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

In the last blog post on this subject, Leprechauns in Invisible Regions, the very significant changes in GVA and GDP[1] at a regional level between 2014 and 2015 were discussed.  These largely applied in manufacturing, with a national growth in GVA that sector of 134%.  As mentioned in that post, some regional data for the NUTS3 regions of Dublin and the South West was suppressed by the CSO to preserve confidentiality.  The focus of this post, therefore, is on changes in other NUTS 3 regions.  Of course Dublin and the South West are the largest economic regions but it is useful to consider the changing situation in regions less affected by the level shift in GVA in 2015 (and not affected by the confidentiality issue), and to examine in more detail the other GVA data published by the CSO in its annual County Incomes and Regional GDP publication.

The change in GVA per person between 2014 and 2015 is shown in Figure 1.  Growth in the State as a whole (which includes the South West and Dublin regions) was most significant (37%), but there was a 30% increase in GVA per person in the Mid West region and a 30% increase in the South East region.  Growth in GVA in those years was more modest in the Midland region (17%) and the West region (9%), while it was only 5% in the Border region.

Figure 1: Regional GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2014 and 2015 

a Data for 2015 for Dublin and South West regions suppressed for reasons of confidentiality

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 9c GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016

Looking at changes over a longer period Figure 2 shows GVA per person in the NUTS 3 regions since 2007[2].  GVA per person was significantly higher in the Dublin and South West regions between 2007 and 2014.  There has been some change in relativities among regions since 2007 with the Midland region, which had lowest GVA per person in 2007, higher than the Border region in 2015 (22,320 in the Midland region compared to 19,060 per person in the Border region in 2015).  GVA in the West grew more rapidly than elsewhere in 2011 and 2012 but since that period GVA in the West has again fallen behind that in the Mid East[3] and the South East and the gap between them has widened.

Figure 2: Regional GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 and 2016 

a Data for 2015 and 2016 for Dublin and South West regions suppressed for reasons of confidentiality

b Preliminary results for 2016

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 9c GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016

As has been discussed, some of the regions showed very significant growth between 2014 and 2015 but, as can be seen in Figure 2, there was no significant increase in GVA between 2015 and 2016 in any region for which data is available.

Disparities within the State

An index of how GVA in the regions compared to that in the State between 2007 and 2016 (Figure 3) gives a useful picture of widening regional disparity.  None of the regions for which data is available were above the State average during that period.  The Border region had an index of only 36.3 in 2015.  In that year the Midland region was only 42.5% of the State while the West was 56.0.  In contrast in 2007 the Border index was 68.1, the Midland index was 65.5, and the West was 71.3.  The Mid West, which had consistently highest index of GVA for regions where data was available, was 72.6% of the State average in 2016.

Figure 3: Index of GVA for NUTS 3 Regions, 2007-2016, State=100

a Data for 2015 and 2016 for Dublin and South West regions suppressed for reasons of confidentiality

b Preliminary results for 2016

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 10 Indices of GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016 (State = 100)

All of the regions for which data is available have lower indices of GVA relative to the State in 2016 compared to 2007.  For example, the West was 71.3 in 2007 and 56.0 in 2016, and the Border was 68.1 in 2007 and 37.1 in 2016.  This indicates the very significant widening of disparities in GVA between these regions and GVA in the State which is influenced by the more rapidly growing Dublin and South West regions.


EU comparison

It is also interesting to look at changes in GVA over time relative to an index of regional GVA in the EU.  This shows how Irish regions are faring compared to the rest of the EU.  It is also important as the relative size of regional GVA per person impacts on the level and type of EU structure funding available to a region.  Regions where GDP per capita is less than 75% of the EU average are designated ‘convergence regions’ (86 regions between 2014 and 2020) and those with GDP per capita above 75% of the EU average are seen as developed regions (186 NUTS 2 regions).

Looking at the NUTS 2 regions in Ireland the changes relative to the EU average are very stark, particularly since 2015 (Figure 4).  In 2007 the S&E region was 163.8% of the EU average and it declined to 144.2% in 2009, there followed by steady grown to 2014, when it reached 153.2%, still below that in 2007.  The level shift in GVA in 2015 meant the S&E region increased dramatically to 213% of the EU average in 2015.  In contrast in 2007 GVA in the BMW region was at the EU average (100.9) but it declined relative to the EU average until 2014 (77.1%) with only slow growth for 2015 and 2016 (it is estimated at 80.1% of the EU average in 2016), compared to 213% in the S&E region.

Figure 4: Index of GVA for BMW and S&E regions (NUTS 2), 2007-2016, EU28=100

b Preliminary results for 2016

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 11   Indices of GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016 (EU28 = 100)

There is more fluctuation in GVA relative to the EU28 when we look at NUTS 3 regions (Figure 5).  Even without data for the regions with the highest GVA (Dublin and the South West) the other regions in the S&E NUTS 2 region have all had higher GVA than the EU average since 2014.  The Mid West region consistently had GVA higher than the EU average since 2007, despite some decline, while the South East and the Mid East were below the EU average between 2009 and 2014).

Figure 5: Index of GVA for NUTS 3 regions, 2007-2016, EU28=100

b Preliminary results for 2016

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 11   Indices of GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016 (EU28 = 100)


In contrast, the three regions which make up the BMW were all at or below the EU average in 2015 and 2016, and the Border and Midland regions have never been above the EU 28 average.  The Border is currently only 65.7% of the EU average (2016) while the Midlands is 76.2%.  GVA in the West region has shown significant fluctuation, and was particularly strong in 2011 and 2012 (peaking at 108.8% of the EU average) but has since fallen back, though it is currently very close to the EU average (99.2%).



It is also interesting to look at changes in productivity in recent years (Figure 6).  There was a dramatic increase of 42% in productivity (GVA per person at work) in the State between 2014 and 2016 (this includes the figures for the South West and Dublin regions), and there were also significant increases in the Mid East (38%), Mid West (34%) and South East (40%) regions.  While increases in productivity were much smaller in the Border (9%), Midland (20%) and West (15%) all regions did show productivity growth.

Figure 6: GVA per person at work 2014-2016 (NUTS 3)

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015,Table 13  GVA at Basic Prices, population and persons at work for each region 2015


Regional Productivity is dependent on a number of factors, including the types of economic activities being undertaken in the regions so it is useful to look more closely at the data for this.

Economic Sectors

There is significant variation in the importance of different sectors in each region (Figure 7).  Looking at Industry, for example, the West region has the highest proportion of GVA from this sector (of the regions for which data is available) at 41.5% compared to 38.8% for the State as a whole.  There is substantial variation in the contribution of Professional, Scientific and Technical services to GVA (13.6% in the Mid East region and 13.4% in the South East compared to 5.3% in the Midland region and 6.2% in West region).  Public Administration and Defence makes a very significant contribution to GVA in the Border (27.9%) and Midland region (26.8%) but only accounts for 11.9% of GVA in the State as a whole.

Figure 7: Gross Value Added by Sector 2015

Source: Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015,Table 9d   Gross Value Added by Sector 2015


The relative importance of the three main branches of economic activity in the Border, Midland and West Regions is shown in Figure 8.  Manufacturing, Building and Construction accounts for almost half (46%) of GVA in the West region but only 24% in the Border and 32% in the Midland regions.  In contrast services account for 65% of the Midland GVA, and 73% of GVA in the Border region and 52% in the West region.  For the State as a whole Manufacturing, Building and Construction accounts for 41% of GVA and Services account for 58%.

Figure 8: GVA in Border Midland and West regions by branch, 2015

Source: Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 15   GVA at Basic Prices classified by region and branch, 2014 and 2015


Looking at changes in GVA between 2014 and 2015 for each branch of the economy and, as would have been expected, there were significant changes in GVA from Manufacturing, Building and Construction in most regions between 2014 and 2015, with a 105% increase in the State, a 76 % increase in the South East, and a 75 % increase in the Mid West.  In the West, however the increase in GVA in this branch was only 20% and again, very significantly (and giving rise to the low growth in GVA) in the Border it was only 3%.

Figure 9: Changes in regional GVA by branch between 2014 and 2015


Source: Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 15   GVA at Basic Prices classified by region and branch, 2014 and 2015


There were also changes of note in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector (which accounts for a relatively small amount of GVA).  There was a decrease in GVA from this sector of 7% in the State between 2014 and 2015 and a significant decrease of more than 20% in the South West and 14% in the Border region and the Mid West region.  GVA from services grew in all regions, but only by 1% in the West region (compared to 11% in the State).



While there are difficulties with using GVA and GDP as measures of regional development (see here and here) it is nonetheless a very important indicator of regional economic activity and essential to our understanding of the changes taking place in Irish regions.    However, in order to understand regional growth and change it is important to use GVA in combination with other data such as that on employment, enterprise activity, income, wealth and consumption.



Helen McHenry


[1] GDP is Gross Domestic Product, GDP and GVA are the same concept i.e. they measure the value of the goods and services (or part thereof) which are produced within a region or country. GDP is valued at market prices and hence includes taxes charged and excludes the value of subsidies provided. GVA at basic prices on the other hand excludes product taxes and includes product subsidies. See background notes .

[2] Data for the South West and Dublin Regions is not available for 2015 and 2016

[3] In previous posts on GVA the Mid East has been considered with Dublin (see this post for example) as much of the GVA in the Dublin region is produced by commuters from the Mid East (and other regions) and GVA per person for the Dublin region does not reflect this.  However, as data for the Dublin region is not available Mid East data is included here.

How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

The CSO released data on County Incomes and Regional GDP in 2015 last month (and also published preliminary figures for 2016).  In this post changes in county incomes in the Western Region are examined with a particular focus on the difference among counties and the changes over time.  Regional GDP will be considered in a forthcoming post.

The map (produced by the CSO) gives an indication of the differences in Household Disposable Income per Person across the State.

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


Clearly Dublin has a significantly higher Household Disposable Income per Person than elsewhere, with Kildare and Limerick also above the state average, while many counties in the West and North West have Disposable Incomes well below the state average.

A quick overview of the recent trends in Household Disposable Incomes per Person is given in Figure 1, showing changes in the Western Region counties over the last decade. The 2008 peak and following rapid income decline is very clear but the recovery of income levels from 2014 onwards is also evident.

Figure 1: Household Disposable Income per Person 2006-2016 for Western Region counties


Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


No county in Ireland has returned to the income levels of 2008, and indeed in the Western Region only Sligo was estimated to have very slightly higher (€14) Household Disposable Income per Person in 2016 than it did in 2007 (along with only 4 other counties: Dublin, Wicklow, Limerick and Kerry).

Looking at the most recent figures, Galway (€18,991) and Sligo (€19,001) had the highest Disposable Incomes per Person in the Western Region in 2015 with Sligo higher than Galway for the first time, although the gap between them has been narrowing in recent years. In the preliminary 2016 figures Galway had a very slightly higher disposable income per person (Table 1).

Table 1: Household Disposable Income per Person in 2015 and 2016 for the counties of the Western Region



**Western Region figures based on own calculations using inferred population estimates.

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


Donegal continues to have a significantly lower Disposable Income per Person than any other county Ireland (€15,705 in 2015).  This was just over 77% of the state average that year. Disposable Income in Roscommon is also significantly lower than the state average (81.5%) at €16,582 in 2015.  This was the second lowest of any county in Ireland, while Mayo was the 4th lowest (see Figure 2 below).  Sligo and Galway were in 13th and 14th places, but no Western Region county had more than 95% of the State average Disposable Income.

Figure 2: Household Disposable Income per Person in 2015 for all counties

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


Preliminary figures for 2016 (Figure 3) show that all counties had small increases in Household Disposable Income per person on 2015, the largest increase in that period (2015-2016) was in Galway (2.9%) while the smallest was in Donegal (2.5%).

Figure 3: Household Disposable Income per Person in 2015 and 2016* for Western Region counties


**Western Region figures based on own calculations using inferred population estimates.

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


Increases were larger between 2014 and 2015 (see Table 1) with Sligo showing an increase of 5.7%, the lowest Western Region county increase was in Roscommon at 2.0%.  The state average increase for that period was 5.6% and Household Disposable Income per Person in Dublin grew by 6.3%.  These differing growth rates among counties are giving rise to increasing regional imbalance as is shown in Figure 4 which charts the income in Western Region counties as compared to the state average (State =100).

The gap between most counties in the Western Region and the state was at its widest in 2001 and narrowed (i.e. they got closer to the state average) during the boom period and into the slowdown.  In fact regional divergence was least in 2010 when all parts of the country were significantly affected by recession.  Since then, as discussed, incomes in some counties began to grow faster and divergence has again increased, particularly since 2012.

Figure 4: Index of Household Disposable Incomes per person in Western Region counties 2000-2016


Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


The pattern has not been straightforward, however, some counties were closer to the State average in 2000.  For example Clare was 96.4% of the state average in 2000 and Roscommon was 91.1% but by 2016 Clare was 88.8% and Roscommon was 81.3%, showing that they have been doing relatively less well.  Others, like Sligo where Household Disposable Income per Person was 88.1% of the State average in 2000 and 93.3% in 2016, and Leitrim which was 86.5% in 2000 and 89.6% in 2016, have narrowed the gap to the state average and are improving relatively.

The divergence in Income levels among counties would be much greater without the redistribution effects of social transfers and taxes.  Counties with the highest Primary Incomes[1] tend to have relatively lower social transfer figures (having fewer people in older and younger age categories or otherwise not working) and  higher tax (with more people earning and often higher incomes). See this post for more discussion of the components of change.  Figure 5 shows the percentage difference between Household Disposable Income and Primary Income for each county in 2015.  Counties which are doing well (e.g. Dublin, Kildare) tend to have a higher Primary Income level than Household Disposable Income level, while less well-off counties tend to have a higher Household Disposable Income than Primary Income (the difference being, as noted above, the effect of Social Transfers and Taxes).  The relationship is not simple however, counties which rank lowest for disposable income will not necessarily have a similar rank for Primary Income.  For more discussion of Primary Income see this post.

Figure 5: Percentage Difference between Household Disposable Income and Primary income for each county in 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP



This post has provided a brief overview of the key County Income figures for the Western Region based on the recent CSO release.  Regional GDP will be examined in a future post with the components and trends will be analysed in more detail in the coming months.



Helen McHenry


[1] Primary Income is defined for National Income purposes as follows: Compensation of employees (i.e. Wages and Salaries, Benefits in kind, Employers’ social insurance contributions) plus Income of self-employed plus Rent of dwellings (including imputed rent of owner-occupied dwellings) plus Net interest and dividends.

Total income is defined as: Primary income plus Social benefits plus Other current transfers.

Disposable income is defined as follows: Total income minus Current taxes on income (e.g. Income taxes, other current taxes) minus Social insurance contributions (e.g. Employers’, employees’, self-employed, etc.)

The Southern Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy – Beyond Cities

The newly published National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040 sets out regional targets for each of the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies to deliver within their respective regions. The WDC recently made a submission on the Strategy for both the Northern and Western and the Southern Region, as the WDC region extends across parts of both.

A recent blogpost highlighted some of the issues the WDC considers relevant to the Northern and Western Region Strategy and the full submission can be downloaded here (or you can read the summary here). Here we examine some of the issues we highlight in our Submission to the Strategy for the Southern Region, available here and the summary is available here.


While most of the WDC region is in the Northern and Western Region, the WDC region extends into County Clare within the Southern Assembly region. The Southern Region includes three of the five cities (Limerick, Cork and Waterford), while each of the other regions has one city – Dublin in the Eastern & Midlands region), Galway in the Northern and Western Region. As such it would be important that the Southern Region strategy does not become overly city focused. Too often a strategy is made which is supposed to be for all people and areas, but the focus becomes that of cities and other areas are left without appropriate investment. This is a particular concern for the Southern Region Strategy.

While the cities within the Southern Assembly region are outside the remit of the WDC region the influence of cities extends across County Clare.  Galway to the north and Limerick to the South both impact on the residents of County Clare. The WDC has conducted analyses of Labour Catchments and Travel to work areas[1] which provide insights into the travel to work patterns of residents of County Clare and also the labour catchment of Limerick city.

This analysis shows the influence of Limerick city as a place of work for many residents of southern and eastern Clare and this has shown an increase since a similar analysis was done based on Census 2006. Just under 10,000 (9,647) workers live in that part of the Limerick city labour catchment which extends into Co. Clare, illustrating the importance of Limerick city as a place of work for residents of South-East Clare.

Labour catchments and their geographic reach provide important insights into the roles of urban centres and their hinterlands and consideration of these should inform the RSES. This will inform consideration of their strategies and defining the boundaries of the Metropolitan Area Strategic Plans as they exist and extend beyond local authority boundaries.

Lack of employment opportunities in towns as well as cities will be the key barrier to achieving the Draft NPF targeted levels of 20-25% growth. The employment centres of Ennis and Shannon in particular are key and ensuring that these centres attract and retain employment opportunities will be a key determinant in the achievement of the targets.


After Kilkenny, Ennis is the largest urban centre outside of the cities and is the fifth largest urban centre in the Southern Assembly region. While the Southern Assembly region contains thirteen towns with a population greater than 10,000, just one of these – Ennis is located in Co. Clare.

Larger regional towns such as Ennis which are quite close to cities (Limerick and Galway) can benefit from good connectivity and economic spill overs. In the case of Ennis, proximity to Shannon as an employment centre is also a driver.

Forthcoming analysis by the WDC identifies the Ennis labour catchment in which the influence of Ennis extends over a large area but is predominately contained within county Clare. While the labour catchment extends to large parts of the county it excludes south western areas which are more influenced by the Kilrush labour catchment to the West and the Galway City labour catchment to the north ( which extends into north-west Clare in areas close to Fanore and Ballyvaughan). Ennis is still the dominant labour catchment for parts of east Clare (Tulla and Feakle) but east of this area is mainly under the influence of Limerick City which acts as a major destination for residents of south-east Clare.


The WDC considers that Shannon should also be considered in the category of larger centre with population in excess of 10,000 – as its resident population of 9,729 is just below the threshold used and it is a more significant employment destination than its resident population would suggest. The CSO identifies the ‘daytime population‘[2] which includes those travelling into work and study as well as those that are normally resident there and who do not travel to work or study. It is clear from the significantly larger ‘daytime population’ that Shannon attracts a large influx of people to work there, both at the airport and among the 100+ international firms located there.

Rural Areas

Realising Clare’s Rural Potential, Clare Rural Development Strategy 2026, was published in 2016. Focussing on community development and community run social enterprises, development will take a partnership approach with communities and agencies working together. It details a range of actions designed to target a reversal of population decline across parts of Rural Clare. The strategy aims to deliver 4,000 jobs in rural areas over 10 years and challenges the presumption that urban living is the only model for growth. There are useful insights into innovative approaches to rural development which could benefit other rural communities across the Southern region.

It is essential that the NPF, the Regional Strategy and the Action Plan for Rural Areas work in a coherent manner to provide a strong policy and strategic basis for regional and rural action which are focussed on improving economic opportunities for people living in rural communities. Furthermore national goals must align with regional strategies and county and local plans and across all sectors.

The Southern Region is different to the others in that it has three cities within its remit, with one city each in the other regions. It will be important that the Southern Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy does not become overly city focused and that it considers the needs and opportunities in all those places between cities – such as County Clare as well as the rural areas within its Region.

The WDC Submission to the Strategy for the Southern Region is available here with the summary available here.


[1] Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region (forthcoming) analysis by AIRO for WDC based on POWSCAR Census of Population 2016.



Home-Based Working in the Western Region

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has published its latest WDC Insights Home-Based Working in the Western Region,

download here (267 KB):, which is the third in a series examining the current nature of work, focussing on work which is often home based.

Working at or from home can take different forms:

  • The WDC Policy Briefing No.7 e-Working in the Western Region: A Review of the Evidence (download here – PDF 748KB), examined the extent of e-working in the Western Region, examining those in traditional employer-employee relationships, but who work from home, whether full-time or for a period during the working week. This form of working is also illustrated with several case studies of the practice, (download here – PDF 484KB).
  • The second publication in the series, WDC Insights ‘New Work’ – the Gig economy in the Western Region, (download here – PDF 254KB), examined the nature of the gig economy and the extent to which it exists in the Western Region.
  • This WDC Insights on Home-Based Working in the Western Region examines the data on those people who work ‘mainly at or from home’ derived from the Census question ‘how do you usually travel to work?’ with one of the answers being ‘work mainly at or from home’
  • According to the Census, nationally, in 2011[1] excluding those working in the Agriculture, forestry & fishing industries[2], the share of the state’s working population reported as working mainly at or from home was 2.8% (47,127).

In the Western Region the share was higher with 3.2% (8,994) stating they worked mainly at or from home.

There is a higher rate of self-employment in the Western Region and this is likely to be a contributory factor.

  • Those working mainly at or from home represent a broad range of workers; the self-employed, employees, ‘gig’ workers and e-Workers across a broad range of sectors. They may have very little in common except their place of work, which is less visible than traditional work places.

Better data is needed to capture and measure the incidence of all types of work so as to ensure that our policy focus is not limited to the traditional workplace-based employer-employee relationship.

Policies are needed to support all employment types and evidence of the nature and extent of work that occurs in the home is required to inform this.


Deirdre Frost

[1]Census of Population 2011, the most recent Census data available. Census 2016 data will be available in September 2017.

[2] The rest of the data presented in this WDC Policy Briefing exclude those working in the Agriculture, forestry & fishing industries, in order to understand the prevalence of e-working in the wider economy. The WDC wish to thank the CSO for a special run of data excluding those working in the Agriculture, forestry & fishing industries.

How are we doing?  GDP of Irish Regions in 2014

The CSO has recently published Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures for Irish regions (NUTS3) for 2014.  This publication updates the preliminary figures for 2014 which were published last year (and also makes some changes to the 2013 figures) but it does not, unfortunately, provide any 2015 estimates.

While a regional GDP[1] figure is provided (Table 9a) most of the information for regional accounts is for GVA at basic prices (Table 9c).  These are considered in this post which examines differences among regions and changes over time.

Discussions of GDP inevitably must also consider on the limitations of the statistic as a measure of economic development (see here ) but it is the key statistic used, despite shortcomings.  As Eurostat notes here GDP per capita does not provide an indication as to the distribution of wealth between different population groups in the same region, nor does it measure the income ultimately available to private households in a region, as commuter flows may result in employees contributing to the GDP of one region (where they work), and to household income in another region (where they live).

This drawback is particularly relevant when there are significant net commuter flows into or out of a region. Areas that are characterised by a considerable number of inflowing commuters often display regional GDP per capita that is extremely high (when compared with surrounding regions). This pattern is seen in many metropolitan regions of the EU, but principally in capital cities and is very clearly displayed in Ireland in particular between Dublin and the Mid East.

Indeed, the Solas Regional Labour Market Bulletin for 2016 has noted that the prevalence of inter-regional commuting was the highest in the Mid -East region, where 40% of workers who resided in the region were employed in other regions, the majority of whom were employed in Dublin. For this reason in most of the rest of the post Dublin and the Mid East regions are considered together.  It highlights that commuting to work was also sizeable in the Midland region, where a quarter of those in employment were commuting to other regions , while in the Border, South-East and West regions the corresponding figure was about one-in-ten.

Given these difficulties with the data, a  better picture of regional growth and development would be gained from a broader focus considering Income, Wealth and Consumption data but while Income figures are available at NUTS 3 level (see here) there is little regional data on Wealth and Consumption.

Despite issues with GDP and GVA they are important regional statistics and considering relative levels and changes over time can help us better understand economic development and growth in our regions.


How much of our GDP is produced in each Region?

The Dublin region contributed 45% of Ireland’s GDP and the South West contributed 17%.  In contrast the Midland region produced 3% (see Figure 1 below) and the rest of the regions were responsible for between 5 and 8% of national GDP in 2014.

The high level of commuting into the Dublin Region means much of that region’s GDP, more than any other, is produced by workers residing in other regions (mainly the Mid East but also Midland and Border regions).


Figure 1   GVA per Region at Current Market Prices  (GDP), 2014 

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 9

It should also be remembered that the regions also vary considerably in size.  While Figure 1 shows the GDP produced in each region in 2014, Figure 2 shows the proportion of the population (as estimated by the CSO for 2014) in each region.  Some of the reasons for the  different distribution of population and economic activity are discussed later in this post.


Figure 2 Population Distribution by Region 2014

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 13

It is interesting to see how the proportion of GDP produced in each region in 2014 compares with that in 2004 (Figure 3).  In that year Dublin produced 39% of GDP (compared to 45% in 2014) and the Border produced 8% compared to 5%.  This, as will be seen again later in this post, shows the dominance of Dublin, in particular, but the South West is also increasing its relative contribution while the relative importance of GDP from other regions has reduced over time.


Figure 3   GVA per Region at Current Market Prices  (GDP), 2004 

Source: CSO, 2015, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2012, Table 9b


Regional GVA per person

Clearly Dublin produces much of Ireland’s economic output, but it is important to look at how much is produced per person in each region.  As noted by Eurostat here, in a majority of the multi-regional EU Member States, capital city regions were generally those with the highest average GDP per capita; the only exceptions to this rule were Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Figure 4 shows the amount of GVA produced per person resident in each of the NUTS3 regions.  Dublin and the Mid East had the highest GVA per person in 2014 (€51,799), while the South West also had high output (€45,956).  In contrast the Border (€18,371) and Midland (€19,778) were much lower, the Border region only 35% of that in Dublin and the Mid East and the Midlands 38%.


Figure 4: GVA per person at basic prices 2014

Source:  CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 9c


Regional recovery in GVA- or not…?

The different trends in GDP overtime can be seen in Figure 5 below which shows GDP per capita for 2006, 2010 and 2014.

The Border is the only region to still have a lower GVA per person in 2014 than it did in 2010.  All other regions are now above the 2010 level, (though only by small amounts in the Midland and West).  However, only Dublin plus Mid East and the South West had higher GVA per person in 2014 than in 2006.


Figure 5: GVA per person (basic Prices) NUTS3 Regions (2006,2010,2014)

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 9c

Looking at the variation since 2006 (Figure 6 below) the strong recovery in Dublin and the Mid East since 2011 is evident.  The recovery in the South West was less consistent with a decline in 2013 but these two regions are significantly ahead of the other regions both in terms of the level of GVA per capita and the scale of recovery.  The West region which had begun to recover well had GVA growth between 2009 and 2012, it fell in 2013 but 2014 shows some recovery while recovery in the Midland and Border regions has been sluggish.


Figure 6: GVA per person 2006-2014 (Basic Prices) NUTS3 Regions.

Source:  CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 9c

These differing patterns of change can also be seen clearly when GVA per person is shown as an Index where the State =100 (Figure 7).  This allows us to consider the GVA per person in each region compares with that in the state over time (2006 to 2014).

The relative decline (compared to the State) in 2014 for all regions except the South West and Dublin plus the Mid East is worrying and the widening of disparities among the regions since 2006 is very clear.  In 2006 the gap between the lowest GVA per person (Midland 70.0 points) and the highest (Dublin plus Mid East 124.7 points) was 54.7 index points, but by 2014 the gap had increased very significantly to 87.8 index points (Border 48.2, Dublin plus Mid East 136.0).  In 2014 the Border (48.2) and Midland (51.9) were very low compared to the state, but even the South East (67.0), West (71.3) and the Mid West (75.9) have low GVA per person compared to the state average.


Figure 7: Indices of GVA per person 2006-2014 (Basic Prices) NUTS3 Regions (State=100)

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and regional GDP 2014, Table 10


How do Irish Regions compare to the EU average?

It is useful to look at how Irish regions (at NUTS 3 level) compare to the EU average.  This is shown in Figure 8 with Indices of Irish regions between 2006 and 2014 with the EU average equalling 100 in each of those years.  The disparities discussed above are also clear relative to the EU average GVA per person.

In 2014 two of the regions (Dublin plus Mid East (179.5) and South West(159.2)) were significantly above the EU average while the Mid West, which was consistently above the EU average from 2006 to 2013 was just barely above for 2014 (100.1).  The State itself was also above the EU average (132.0).

In contrast, the West, which was briefly above EU average in 2012 and 2013 has again fallen below the EU average (94.1), while the South East was 88.5 in 2014.  The other NUTS 3 regions (Midland (68.5) and Border (63.6)) were both considerably below the EU average and both less than 75% of the EU 28 average.


Figure 8: Indices of GVA per person 2006-2014 (Basic Prices) NUTS3 Regions (EU28=100)

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and regional GDP 2014, Table 11

Most EU structural funds  are directed to NUTS 2 level regions where GDP per capita is less than 75% of the EU28 average.  While both the Midlands and Border regions are well below this, when combined with the West the NUTS2 Border, Midland and West (BMW) region was just above the cut off for structural funds at 75.7% of the EU average in 2014[2].  By comparison, in 2006 the BMW region was 106.1% of the EU28 average.


Labour Productivity at Regional Level

Within regional accounts, labour productivity is defined as GVA at basic prices per person employed.  It should be remembered that in the regional GVA data for Ireland the ‘person at work’ statistic is related to the region of residence rather than of employment and so the gaps in GVA among regions can appear even wider.  This is shown in Figure 9.

GVA per person at work is, as expected, highest in Dublin at €116,112 per person at work while in the Midland region it is €49,863.  High levels of labour productivity are linked to the efficient use of labour (without using more inputs) and to the mix of activities in the regional  economy (some activities, such as financial services, have higher levels of labour productivity than others).  The South West also shows a very high level of labour productivity. At €111,600 per person at work the South West is only slightly below that of Dublin and the Mid East.  This is also likely to be due to the sectors in the region, especially pharmaceutical and other multinational manufacturers.


Figure 9: GVA per person and GVA per person at work (labour productivity) in 2014

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 13

Where a region has a higher proportion of older people, children, or people not in work for other reasons, the GVA  produced is being divided among relatively fewer people at work and so the figures for GVA per person at work appear better.  This is the case in the Border region most significantly, where only 36% of the population is classified as being at work, but also applies to those for the Midland region (39.7%) and the Mid West (39.4%) all of which have a lower proportion of people at work than the state average (41.7%).  In contrast Dublin (45.2%) and the Mid East (43.2%) have much higher proportions of people at work in their populations.

Figure 10 below shows the proportion of the population at work in each of the regions in 2014 as estimated by the CSO.


Figure 10: Proportion of the population in each region classified as persons at work, 2014

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 13



Dublin and the Mid East had the highest GVA per person in 2014 (€51,799), while the South West also had high output (€45,956).  In contrast the Border (€18,371) and Midland (€19,778) were much lower, the Border region only 35% of that in Dublin and the Mid East and the Midlands 38%.

The Border is the only region to still have a lower GVA per person in 2014 than it did in 2010.  All other regions are now above the 2010 level, (though only by small amounts in the Midland and West).  However, only Dublin plus Mid East and the South West had higher GVA per person in 2014 than in 2006 and other regions have not yet returned to the 2006 level.

The differences in GVA growth among regions are partially the result of increased productivity and concentration in high value sectors in the wealthier regions, and partly relate to different commuting patterns and the worker to population ratios.

The variations underline the importance of ensuring that there is a focus on regional development needs and a policy of investment and promotion of higher value sectors in all regions, so that the benefits of the recovery are felt more widely.


Helen McHenry


[1] GDP is Gross Domestic Product, GDP and GVA are the same concept i.e. they measure the value of the goods and services (or part thereof) which are produced within a region or country. GDP is valued at market prices and hence includes taxes charged and excludes the value of subsidies provided. GVA at basic prices on the other hand excludes product taxes and includes product subsidies. See background notes 

[2] The allocation of cohesion funds is currently based on a decision referring to average GDP per capita during the three-year period from 2007 to 2009; a mid-term review of cohesion policy allocations is taking place during the course of 2016 and will likely result in some changes to the system — more information is provided in an article on regional policies and Europe 2020.  See here also .

Key Issues for the National Planning Framework – Submission from the WDC

The WDC  made its submission on Ireland 2040 – Our Plan: National Planning Framework   yesterday.  The Issues and Choices paper covered a wide range of topics from national planning challenges to sustainability, health, infrastructure and the role of cities and towns.  A key element of the paper considered the future in a “business as usual” scenario in which even greater growth takes place in the Dublin and Mid East region with consequent increased congestion and increasing costs for businesses and society, while other parts of the country continue to have under-utilised potential which is lost to Ireland.  The consultation paper therefore sought to explore the broad questions of alternative opportunities and ways to move away from the “business as usual” scenario.

The WDC submission considers these issues from the perspective of the Western Region, the needs of the Region, the opportunities its development presents for Ireland’s economy and society as a whole and the choices, investments and policy required to achieve regional growth and resilience.

This post highlights the key points made in the submission.  The complete, comprehensive submission on the National Planning Framework by the WDC can be read here (4.5MB PDF).  A shorter summary is available here (0.7MB PDF).


What should the NPF achieve?

  • The National Planning Framework (NPF) provides Ireland with an opportunity to more fully realise the potential of all of its regions to contribute to national growth and productivity. All areas of Ireland, the Capital and second tier cities, large, medium and small-sized towns, villages and open countryside, have roles to play both in the national economy and, most importantly, as locations for people to live.
  • While spatial planning strives for ideal settlement or employment patterns and transport infrastructure, in many aspects of life change is relatively slow; demographics may alter gradually over decades and generations and, given the housing boom in the early part of this century, many of our existing housing units will be in use in the very long term. If the NPF is to be effective it must focus on what is needed, given current and historical patterns and the necessity for a more balanced pattern of development.
  • To effectively support national growth it is important that there is not excessive urban concentration “Either over or under [urban] concentration … is very costly in terms of economic efficiency and national growth rates” (Vernon Henderson, 2000[1]). Thus it is essential that, through the NPF, other cities and other regions become the focus of investment and development.

Developing Cities

  • As the NPF is to be a high level Framework, in this submission the WDC does not go into detail by naming places or commenting on specific development projects, as these will be covered by the forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES). The exception to this, however, is in relation to the need for cities to counterbalance Dublin.  In this case we emphasise the role of Galway and the potential for Sligo to be developed as the key growth centre for the North West.
  • The North West is a large rural region and Sligo is the best located large urban centre to support development throughout much of the North West region. With effective linkages to other urban centres throughout the region and improved connectivity, along with support from regional and national stakeholders, Sligo can become a more effective regional driver, supporting a greater share of population, economic and employment growth in Sligo itself and the wider North West region.

Developing Towns

  • While the NPF is to be a high level document and the focus is largely on cities it is important not to assume that development of key cities will constitute regional development. All areas need to be the focus of definite policy, and the NPF should make this clear.
  • While cities may drive regional development, other towns, at a smaller scale, can be equally important to their region. Recognising this is not the same as accepting that all towns need the same level of connection and services.  It is more important to understand that the context of each town differs, in terms of distance and connectivity to other towns and to the cities, the size of the hinterland it serves and its physical area as well as population.  Therefore their infrastructure and service needs differ.
  • Towns play a central role in Ireland’s settlement hierarchy. While much of the emphasis in the NPF Issues and Choices paper is on cities and their role, for a large proportion of Ireland’s population small and medium-sized towns act as their key service centre for education, retail, recreation, primary health and social activities.  Even within the hinterlands of the large cities, people access many of their daily services in smaller centres.  The NPF needs to be clear on the role it sees for towns in effective regional development.

Rural Areas

  • Rural areas provide key resources essential to our economy and society. They are the location of our natural resources and also most of our environmental, biodiversity and landscape assets.  They are places of residence and employment, as well as places of amenity, recreation and refuge.
  • They are already supporting national economic growth, climate action objectives and local communities, albeit at a smaller scale than towns and cities. But a greater focus on developing rural regions would increase the contribution to our economy and society made by rural areas.
  • The key solution to maintaining rural populations is the availability of employment. It is important that the NPF is truly focused on creating opportunities for the people who live in the regions, whether in cities, towns or rural areas.

Employment and Enterprise

  • In the Issues and Choices paper a narrow definition of ‘job’, ‘work’ and ‘employer’ as a full-time permanent employee travelling every day to a specific work location seems to be assumed. This does not recognise either the current reality of ‘work’ or the likely changes to 2040. Self-employment, the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, contract work, freelancing, e-Working, multiple income streams, online business are all trends that are redefining the conceptions of work, enterprise and their physical location.
  • If the NPF mainly equates ‘employer’ with a large IT services or high-tech manufacturing company, many of which (though by no means all) are attracted to larger cities, then it will only address the needs of a small proportion of the State’s population and labour force.
  • Similarly the NPF must recognise the need to enable and support the diversification of the Irish economy and enterprise base. It must provide a support framework for indigenous business growth across all regions and particularly in sectors where regions have comparative advantage.

Location Decisions

  • While job opportunities are a critical factor in people’s decision of where to live, they are by no means the only factor. Many other personal and social factors influence this decision such as closeness to family (including for childcare and elder care reasons), affordability, social and lifestyle preferences, connection to place and community.
  • Many people have selected to live in one location but commute to work elsewhere or, in some cases, e-Work for a number of days a week. The NPF needs to recognise the complexity of reasons for people’s location decisions in planning for the development of settlements.


  • New infrastructure can be transformative (the increase in motorway infrastructure in recent decades shows how some change happens relatively quickly). Therefore it is essential that we carefully consider where we place new investments.  To do so, capital appraisal and evaluation methods determining the costs and benefits of different investment projects need to be re-examined if we are to move from a ‘business as usual’ approach.
  • Investment in infrastructure can strongly influence the location of other infrastructure with a detrimental impact on unserved locations. The North West of the country is at a disadvantage compared to other regions with regard to motorway access. This situation will be compounded if investment in rail is focused on those routes with better road access (motorways) in order for rail to stay competitive, or if communications or electricity networks are developed along existing motorway or rail corridors.
  • The WDC believes that the regional cities can be developed more and have untapped potential, however better intra-regional linkages are needed. The weaker links between the regional centres – notably Cork to Limerick and north of Galway through to Sligo and on to Letterkenny, are likely to be a factor in the relatively slower growth of regional centres in contrast to the motorway network, most of which serves Dublin from the regions.

Climate Change

For the future, the need to move to a low carbon, fossil fuel free economy is essential and needs to be an integral and much more explicit part of the NPF.  The National Mitigation Plan for Climate Change is currently being developed, and it is essential that actions under the NPF will be in line with, and support, the actions in the Mitigation Plan.

How should the NPF be implemented?

  • While much of the role of the NPF is strategic vision and coordination of decision-making, in order for the Framework to be effective it is essential that the achievement of the vision and the actions essential to it are appropriately resourced. The Issues and Choices paper does not give a detailed outline of how the NPF implementation will be resourced, except through the anticipated alignment with the Capital Investment Programme.
  • It should be remembered that policy on services and regional development is not just implemented through capital spending but also though current spending and through policy decisions with spatial implications (such as those relating to the location of services). Therefore it is essential that other spending, investment and policy decisions are in line with the NPF rather than operating counter to it.
  • While the NPF is to provide a high level Framework for development in Ireland to 2040, it seems this Framework is to be implemented at a regional level through the RSES. The Framework and the Strategies are therefore interlinked yet the respective roles of the NPF and the RSES are not explicit and so it is not evident which areas of development will be influenced by the NPF and which by the RSES.
  • In order to ensure that the NPF is implemented effectively it is important that there is a single body with responsibility for its delivery and that there is a designated budget to help achieve its implementation.


It is expected that a draft National Planning Framework document will be published for consultation in May.  Following that a final version of the Framework will be prepared for discussion and consideration by Dáil Éireann.


As mentioned above the full WDC submission on the Issues and Choices paper Ireland 2040 Our Plan- A National Planning Framework is available here (PDF 4.5MB) and a summary of key point and responses to consultation questions is available here (PDF 0.7MB).



Helen McHenry


Future Work – What will work and workers be like in the future?

A conference on the Future of Work, on 29th November, organised by the Sunday Business Post highlighted the trends and influences which are likely to impact on the types of jobs that will be in demand in the future.

In his keynote address, Ade McCormack, former technologist and Financial Times columnist explained why work will be quite a different experience for our children. He tracks human development and work from Stone Age man to now and suggests that we are moving from the Information age into the Biological age. This will include moving from a stage of using and wearing technology to possibly have technology embedded in us. He also suggests that as many as 50% of jobs in the future will be done by robots and humans will need to develop their creative potential rather than engage in mundane tasks which will be done increasingly by robots.

He also notes that the digital economy is driving fundamental power shifts including: from the employer to the employee, from the seller to the buyer and from the government to the citizen.

In his presentation on How to future proof your workplace? Peter Cosgrove, Director, CPL and Founder of the Future of Work Institute, Ireland, highlighted some key issues and trends which will impact on employment including;

  • The impact of technology on all businesses and how technology is affecting recruitment methods with social media an increasingly important aspect.
  • How businesses are being affected by a global marketplace, flexible working and adapting to the new generation of workers. Work in the future will not be a place to go to, but a thing to do!
  • The importance of talent, innovation and how gender diversity will become increasingly important
  • The employer brand is important and employers will need to adapt to ensure they attract future talent in a talent scarce marketplace.

Fiona Mullen, the HR Director at Facebook discussed How companies can provide outstanding workplaces which are enablers for productivity, creativity and innovation. Fiona provided an interesting account of the Facebook story and the values of being ‘bold’ in a brave and innovative way and open to its staff and customers. The company tries to avoid being hierarchical and engages with staff in building trust and a common purpose. The company motto is ‘This Journey is 1% Finished’, illustrating its ongoing ambition.

 Annette Burns, Director of  eumom  highlighted the growing importance of women in the workforce. She noted that Western economies are facing a skills crisis where a birth rate of 2.1 is needed just to keep standing still; yet every year thousands of skilled women leave the workforce. In Ireland alone, over 3000 fulltime women leave every year. In the US 3 million professional women are keen to re-enter the workplace. eumom, has researched the issues and has identified what limits women’s participation and what are the enablers to contributing now and in the future.

Professor Anthony Staines, DCU discussed how changing skills requirements alter education priorities for individuals and policy-makers across the stages of formal education? In particular he examines the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and suggests that while this is important there is a need to focus on other skills also. He notes that in comparison to other countries we do have a well-educated workforce, though there are some issues with early school leaving and the youth who disengage from formal education. He noted that our education system is getting better at supporting lifelong learning but the main beneficiaries are those who are already well educated and have done well out of the education system. He suggests that in terms of educational outcomes Ireland is good at equality but not equity. He welcomed the developments undertaken by SOLAS in expanding and modernising the apprentice system in Ireland and suggests that employers should increasingly try to employ apprentices rather than the traditional focus on graduates. He also noted that while technology is solving a lot of problems there are some persistent problems that need much attention such as

  • Persistent poverty
  • Climate change
  • Migration
  • Controlling corporations

Mark Coleman, Research Director at Gartner discussed the issue of Competing for Top Talent. Though most CIOs believe there is a talent crisis, they engage in surprisingly little talent innovation. In particular, they should consider new approaches to acquiring and keeping top talent. To compete in this arena, CIOs must borrow the mindset, tools and technologies of branding and marketing. Seeing talent as a customer, and employment by IT as a brand promise fulfilled, will improve talent acquisition and retention.

In her Ministerial Address: Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & innovation noted the new jobs announcements she had made that morning in pharmaceuticals and communications and that they were likely to be an important feature of the economy in the future. She highlighted the new data on unemployment which is now at the lowest rate in many years and the importance of continuing to ensure that all have an opportunity to enter the workforce. The Minister noted the role of the Regional Action Plans for Jobs and the new Regional Skills Fora as an important initiative designed to bring employers and educationalists together to ensure skills gaps are overcome.

Professor Cathal O’Donoghue, Director, Rural Economy and Development Programme, Teagasc discussed The Future of Work in the regional economies of Ireland. He showed how the recent recession and economic recovery has affected different parts of Ireland in different ways, which has resulted in diverging labour markets. He discussed recent drivers in relation to regional economic growth, demographic and labour market changes. The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas outlined a strategy to both increase employment in the short term and to move employment up the value chain in the medium term.

Kevin Empey, Director, Willis Towers Watson discussed how advances in technology are redefining employer/employee relationships. He explored what is changing in the employer / employee landscape and how organisations can prepare for a rapidly changing workforce and workplace. He discussed how demographic and technology trends are converging to transform working environments globally as well as the implications for Business Leaders, for HR and for employees.

The conference concluded with an interesting Panel Discussion on The ‘Gig’ economy and What it means for work in the future? This on-demand, or so called ‘gig’ economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But there are important hard questions about workforce protections and what a ‘good’ job will look like in the future.


Deirdre Frost

Why Broadband is so Important – Insights on the Digital Economy

Insights from the Digital Economy Conference, May 2016

The Digital Economy Now

The WDC has consistently argued for improved broadband infrastructure and services for the Western Region and indeed all rural areas. The WDC believe that broadband is the single most important infrastructure priority and has advocated investment in next generation broadband over the last few years in various reports, submissions and blog posts.

A conference in Dublin earlier this month provided a useful reminder – beyond Netflix and Youtube – of why broadband services are so important and will become even more so. Organised by Eolas, the conference highlighted the potential of the Digital Economy both in terms of the applications that are and will be available, as well as other countries’ experiences.

Digital Engagement

Some notable highlights included a presentation by the chief digital adviser to the Irish Government, Dr. Stephen Brennan who outlined the Government’s National Digital Strategy. This is aimed at facilitating citizens to get online and he cited some interesting facts, for example;

  • While 75% of the population uses the internet daily, 65% are concerned about data privacy. This is one of the key challenges of the Digital Economy (and Society), where digital communications is so pervasive but there is also widespread concern about the uses to which data is put.
  • 45% of those over 50+ years of age are online daily, again demonstrating how pervasive digital communication is, but also how important it is as a method of communication and that the various barriers to access; lack of broadband, access to devices and lack of technical know-how/ skills, are overcome.
  • Another interesting finding is that 9% of adults run a business from home and close to 2 in 5, 39% of the population, do some work at home. This highlights the importance of adequate telecommunications infrastructure at home, so as to enable self-employment and home-working on a frequent basis. The WDC is examining eworking/ teleworking, the extent to which it is occurring and the policy implications (forthcoming).

Dr. Brennan also highlighted the benefits of the Government’s Trading on-Line scheme which has supported over 4,000 participants and issued over 2,000 Trading Online vouchers, supporting small businesses to develop their online presence. This has led to a 20%+ increase in sales.

Lessons from Norway

There was a particularly interesting presentation on Digital Government in Norway. Heather Broomfield, a Senior Adviser to the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi) outlined the progress of the Digital Economy in the Norwegian public sector.

Norway is not dissimilar to Ireland in that it has a population of 5 million people, yet digital engagement by the average citizen is much more widespread than in Ireland. This is despite its geography which is not conducive to high speed fixed line broadband deployment. Norway has a very long coastline, extending into the Arctic circle and is very mountainous.  Norway has a very low population density, with 13 persons per km2, compared to Ireland’s 65 km2. It is also interesting that much economic activity is dispersed and located around the coastline, with oil and gas exploration important sectors as well as the fishing industry.

Another important difference between Norway and Ireland is the greater degree of decentralisation in Norway which devolves power to 19 counties composed of 422 Municipalities.

In Norway in 2014 there were 38.8 fixed broadband subscriptions (per 100 people), compared to Ireland’s 26.9%. Close to 90% of Norwegians access the internet daily and there is very extensive online engagement with public services. For example, over 80% of individuals interacted online with the public authorities in the last year, compared to a European average of just over 40%.

Digital Inclusion

The importance of good design in promoting online engagement was highlighted by Dónal Rice of the National Disability Authority. In a survey it was found that 42% do not use or have difficulties engaging with public sector websites. Key factors are age and disability with the survey showing that persons with disabilities are three times more likely to encounter difficulties using public sector websites. However if basic good design is used in creating websites it can help ensure more efficient service delivery with more citizens self-serving online compared to queries by phone.

Another example of online service delivery promoting inclusion are some of the services delivered by Local Government.  Ruth Buckley, Head of ICT and Business Services at Cork City Council highlighted some new developments including a new online service for those on the housing list, where they can search online themselves for appropriate properties. Another innovation is the operation of litter management services which are now done electronically. This has been more effective in identifying offenders as well as significantly reducing the administrative burden.

Of particular interest is the extent of innovation occuring at individual local authority level in online service delivery, but more importantly the extent of collaboration and sharing of ideas across Local Authorities.

Michael Bunyan, from the Department of Social Protection outlined some significant developments in the delivery of public services. The Department of Social Protection is one of the largest Government Departments, engaging with most citizens at one point or another. It is also widely located with 400 locations across the country. The rollout of a new smartcard, the Public Services Card was described as well as the development of MyGovID which is designed to provide safer, simpler and faster access to multiple government services. Both of these initiatives are in the early stages of rollout.

In Autumn 2015, the Department of Social Protection was tasked with administering delivery of the Water Conservation Grant to individual households on behalf of the Department of the Environment. There was a very short timeline and online communication was a key delivery channel. Of nearly 900,000 applications, 77% were made online, with the remaining 23% by phone. There were no ‘paper’ based applications. The grant payment was mostly paid electronically, with 85% of payment by electronic fund transfer, and the remaining 15% by cheque. The extent of online engagement illustrates that this is now the communication method of choice.

The potential for delivery of health care using online access was described by Prof. Neil O’Hare, of St James’s Hospital. The ability to access online health records can provide for more effective delivery of health care as well as giving individuals greater ownership of their records. This can reduce the administrative burden as well as reduced costs for filing space in cramped hospitals! There are various developments across the health sector developing more efficient delivery across Ireland but the need for improved rural broadband now was emphasised by Prof. O’ Hare.


The conference highlighted that there are huge potential savings and benefits to be realised via online engagement and service delivery. This will benefit all who have access. The widespread deployment of  next generation broadband as well as supports for those who find online engagement challenging are needed so as to ensure these savings and benefits can be realised by all. The Norwegian case study clearly demonstrates that very low population density and difficult geographic terrain are not significant barriers to effective high speed broadband deployment and large scale online citizen engagement.

Deirdre Frost

Public Policy Priorities in 2016 and Beyond

A seminar entitled Ireland’s Policy Priorities after the next General Election, on November 2nd provided a welcome break from the recent talk of Budget giveaways and election promises. Organised by the Policy Institute, Trinity College Dublin, in association with the Public Policy Advisors Network, the aim was to discuss what are and what should be the policy priorities of the next Government.

Some interesting contributions included that from Dan O’Brien, in which he examined medium term policy challenges, noting the ageing demographics generally as well as a sharp decline, over the last five years, in the number of those aged in their twenties. This is attributed to the birth rate as well as emigration and the ageing of that cohort of East European migrants that came here before the crash.

Another key policy theme which is likely to become a policy priority is Ireland’s response to the EU’s 2030 energy and climate change targets. The recent recession, which gave rise to a reduction in emissions (purely because of a contraction in economic activity), relegated the urgency of this policy priority. The return to economic growth will ensure that this is likely to become a more important policy priority. It was proposed that the next Government should appoint a senior Minister with responsibility for the low carbon agenda.

Considering the economics of the next programme for Government, Stephen Kinsella and Ronan Lyons examined the patterns of national economic growth since 2002 – characterised initially from 2002-2007 by a rapidly growing economy, followed by the economic crisis of 2007-2011 which in turn was followed by a period of readjusting public spending and restoring economic confidence in 2011-2016.

It is suggested that the period from 2016 could be that of ‘coming full circle’, with a rapidly growing economy and a need to manage expectations. In learning from our past mistakes, fiscal policy is key and the authors advocate the use of the concept of the Social Return on Investment (SROI). This differs from the current cost based accounting approach to public spending to a more holistic economic approach where the wider costs and benefits of a proposal would be measured. In doing, so the full implications of a cut are captured e.g. €100 cut to caregivers allowance, which then drives people into the public health system thereby negating any ‘savings’. This is arguably a more useful way of evaluating public policy instruments, allowing a more holistic measure of the effects of policies.

Examining Local Government and Spatial Planning, Seán Ó’Riordáin and John Martin point to the need for a new  long-term spatial plan for Ireland (the National Planning Framework) and the need to learn lessons from the National Spatial Strategy. The role of local government in supporting long term development of both rural and urban areas needs to be addressed.

Bringing the concept of Social Return on Investment to the debate on spatial planning, regional, rural and urban development might help advance this debate and the policy choices which arise. In considering investment decisions to support development of the regions, both urban and rural, measuring the Social Return on Investment might lead to different outcomes when considering cuts to or additional investment in various services in regional and rural locations.

For example, decisions on the closure of public services offices in regional and rural locations such as post offices, government outreach offices, garda stations etc. are usually based on cutting operational expenditure, including staff costs or economies of scale.  These cuts can deliver immediate financial savings for the organisation but this narrow view does not take account of the accumulated long term impact on the local economy, the overall needs of society and the disabling impact on local communities.

Taking account of the social rate of return allows for a more holistic economic and societal perspective, rather than solely on the efficiencies and financial savings generated for the individual organisation.  In doing so, the wider impacts beyond a particular locality can be captured, for example, unemployment and migration from rural areas and other regional centres can add to already significant pressures on housing and transport services in the capital. This in turn requires additional investment in infrastructure and services, which is often more expensive to deliver in congested urban areas. Examining all costs and benefits and the social rate of return could help us to make better, more informed choices.


The presentations are available at the PPAN website

Deirdre Frost

The Western Region’s Labour Market

The WDC has just published a new analysis of the Western Region’s Labour Market. This is based on a special run of data from the CSO’s QNHS for the period 2004-2014 for the seven-county Western Region. Understanding the region’s labour market is important for effective job creation, enterprise and skills policy.

In 2014 the Western Region’s adult population was just over 600,000 with 350,000 active in the labour force. Its labour force has contracted since 2012, largely because of outward migration, and is characterised by higher part-time, under- and self-employment, for both men and women. These are distinct differences in the nature of the region’s labour market that may point to certain weaknesses which need to be addressed by tailored job creation actions for the region.

Western Regions adult populatin diagram


Some of the key findings of the analysis are:

  1. Lower labour force participation in the Western Region: A smaller share of the Western Region’s adult population is engaged in the labour market and therefore economically active. The region’s participation rate in 2014 is 57.7% compared with 60.1% in the rest of the state. As human capital is among the most critical factors for regional economic development, this has negative implications for the region’s economic growth and viability. The higher level of economic dependency, resulting from the larger proportion of the population outside of the labour force, also has important social impacts and increases the need for state transfers.
  2. Higher share of self-employment: The region has a higher share of self-employment (without employees) than the rest of the state – 16.3% of all employment in the region compared with 11.4% in the rest of the state. This increases the importance of policy and supports to facilitate the self-employed to establish and sustain their businesses, such as soft business supports, quality broadband, networking, etc. Many may work from home or are mobile and are engaged in local services and therefore outside the remit of the enterprise agencies. They play a particularly significant role in sustaining rural communities and economies. This role, and their needs, requires further investigation and policy focus.
  3. Higher share of part-time working and recent jobs growth more likely to be part-time: There is a higher degree of part-time working in the region with 25.7% of all jobs in the region in 2014 part-time, compared with 23.5% in the rest of the state. Recent jobs growth has also been more likely to be part-time in the region than elsewhere. While part-time working can play an important role for those with caring and other commitments, the greater share of recent jobs growth in the region that is part-time raises some concerns over the nature of employment and the quality of recent jobs growth. A focus on stimulating more full-time jobs should be built into job creation policy for the region.
  4. Lower employment growth: Employment in the region grew over 2012-2014 by 1.4% but this was less than in the rest of the state (3.9%). The jobs recovery in the region is lagging that elsewhere. Initiatives to stimulate and facilitate job creation in regional locations are required to address the region’s weaker jobs performance.
  5. Declining unemployment influenced by out-migration: Unemployment has declined by 28.4% since 2012 but this has only partially been caused by jobs growth. The greater part is due to the loss of unemployed people from the region, either overseas or to other parts of Ireland. The decline in unemployment in the region has been stronger than elsewhere, leading to its unemployment rate dropping below that in the rest of the state (11.5% compared with 12.1% in 2014), reflecting the significant impact of out-migration on the region’s labour market.
  6. Higher youth unemployment rate: The Western Region has a higher youth (15-24 yrs) unemployment rate, 29.2% compared with 24.6% in the rest of the state. As the region has a lower total unemployment rate, this indicates that youth unemployment is a more serious challenge for the region. High youth unemployment can have very significant long-term impacts, as a period of unemployment at a young age can hinder the person’s career prospects and earnings potential. The needs of young jobseekers in the Western Region should be a key policy priority, nationally and for the region, both to prevent them from falling into long-term unemployment and also to reduce out-migration.

These aspects of the Western Region’s labour market should inform the development of the upcoming Action Plan for Jobs for the West, Border and Mid-West regions. The distinctive characteristics of the region’s labour market profile should influence which policies are prioritised for the region and the sectors of focus for job creation strategies. A new WDC Insights on the Western Region’s sectoral profile will be published in coming weeks.

Download two-page WDC Insights WDC Insights-The Western Region’s Labour Market-April 2015 (PDF 0.2MB)

Download full WDC report The Western Region’s Labour Market 2004-2014-WDC Report March 2015 (PDF 2.5MB)

Pauline White