WDC said: “We wanted to look at how the recession has impacted on the region and how this compared with other parts of the country. But more importantly we wanted to examine how the region is positioned for future growth, specifically in those critical areas that will unlock its growth potential.”
The Briefing reiterates that infrastructure is a fundamental building block for regional development. Despite very substantial improvements in the past decade the Western Region continues to lag the rest of the state. The region is well below the EU average in terms of its accessibility and broadband services are a continuing constraint for individuals and enterprises.
On employment, the figures show that rising unemployment since 2007 has been quite concentrated in construction, agriculture and industry. However, over the same period employment grew in some sectors, notably information and communications services, with 3,400 more people working in the sector in 2010 than 2007.
“Further diversification of the employment base and expansion of the knowledge economy are key to the region’s and country’s economic future. Our interpretation is that although knowledge sector employment is currently lower in the region, there is real potential for expansion. The region’s quality of life makes it attractive for knowledge and creative workers; ensuring they have the facilities and services they need to work successfully from here must here be a priority” according to Pauline White, WDC Policy Analyst.
Tourism and hospitality continue to play a big role, with the Western Region employing 1 in 5 of all those working in the sector in Ireland. “Efforts to drive increasing tourist numbers into Ireland must include highlighting the region’s many tourism assets. Any increase in visitors here will create jobs and that’s the top priority at the moment” continued Ms White.
One area of real concern arising from the data is the fact that the West and Border regions have the second and third highest consistent poverty rates in the country. In the case of the West, its share in consistent poverty rose from being well below the national average in 2007 to now being above the average.
A region’s human resource is recognised internationally as its key asset. The data show considerable improvements in the Western Region. Coming from a position of lagging the national average, the share with a third level qualification in the region is now about the same as the national average.
“One worrying aspect of this however is the gender gap, with women faring better than men. Young male early school leavers are facing a ‘triple-whammy’ in terms of their risk of unemployment because of age, gender, and education. However the recession has meant that more males are choosing to stay on or return to education. This will have positive long term impacts, both for themselves and the region”, said Ms White.
A recent decline in the region’s younger aged population shows however that some young people are choosing to leave the region. “The region’s people are its greatest asset. During the boom the region’s ‘brain drain’ was reversed, but it now seems to be returning. The Western Region’s main priority for the future must be to provide the employment, education and enterprise opportunities needed to encourage our young people to stay. Our future prospects depend on it” concluded Ms. Buckley.
For further information please contact:
Pauline White, Western Development Commission, 086 832 8055
Bernadette Mullarkey, Bane Mullarkey, 086 806 2540