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Balanced regional development – What does it mean?

It is clear that some regions in Ireland are growing much more than others (see Regions and Recovery post), with some even showing ‘growth strains’ (Dublin Economic Monitor, Issue 1, Spring 2015, p.4 ). It is also evident that while national economic growth is the main policy objective, policy on where this growth should occur is less clear. This lack of direction is compounded by the hiatus waiting for the development of a successor to the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) (2002), which is not likely to emerge until late 2016 at the earliest.

In the meantime, work to promote ‘balanced regional development’ continues with policy initiatives and actions being developed to spread growth and development more widely across the country, including the recently announced IDA Strategy 2015-2019  to boost regional FDI employment, along with the formulation of Regional

Action Plans for Jobs, and the implementation of recommendations from the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA).  These initiatives seem to have largely emerged because of growing unease at the uneven spatial pattern of economic recovery.

However the term ‘balanced regional development’ is open to many interpretations and recent commentary provides evidence of that. Though the term is widely used, confusion or obfuscation over what is actually intended has not helped the debate on policy implications and direction, let alone any efforts at implementation. Indeed some might argue that the term is used because it is so vague.

In developing a successor to the NSS, it is important to learn from the experience since 2002 and while poor implementation is often cited as the main reason for the NSS’s limited success, lack of clarity on what ‘balanced regional development’ really meant was also a contributing factor.

A range of meanings

Balanced regional development was expressed as a key Government policy objective in the NSS 2002- 2020 published in 2002 and was a key objective of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 (2006). Though balanced regional development became an important government policy, it was not clearly or consistently defined and a range of interpretations and meanings were evident.

In 2002 the NSS stated that

‘In order to achieve more balanced regional development, a greater share of economic activity must take place outside the GDA’ (p. 3). This suggests increasing the rate of growth and the share of growth in regions other than the GDA and/or curtailing the rate of growth in the GDA, reducing its share of national economic activity.

Elsewhere the NSS argued that all areas should experience growth… by increasing economic activity in all areas’ (p. 4).

The other concept which is very prevalent throughout the NSS is that of realising potential and many would argue that this, rather than reducing disparities, became the main definition. ‘In essence, balanced regional development means [d]eveloping the full potential of each area to contribute to the optimal performance of the State as a whole – economically, socially and environmentally’. (p.11)

The development of the urban structure and a more balanced distribution of population were also considered important. ‘Balanced regional development also depends on building up a strong urban structure to give areas the economic strength to support a more balanced distribution of population growth across the country’. (p.26)

In Chapter two, the lack of clarity on what is meant by balanced regional development was evident in the following

‘The question that arises, however, is whether the objective of balanced regional development would be better served if more growth in population could be encouraged in other regions, while still nurturing and sustaining the successful dynamic achieved in Dublin’. (p.29)

It is evident that within the NSS there was a range of meanings implied in the concept of balanced regional development, which result in different policy objectives for example:

  • Growing regions outside the GDA (p.3) suggested reducing the imbalance between regions, implying slower growth rates in stronger regions and faster growth in weaker regions leading to more regional convergence.
  • Increasing economic activity in all areas (p. 4), could mean equivalent growth rates across all regions or could mean very different growth rates resulting in either convergence or divergence.
  • While the concept of regional potential is used, what exactly was intended and how it could be measured was even less clear.

Balanced regional development, and how it has been expressed and defined, reflects a spectrum of meanings and objectives in government policy.

The Current Context

Population changes (migration in particular), reflect, among other things, economic development, growth rates and potential in terms of economic opportunities. The current pattern of population growth is not dissimilar to that which occurred at the start of the 2000s when the NSS was being formulated. The share of national population in the GDA rose from 37.7% in 1971 to 39.2% in 2002. (p.29)

This continues, with population increasingly concentrated in the GDA and forecast to continue in this way. WDC analysis of the latest CSO Regional Population Projections 2016-2031 shows that the GDA is projected to increase its share of national population to 42.3% in 2031 while all other regions are projected to have a reduced share (though still experiencing population growth).

The population of working age will become more concentrated, with the West and Border being the only regions with a projected decline in their working age population and consequent increases in older and younger age dependency ratios (see previous post).

Growing concentration can also be seen in economic activity. In 2002 the GDA accounted for 46.2% of the State’s total Gross Value Added (GVA), in 2012 its share was 49.6% (CSO, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2012).

Lessons to be learned

In considering the formulation of a new spatial plan or National Planning Framework to frame economic development throughout Ireland, it will be important to draw on valuable lessons learned from the NSS 2002.

Poor implementation is often cited as the main reason for the limited success of the NSS. While this is no doubt a factor, a key aspect of policy formulation must also be clearly defined policy objectives.

How we define balanced regional development (or any similar concept) is important.  Clear definition of regional balance, the need for regional equity or the development of regional potential will ultimately influence the policies used to achieve them.  Though such definitions are politically and practically difficult, failure to make clear what is meant by regional balance, with clear goals and targets will, as we have seen with the NSS, lead to policy failure and to further regional imbalance.

When considering a new national planning framework which aims to deliver balanced regional development, deciding and agreeing what we actually mean by balanced regional development and how we measure it would be a useful starting point which might ultimately ensure a greater chance of success.

Deirdre Frost

 

WDC presents on Creative Economy to JOC

The WDC was invited to present to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation on its work in developing the Creative Economy. On Tuesday 21 April, the WDC as well as NUI Galway, Teagasc, the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland and TG4 presented on the potential for job creation, innovation and balanced economic development in the creative sector.

The WDC has worked with this sector since 2008. At that time, after the collapse of the building sector and its knock-on impacts across the domestic economy, there was a clear need to identify and support new sources of regional economic growth and job creation. The creative industries sector was in many ways an obvious choice for the region as it is mainly made up of self-employed or micro-enterprises with people quite embedded in their local area. The sector was showing strong growth internationally and could create jobs and contribute to tourism, including in rural areas.

As there was little research in Ireland at the time, the WDC commissioned Creative Sector Baseline Report 2008 (PDF 2.5MB) to investigate the size and nature of the region’s creative sector and to identify its key issues. The Creative West 2009 (PDF 1.9MB) report found that there were 4,800 businesses in the creative sector in the Western Region, employing 11,000 people and generating €534m in annual turnover, directly contributing €270m to the Gross Value Added of the regional economy.   There was limited export activity however with two-thirds not engaged in any exporting. The majority of those in the sector were self-employed with 40% working alone and almost 90% being micro-enterprises.

Quality of life and inspiration from the region’s landscape and culture were among the strongest motivators for creative people to live and work in the Western Region. They faced a number of constraints however that can be addressed by policy and enterprise supports. Chief among these are high bandwidth broadband for creative enterprises operating in rural areas, difficulties in finding and recruiting specific skills, and quite limited networking with others in the sector and wider business community.   Creative businesses often do not fit easily into the eligibility criteria for enterprise funding and may find it difficult to access finance.

The report set out a series of recommendations for developing the sector in the region which have formed the basis of the WDC’s activities to support the sector. Under Creative Edge  (a €1.2m transnational EU-funded project, 2011-2013) the WDC developed the MyCreativeEdge.eu website to provide an online showcase for creative enterprises, with over 550 now profiled on the site. The new 3-year, €2m Creative Momentum project will further develop new routes to export markets for creative enterprises, as well as providing international networking opportunities with creative enterprises from Northern Ireland, Iceland, Sweden and Finland. The WDC Micro-Loan Fund: Creative Industries  provides loans of €5,000-€25,000 to creative enterprises and to date has funded 12 creative enterprises across the Western Region.

Nationally the Action Plan for Jobs identified the creative sector as one of the key sectoral opportunities for economic growth and job creation in Ireland. As the new Action Plan for Jobs – Regional process develops, it is important that the potential of the creative industries to contribute to sustainable job creation and enterprise growth at a regional level be recognised and the sector supported. Under the Creative Edge project the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway developed the Creative Edge Policy Toolkit which set out a number of recommendations on policy actions that could be taken to support the sector’s growth. This could provide a useful input.

The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA)  has also identified creative industries as a key growth sector for rural economic diversification and recommended the development of a coordinated strategy for the sector that places specific focus on its potential to contribute to the rural economy. Such a coordinated strategy however needs to be worked out through sector-specific policies and actions in the areas of enterprise support, job creation, culture, skills development and regional economic development to make a meaningful contribution.

A full transcript of the discussion at the JOC can be found here

Pauline White

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

The Battle for Rural Ireland – RTE 1

RTE screened a documentary, The Battle for Rural Ireland, on 9th March 2015, to which Deirdre Frost contributed. Presented by Richard Curran, the programme highlights the challenges faced by rural communities and towns, both in the context of the recent recession and the outlook for further rural depopulation. Much of the projected population growth is to occur on the East coast.

You can watch the programme here (available until 30 March).

While urbanisation is not unique to Ireland, the programme shows the effects of population loss on rural areas, in terms of service provision and employment opportunities.

The Battle for Rural Ireland highlights some examples of innovative enterprise development and employment creation in rural areas but ultimately the need for stronger regional and rural policy is clear.

Deirdre Frost

International Air Access and the Western Region

Direct international air access is essential to the economy of the Western Region. For enterprises, quality transport links between producers, consumers and suppliers are needed to trade efficiently. Without good international connections, companies in the Region are at a competitive disadvantage compared to others, both within and outside Ireland. Additionally, the ability of the Region to attract new investment is hampered.

Air is the preferred form of travel for most tourists, with 82% of overseas visitors to the West arriving in Ireland by air. The value of direct international air access in supporting regional tourism is significant. Data suggests that those arriving into a Western airport are more valuable as they spend more time in the area. The Western region’s airports offer essential access for incoming visitors, linking into the 2,500 km Wild Atlantic Way route. Ireland West Airport Knock and Donegal airport are the main access points to the Western and Northern sections; Shannon airport to the Southern part.

Connectivity is vital for industry and tourism in the West of Ireland. Shannon airport is the only airport on the Western seaboard with hub connectivity via London Heathrow, although Ireland West Airport Knock has connections to other London airports. There are no other direct links from Shannon or Ireland West Airport to other European hubs. In the event of a decision to sell its shareholding, it is critical that the Government ensures that Shannon and Ireland West Airport maintain existing levels of connectivity to Europe and the US.

The two international airports located in the Western Region; Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock, along with Donegal regional airport are critical elements of the transport infrastructure of the Western Region. The WDC has previously made a submission to the Department of Transport see here, setting out its views on the formulation of the forthcoming National Aviation Policy, expected later this year.

Deirdre Frost

Rural Commuting to Urban Jobs

Data recently published by the WDC examines the extent of rural commuting to urban centres for work.

The WDC Policy Briefing No. 6 Commuting to Work, Rural Dwellers, Urban Jobs shows that over a third (35.5%) of workers live in rural areas, but just over a fifth of jobs (21.3%) are in rural areas.

This Policy Briefing shows that many rural dwellers commute to work over long distances and shows the importance of urban based employment as a very important element in sustaining rural communities. It highlights the need for job creation strategies to focus on where people live, in rural areas and towns across the country, and not just on the larger cities. Without greater efforts to disperse employment growth there is likely to be more pressure on rural dwellers to commute or move to take up jobs in the larger gateways.

The WDC Policy Briefing notes that

  • nearly one in five (19%) of all rural dwellers commute to work in one of the nine NSS gateways; and
  • one in four (24.4%) commute to work in towns
  • over a quarter of rural dwellers commuting to work in the Galway (25.6%) and Waterford (24.9%) gateways, work in IDA business parks
  • over 18% of rural dwellers commuting to work in Sligo work in IDA business parks

Based on analysis of Census 2011 Place of Work data (POWSCAR), the data show that across the country the most significant employment destination for rural dwellers is urban areas. These workers are profiled and case studies provide further insights.

The Policy Briefing can be downloaded from https://www.wdc.ie/wp-content/uploads/WDC_Policy-Briefing-no-6-Commuting-Final.pdf

Deirdre Frost

Note:

  • The Gateways are the nine National Spatial Strategy Gateways of Dublin, Cork, Limerick/Shannon, Galway, Waterford, Dundalk, Sligo, Letterkenny/(Derry) and Athlone/Tullamore/Mullingar.
  • Towns are those population centres of 1,500 and above and excluding the nine NSS gateways.
  • Rural is defined using the CSO classification where settlements with a population of less than 1,500 and open countryside are defined as rural.

Business Demography

The WDC has just published its analysis of the CSO Business Demography data (2011) which shows there were nearly 31,000 active enterprises operating in the Western Region. At 0.057 the average number of enterprises per working age person in the region was lower than that in the rest of the state (0.062).

Overall the Western Region’s enterprise base was more significantly damaged by the recession than elsewhere. Between 2006 and 2011 the decline in enterprise numbers in the Western Region was nearly twice that in the rest of the state (-18.4% compared with -9.8%).  The region’s largest enterprise sectors experienced the greatest declines.

Some sectors did show growth. Enterprise numbers in ‘education’, ‘information and communications’, ‘real estate’ and ‘professional, scientific and technical activities’ increased. While growth in these knowledge intensive sectors is very welcome, they continue to be less important to the region’s enterprise profile.

The Western Region has a less diverse enterprise profile than the rest of the state. It has a higher share of enterprises in sectors that mainly serve local, domestic or tourist markets, while knowledge intensive services account for a lower share of the region’s businesses. The region’s more urban counties tend to have greater enterprise diversity, with rural counties’ economies more concentrated by sector.

A WDC Insights summary or a more detailed WDC Report on the Business Demography data can be downloaded from https://www.wdc.ie/publications/reports-and-papers/

Pauline White

Note: This report was completed in late July, prior to the very recent publication of the data for 2012. The WDC’s analysis of the 2012 Business Demography data will be published soon.

County Incomes and Regional GDP

The WDC recently published its analysis of the latest County Incomes and Regional GDP data for 2011 produced by the CSO.

Our analysis shows that regional income disparities began to widen again in 2011 and that the West, Mid-West and Border regions had the largest declines in disposable income per person between 2010 and 2011.

At the same time national output is becoming more regionally concentrated in the stronger regions and the share coming from Dublin and the South West combined rose from 57.2% in 2002 to 59.9% in 2011.

The West has performed relatively well and its national position has strengthened to become the third largest contributor to national output. The Border region however has seen its national role decline, to the second smallest region in output terms.

Download  a two page WDC Insights summary here

A more detailed WDC Report, including analysis of county level income figures, is also available here

Pauline White