Regional Policy must be prioritised in an Economic Downturn

The resources of less developed regions are not being utilised fully.  But mobilising these resources and the unfulfilled potential in regions such as the Western Region, will add to overall national economic growth.  It is a waste of talent and opportunity if the full potential of all regions is not realised.  That’s according to Why Care About Regions? A New Approach to Regional Policy, a Policy Briefing published today by the Western Development Commission (WDC).

Dr Helen McHenry, Policy Analyst at the WDC said: “If we want national growth we need to invest in all our regions.  Helping less developed regions to grow will bring benefits for the whole country.  This was highlighted in recent reports published by the OECD.”

Regions are ready to respond, as was shown by the growth which occurred during the boom.  In the Western Region, for example, the labour force participation rate rose from 56% to 61% during the period of rapid economic growth 2000-2007.  The WDC believes it is now important to ensure that the advances made during that period are not lost.

“There is often a presumption that some regions have more ‘potential’ than others, this shouldn’t be used to justify concentration of investment in those regions,” she added.  “Concentrating resources in one place is not enough to bring about sustained national growth.  Harnessing the assets of both rural and urban regions will bring the greatest overall benefit.”

The WDC says that although transport and other infrastructure developments are essential for regional development they are not enough by themselves.  Investment in infrastructure must be maintained and combined with investment in the ‘3Es’ of enterprise, employment and education, along with a drive to increase innovation.  “The OECD found that when these elements work together they create regional and national growth,” Dr McHenry said.

“Regional policy is relevant to all policy.  There is a need for an identifiable single figure at national level to co-ordinate regional policy if it is to be fully effective.”  Dr McHenry concluded: “Public policy has a vital role to play in developing all regions and helping them achieve their potential. There is no single approach which will work for all regions but if regional policy is effective it will take account of differences and will result in a country with better options for all of us.”

The Policy Briefing is the first in a series of WDC Policy Briefings which will highlight and provide discussion and analysis of key regional policy issues.

Why care about regions? A new approach to regional policy is available to download here.

For further information please contact:

Dr Helen McHenry, Policy Analyst, Western Development Commission, 086-6053264 / 071-9668998
Bernadette Mullarkey, Bane Mullarkey, 086 806 2540