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Energy and Climate Action- the WDC View of the Draft National Plan

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just made a submission to DCCAE on the Draft National Energy and Climate Plan 2012-2030 (NECP).  The development of clear energy and climate action to 2030 is essential to achieving the national goal of a low carbon economy in Ireland by 2050.  The WDC recognises that energy and climate action will bring important opportunities for our largely rural region, but at the same time it will bring challenges that we would wish to see addressed in the NECP.   The WDC made a detailed submission to the previous consultation on the draft NECP (November 2018), therefore in this submission we only addressed specific issues arising from this draft of relevance to our region and our remit.

The Draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP)

The NECP usefully brings together and summarises energy and climate policy.  However, much of the focus is on current policy and, while there is a recognition that it will be difficult to meet targets with the policy that is currently in place, there is little information about the additional policies or regulations which will be needed to ensure we achieve targets.

The Plan recognises that heating is a particular issue in rural areas (p4) but there is no specific commitment or policy to address the needs of rural areas either in relation heating or transport.  Nor is there a recognition that there are unique opportunities for rural areas from the low carbon economy.  We believe that specific rural focused policies could be introduced for this. This would have benefit both in terms of achievement of EU targets and in relation to the development of the rural and regional economies.

Similarly the NECP acknowledges that the dispersed population pattern results in particular challenges in terms of transportation options.  Again there is no specific commitment or policy to address the needs of rural areas.   The National Policy Framework on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure for Transport in Ireland 2017-2030 notes that it is likely that in future electricity will fuel the majority of passenger cars, commuter rail and taxis while natural gas and biofuels will play an increasingly important role for larger vehicles like HGV and buses.  While we would agree with this, we believe that services such as EV charging points and CNG fueling points must be widely available in rural areas where population is dispersed.  Without these services being available and reliable, rural dwellers could be reluctant to adopt the new technologies and it could deter visitors who might be concerned about the availability of charging/fueling points.  In the case of HGVs and buses, lack of refueling options could increase costs of delivery or services in more rural and peripheral regions.

Electricity transmission network

In relation to the development of the electricity transmission network there is no mention of the issues noted by EirGrid in the recently published Systems Needs Assessment (Nov 2018) in the West (high need for grid development), North West (high need for grid development) and Midland (moderate need for grid development).  These need to be included. A study recently commissioned by the WDC, which we blogged about here reviewed the transmission network and current planned renewable generation to identify areas of the Western Region that have transmission capacity for new renewable generation. It found that North Mayo/West Sligo and Co. Donegal have no capacity for new generation without substantial transmission investment. Sligo/Leitrim, South Mayo and West Galway has limited capacity and will require transmission investment in the future. The WDC believes that significant investment is needed in these areas, so that the current and contracted renewable generation requirements are met and that there is potential for further future connections to ensure areas of best resource can produce most.

Gas transmission network

There is a need to review the natural gas network coverage to ensure that it is future proofed to meet the needs of all key urban centres (currently large settlements such as Sligo and Letterkenny are not connected).  There is important potential for decarbonisation in the gas network, through the future use of biogas, and through the transmission of gas for CNG refueling.  There are also economic benefits for urban centres which are connected to the natural gas network.  In the context of the NECP the broader government criteria for developing the transmission network should be reviewed.  This should include information from the study of wider benefits of connecting regions to the natural gas which has been undertaken for DCCAE but which has not been published.

Electric Vehicles

We welcomed the target of 500K EVs by 2030 but to help achieve this charging investment needs to be early and widespread. This will not just benefit those living in rural areas but will be important for those for those visiting for business or pleasure.  Lack of charging points could in future become a disincentive for visitors and could further concentrate tourism and other economic activities in areas near larger urban centres.

Built environment

We agree energy efficiency is important and welcome the ambition to increase the number of homes with a BER rating of B and above.  However, the most recent BER ratings data from the CSO shows that currently only 15% of homes assessed nationally have a rating of B or above.  In the Western Region only 10% achieve this and it is as low as 7% in Roscommon.  This highlights the need to specifically address energy efficiency and home heating issues in more rural and less well-off regions.  For dwellings in the in lowest rating categories and the costs and difficulties of achieving upgrade to a B rating are most significant.

Most homes in our region use oil for heating.  There needs to be a specific effort to encourage change in rural areas which are oil dependent.  While many of the incentives are for the installation of heat pumps it should be remembered that the use of wood biomass for heating brings very significant local economic benefits.

Transport

Employment is only one factor generating trips and the National Travel Survey shows that majority of travel is associated with non-work trips.  The importance of these non-work trips and the potential for change in this demand needs to be more central to climate action planning.

Rural people are reliant on car based transport, they have little available public transport and tend to travel greater distances. Therefore clearly rural dwellers’ transport demand patterns need to be central to planning for climate action. There must be detailed consideration of transport issues for smaller settlements and rural areas.  The majority of the population will continue to live in the historical settlement pattern and spatial planning will not change that pattern significantly to 2030 or even in the longer term (to 2050). Thus the NCEP needs to focus on current spatial patterns.

In conclusion, the WDC believes that it is essential that part of the NECP should have a specific focus on issues for rural areas, and on actions to ensure that rural areas are both in a position to benefit from a move to a low carbon economy and to meet the challenges of doing so.  This will enable them to make a fair contribution national goals in relation to renewable energy and to actions to mitigate climate change.

 

Read our full submission here

 

 

 

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

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

A year in review: WDC Policy Analysis 2018

Happy New Year from the WDC Policy Analysis team!  As we all try to settle back into work and look forward to 2019 (well as much as anyone can with Brexit looming large on the horizon) it’s a good chance to look back at the year that was 2018.

Here’s a few of our highlights:

Travel to Work analysis

In May, we published detailed analysis of the travel to work patterns of workers living in the Western Region. The analysis, undertaken by the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO), identified 42 labour catchments across the region.

Our report contains a detailed labour market profile of the principal town in each of the seven counties – Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon. All of these labour catchments have significantly more people at work than the resident population of workers in the town, highlighting that they have access to a larger labour supply than may be thought. Read more

Further analysis of 26 smaller labour catchments will be published later in January.

County Infographics

July saw one of our most popular outputs, ‘snapshot’ infographics for each of the seven western counties.  The infographics show a range of facts about each county such as its 2016 population as a percentage of its 1841 population, the percentage with a third level qualification, average time to travel to work and broadband access.  Read more

WDC Insights

During 2018 we continued to publish succinct, 2-page WDC Insights on a range of issues including Electricity Transmission for Renewable Generation, Enterprise in the Western Region 2016, County Incomes in the Western Region, Growth and Change in Regional GVA and Education Levels in the Western Region.

Regional Sectoral Profiles

October 2018 saw the launch of a series of Regional Sectoral Profiles of economic sectors in the Western Region, analysing the latest employment and enterprise data and drawing out key policy issues.  A detailed report and WDC Insights summary is published for each sector.

The first examined was Wholesale & Retail which employs just over 42,000 people in the Western Region, this was followed by Health & Care which employs a similar number.  The next in the series, on the Education sector, will be published later in January.

Policy Submissions

One of the big work areas in any year is making submissions to national and regional policy consultations and 2018 proved particularly busy on the submissions front.

The year kicked off with submissions on the Issues Paper published for both the Northern & Western and Southern Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES).  Following the consultation period in early 2018, the Draft RSES documents are currently open for public consultation and we’ll be updating on the WDC’s submissions shortly.

Other submissions during 2018 included EirGrid’s Electricity Transmission Development Plan 2017-2027, Seanad Consultation on SMEs and the National Digital Strategy among others.

City-Led Development & Peripheral Regions

In September the WDC sponsored the Annual Conference of the Irish Branch of the Regional Studies Association.  The programme featured two international keynote speakers: from the US Prof. Mark Partridge and from Scotland Dr Andrew Copus.  Both focused on different aspects of the interaction between rural and urban areas.  The day also included a range of presentations from Irish academics and policymakers including WDC Policy Analyst Dr Helen McHenry.  A report on the conference appeared in the Winter edition of the Local Authority Times.  Read more

WDC Insights Blog

We continued to post an (almost!) weekly blog throughout the year with posts on all of the above publications, outputs and activities.  Other topics ranged from Nuts about NUTS and How many farmers are in the Western Region? to Leprechauns in Invisible Regions, Caring for the West and Is e-working on the increase?

To keep up to date with new WDC Policy Analysis outputs published during 2019, sign-up to our Mailing List.  To receive our weekly WDC Insights Policy blog by e-mail, follow the blog. And to follow us on Twitter we’re @WDCInsights.

And if you want to get in touch with any of us directly, we’re firstnamelastname@wdc.ie

Looking forward to working with you in 2019.

Deirdre Frost, Helen McHenry & Pauline White

Electricity Generation and Demand in the Western Region- A Renewable Story

The Western Region has some of the best resources for on shore wind generation in Europe, and in the future, as technology improves, for offshore renewable energy.  The draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) submitted to the EU and published yesterday (19.12.18) made a number of commitments for 2030 in relation to electricity generation and use, including the following:

  • Renewables in our power system will rise from 30% to at least 55% with a broader range of technologies likely to be deployed, e.g. offshore wind, solar, biomass
  • Coal and peat will be removed from electricity generation which will almost halve the emissions from the electricity sector.
  • Penetration of electric vehicles into our transport fleet will build to around 20%.

These will all have a significant impact on how we will generate and use electricity.  It is therefore useful to understand the current pattern of generation and demand in the Region before considering options for the future.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has recently conducted[1] a review of electricity transmission infrastructure in the Western Region. It examined current and future needs for transmission infrastructure in the Region, and considered how increased renewable electricity generation, along with new ways of using and managing electricity and new methods of improving the use of existing transmission infrastructure might impact on need for investment.  We have published a summary of its findings in WDCInsights Electricity Transmission for Renewable Generation- What’s needed in the Western Region?

In this post the focus is on current and future renewable generation connections in the Region.  Next year, when we have had the opportunity to review the draft NECP and consider the “all-of-Government” Climate Action Plan to be completed in early 2019, it will be clearer what renewable generation connections will be required further into the future, and from that, what further transmission investment will be important.

 

Electricity Generation in the Western Region

The Western Region already has a significant connected renewable generation; almost half of the generation in the Region is renewable (Figure 1).  There is 1,371MW of conventional generation. This capacity is mainly across Moneypoint coal fired power station in West Co. Clare (863MW), Tynagh gas fired power station in East Co. Galway (404MW) and Tawnaghmore oil fired peaking plant in North Co. Mayo (104MW). In 2017 these power stations generated 4,390 GWh, which was approximately 15% of the national demand in 2017.

Figure 1: Generation in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

There is 165MW of hydro generation in the WDC region. This capacity is mainly at Ardnacrusha hydro station in Co. Clare (86MW) and the Erne stations (65MW) in Co. Donegal.  On shore wind generation makes up the rest of the renewable electricity generation in the Region (the locations are discussed further below).

In the future with the ending of coal fired generation as committed to in the draft National Energy and Climate Plan, the vast majority of renewable electricity generation in the Western Region will come from onshore wind and other developing sources including solar and potentially offshore wind and marine generation.

 

Demand and Generation connections in the Western Region

There is substantially higher capacity of both renewable and conventional generation compared to demand in the region.  Renewable generation currently connected (1,343MW) produces approximately 3,750GWh of renewable electricity. Considering total peak demand of 651MW and assuming the nation-wide demand capacity factor of 65%, the total demand in region is approximately 3,700GWh.  It can be concluded that on an annual basis the Western Region is currently producing enough renewable generation to meet 100% of its own demand.   By 2020 the Region will definitely be a net provider of renewable electricity to the rest of Ireland making a significant contribution to the 2020 RES-E targets.

Figure 2 shows the levels of connected renewable generation in the region (1,343MW) and conventional generation (1,371MW) as discussed above.   Maximum demand (at peak) was estimated by MullanGrid as 651 MW with minimum demand 164MW.

Figure 2: Current Generation and Demand in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

By 2020 there could be approximately 1,760MW of renewable generation connected in the WDC region, 1,595MW of wind generation and 165MW of hydro generation. There is a further 1,000MW of renewable generation in the WDC region that will have contracted or been offered connections by mid-2019 (as shown in Figure 2 above) and there is 173MW of further potential on shore wind connections in the short term (as allocated under the Enduring Connection Policy Phase 1 (ECP-1)). Clearly the potential for renewable generation and the opportunities the Region provides are significant.

 

Generation and Demand at County level

It is interesting to look briefly at the patterns of generation and demand at county level in the Western Region (Figure 3).  Donegal, which has the third largest connected capacity of on shore wind generation in Ireland, is clearly significant force in the Region’s transition to renewable electricity.

It currently has 480 MW of connected renewable generation with significant hydro generation (75MW) and 405MW capacity of wind generation with a further 254MW of contracted generation.  Galway and Clare and the next most important counties for renewable generation, with Ardnacrusha making a significant contribution (86MW) in Clare, while most of Galway’s renewable generation (286MW) from wind.  These counties have high levels of contracted wind generation which will be connected in the short term.   Mayo currently has 83MW of connected wind capacity  but has 406MW of contracted generation to be connected.

Figure 3: Generation and Demand in Western Region counties

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

In all Western Region counties currently connected renewable generation is well above the average county demand[2].  Table 1 below gives the detail of the connected, contracted and ECP-1 capacity in each county in the Western Region alongside the estimated demand in each county (although Sligo and Leitrim are considered together).

Table 1: Connected, Contracted and future renewable generation and Demand in Western Region counties.

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

 

Transmission Capacity

The transmission system has been essential in enabling the Western Region to achieve these relatively high levels of renewable generation.  There has been substantial investment in the transmission network in the Region[3] the majority of which, recently, has been in upgrading the existing electricity transmission network to provide additional capacity.  However, to allow for the continued growth of renewable generation in the Region, further investment in new transmission infrastructure is required.

There is capacity in the current transmission system for more renewable generation in areas of the Western Region including large parts of Co. Roscommon, Co. Clare and Co. Galway.  However there is concern about the pace and scale of development of new transmission circuits elsewhere in the Region.  The areas of particular concern in the medium term are Co. Donegal and North Mayo.  In Donegal, by 2022, it is expected that the connected renewable generation will have exceeded the capacity of the existing transmission system.  While the planned North Connacht project[4] will provide critical infrastructure for currently connected and some of the planned renewable generation in development in North Mayo/West Sligo, it will not provide ffor further renewable generation in the area. In the medium to long term there could also be a need for new transmission circuits to Co. Sligo/Co. Leitrim. Considering the extended timelines (at least 10 years) to deliver new transmission infrastructure it is essential to take a long-term view of the generation needs and potential in these areas.

It is important that there is a three-pronged approach to developing the transmission grid in the Region:

  1. Upgrading existing transmission infrastructure;
  2. New transmission infrastructure;
  3. Implementing smart grid solutions.

Although new transmission infrastructure is the most challenging to deliver it is critical for the development of more renewable generation in the Region.  Other factors that will impact on growth of renewable generation are the planning process and the public acceptance of onshore wind generation. Recent new transmission projects have faced strong local opposition and a lack of local political support.

To achieve long term ambitious climate action increased renewable electricity generation will be essential. Therefore further investment in transmission grid with sufficient capacity for new generation connections is crucial.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] The Electricity Transmission Infrastructure Review for the Western Development Commission was conducted by MullanGrid Consulting.

[2] This is a simple average of minimum and maximum demand.

[3] EirGrid and ESB Networks, regulated by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), invest in and develop the electricity grid.

[4] http://www.eirgridgroup.com/the-grid/projects/north-connacht/the-project/

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

How many farmers are in the Western Region?

Agriculture has traditionally been a very important sector of Irish economy and this, along with the subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has meant that it is also one of the most measured sectors in the economy.

We would therefore expect to have a very good idea how many farmers are in the Western Region and it can be argued that we do.  However, because there are a variety of ways in which a person farming or receiving income from farming may be defined, there is no single definitive answer.  Instead the numbers depend on what is being measured.

In this post I look at three different measures of ‘farmer’ in the Western Region (the seven counties under the WDC remit), and discuss why there is so much variation among them.  The Census of Population was held in 2016, and this provides one measures of those involved in farming, data on CAP beneficiaries for 2016 provides another measure and recently released Revenue data for 2016 provides the third statistic.

In 2016 in the Western Region there were 20,880 people whose occupation was ‘farmer’ according the Census of Population (see Fig. 1), while there were 40,709 Revenue ‘farmer’ cases (see discussion below) and 54,215 CAP Beneficiaries.

Figure 1: Three measures of ‘farmer’ numbers in the Western Region 

 

Source: CSO Census of Population, 2016, Profile 11  Employment Occupations and Industry, Table EB049; Revenue Statistics and Economic Research: The Farming Sector in Ireland: A Profile from Revenue Data Statistics Update2018, Table 5; DAFM CAP Beneficiaries 2016 database. Western Region totals are own calculations

 

There are clearly very significant differences among these three measures, so what do they mean in terms of numbers in farming?

 

The Census of Population 2016

The smallest measure of farmer numbers in the Western Region is from the Census of Population in 2016.  The number of famers in this Census is based on detailed occupational data for those who have described their main occupation as ‘farmer’.  This is one of 328 categories and nationally ‘farmer’ is the second largest occupation group accounting for 3.5% of the work force.  As noted the numbers here refer to farmers rather than those working in agriculture or in other areas who are part of the broader category of Farmers fisheries and forestry workers (22,733 people in the Western Region).

The most important thing to note for this measure of ‘farmer’ is that those categorised here are only those who consider their main occupation to be farmer.  Those with other work who farm on a part time basis or for other reasons do not consider farming to be their main occupation are not included here.  The decision as to what is their main occupation is made by the person filling in the census form.

Figure 2: Excerpt from 2016 Census of Population form

Source: CSO https://www.cso.ie/en/census/2016censusforms/

Revenue Cases: Farming

The data for Revenue cases from farming is from the Revenue Statistics and Economic Research Branch publication ‘The Farming Sector in Ireland: A Profile of Revenue Data’.  The first report was prepared in 2015 to add to the evidence available on the agricultural sector in Ireland from both an economic and taxation perspective.  Data tables in this report are updated annually with the most recent available for 2016 published in August 2018.  Both are available here.

The 2015 report provides the detailed explanation of the ‘farmer cases’ included.  There were three methods of identifying farmers on Revenue records:

  • Form 11 tax returns, filed annually by self-assessed Income Tax payers which include a check box for farmers.
  • Revenue codes its taxpayer register by NACE code and the agricultural related sectors (0-190) can be identified.
  • Through a data exchange with the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine (DAFM), Revenue receives information on the recipients of agricultural payments (such as the single farm payment). This information is linked to Revenue records.

Farmer cases are any of those which meet one of the three criteria noted above (a case may meet all three but is counted once).  The majority of farmers are self-assessed income tax payers and as such are required to file a Form 11 return of income for each tax year.  The file covers the vast majority of farmers in receipt of DAFM payments. Most are registered with Revenue as self-assessed individuals. Some cases hold PAYE registrations only, effectively employees within the farming sector. There are also a small number of incorporated farmers, registered for Corporation Tax.

In addition to information about numbers of farming cases, data is available from Revenue for both average Gross income and average Farming Income.  In 2016 nationally there were 137,109 ‘farmer’ cases with an average faming income of €21,952.  There were 40,709 ‘farmer’ cases in the Western Region with an average farming income of €13,338

 

CAP Beneficiaries

Data on CAP beneficiaries is drawn from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) database.  This provides information on all farmers or companies who received money under CAP in 2016.  This is a broad definition, including all kinds of CAP payments and the database provides the names and municipality of those who received more than €1,500 in that year.   This includes a number of companies but these must fall within the definition of active farmers (see here for a more detailed discussion of active farmer definitions).

Nationally, 133,182 received CAP payments in 2016, with a total of €1,614m received, an average payment of €12,121.  In the Western Region in the same year €525m was paid to 54,215 beneficiaries, an average payment of €9,689.

 

What do the categories tell us about farmers in the Western Region?

Clearly the three categories of ‘farmers’ discussed above are all defined differently.  The census definition is the strictest, these are people whose main occupation is farming and if they do have another occupation it is of lesser importance.  The second category includes all of those making Revenue returns in relation to farming income, but this may not be their main income source.  They may have other earnings but they are in some way involved in farming in the Region.  The final category of ‘farmer’ is the CAP beneficiaries.  In the Western Region this is the largest group, taking in all those who have received a CAP payment.  Some of these may not be making Revenue returns and may only be receiving very small payments (a significant number of CAP beneficiaries receive less than €1,500 annually).  This final, largest, group is likely to include all of those with some connection to farming and may be categorised as ‘active farmers’

In contrast, nationally there were more Revenue farming cases than there were CAP beneficiaries, in other words, more had farming income for the purposes of taxation than were in receipt of CAP payments.  The Revenue farming cases includes a variety of income sources associated with farming and so this may be part of the explanation for this.

Nationally, 52% of those claiming CAP payments declared their principal occupation as ‘farmer’ on the Census, compared to 39% in the Western Region indicating that, as we know, more farmers in the Western Region have main occupations other than farming and are farming part time.  Revenue farming cases are 103% of CAP beneficiaries nationally while they are 75% in the Western Region.  For both of these, it should be noted that Revenue cases may not be a complete subset of the CAP beneficiaries, in other words not all Revenue cases for farming will be CAP beneficiaries, and vice versa.  Both nationally and in the Western Region about the number of those who consider farming to be their main occupation is about half the number of Revenue cases (51%).

Farmers in Western Region Counties

The three measures of ‘farmer’ numbers discussed above are available at county level (Figure 2).  Again the highest measure in each county is CAP beneficiaries, followed by Revenue cases and as would be expected the lowest number is those who declared their principal occupation as farmers on the Census of Population in 2016.

Figure 3: Farmer numbers in Western Region counties

Source: CSO Census of Population, 2016, Profile 11  Employment Occupations and Industry, Table EB049; Revenue Statistics and Economic Research: The Farming Sector in Ireland: A Profile from Revenue Data Statistics Update2018, Table 5; DAFM CAP Beneficiaries 2016 database.

The disparity among these three measures varies among counties, as it did between figures for the State and the Western Region as discussed above.  In the Western Region those with a main occupation as ‘farmer’ (Census of Population)  as a proportion of CAP Beneficiaries was lowest in Leitrim (26%) and Mayo (35%) counties (in all Western Region counties the number of CAP beneficiaries was higher than the number of Revenue cases). Clare, has the highest number with the main occupation ‘farmer’ at half the number of CAP beneficiaries and Sligo (43%) was the next highest.

 

So, how many farmers?

So in measuring how many farmers there are in the Western Region, we need to decide what we mean by a farmer.  Is it someone who considers being a famer their main occupation? Or someone who has some farming income which is declared to the Revenue, or someone who receives a CAP payment?

In this post different farmer definitions and numbers have been discussed giving us insight into different measures and some of the sector characteristics.  In the next post on this topic different measures of income will be considered.

 

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

City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions- join the debate!

The theme of this year’s Regional Studies Association Irish Branch Annual Conference, to be held in the Institute of Technology Sligo on Friday 7th September, is “City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions”.

The conference will examine how urban areas interact with their rural regions and whether the development of the city or urban area leads to wider development.

Two international experts, 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, have been invited to present other countries’ experience on this theme and to stimulate debate about the reality of city led development.

Andrew’s paper  The Scottish City Region Deals – A rural development perspective. considers how urban-rural interaction is a long-established element of the “theory of change” associated with regional development policy. Optimistic assumptions about wider functional region benefits of city investments, are commonplace and generally unquestioned, despite meagre evidence of such impacts. A summary history of urban-rural concepts in the European policy discourse, will be followed by a brief account of rural/regional policy in Scotland. Against this background the origin and evolution of Scotland’s City Region Deals, and Regional Partnerships, will be described. The presentation will conclude with some reflections on the how these evolving arrangements fit into an already cluttered policy landscape, their compatibility with rural policy “mainstreaming”, and the likely benefits for rural Scotland.

Mark’s paper Is there a future for Rural in an Urbanizing World and Should We Care? examines 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. While the underlying reasons are complex and unique to each country, one common feature is that rural areas have typically faced recent economic decline, creating anxiety, and in some cases, anger of rural residents directed at their urban counterparts. 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. One way to bridge this economic gap is to improve rural-urban economic linkages through an urban-led economic strategy. For example, urban growth can create commuting and market opportunities for rural residents and firms if there is sufficient connectivity. While such a process has strong theoretical advantages it also requires rural areas to more carefully think about quality of life to attract and retain residents who would otherwise relocate to urban areas.

The issues in Ireland are examined in other presentations and it is to be hoped that the conference will provide useful input to the discussion about regional development in Ireland as the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies of Project Ireland 2040 are drafted. The draft conference programme is below.

Detailed Conference Information can be accessed here (including speaker bios, directions, and accommodation). 

Register here for the conference (€70 including lunch) and come along and join in the debate.

 

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