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City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions- Conference Report

The Regional Studies Association Irish Branch Annual Conference was held in the Institute of Technology Sligo on Friday 7th September.  Appropriate for the location, it had the theme “City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions”.  The presentations are available here.

Figure 1: Dr Chris O’Malley from Sligo IT

The conference covered a range of themes relating to regional development and how urban areas interact with their rural regions.  It was opened by Dr Chris O’Malley from Sligo IT who discussed the role of Sligo IT in the development of industry and manufacturing in the region and the IT’s role as an integrator of national policy at regional level.  Dr Deirdre Garvey, chairperson of the Western Development Commission, welcomed delegates to the conference noting how pleased the WDC was to be sponsoring the Annual Conference.  She also welcomed the fact that the conference was taking place in the North West, given the recognition in the National Planning Framework of the specific challenges for the region and how the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) process highlight the distinct challenges and opportunities for our predominantly rural region.

These addresses were followed by a very interesting session on the history of Irish planning over the last 50 years.  Dr Proinnsias Breathnach (Maynooth University) presented on regional development policy following the 1968 Buchanan report and its impact on industry locations and spatial development.  Dr Breathnach also presented the paper by Prof. Jim Walsh (Maynooth University) who was unable to attend the conference.  He examined the influence of both the Buchanan report and the 2002 National Spatial Strategy, considered the learnings from these and the factors which will influence the success of the National Planning Framework process.  Finally in this session, Prof. Des McCafferty (University of Limerick) presented on the structural and spatial evolution of the Irish urban hierarchy since Buchanan, and examined urban population data over time and the distribution of population across the settlement hierarchy.  He noted that it was important to understand changes projected by the NPF in the context of historic trends

Figure 2: Dr Proinnsias Breathnach (Maynooth University), Prof. Des McCafferty (University of Limerick) and Deirdre Frost (WDC)

After coffee the session on Regional Strategy and Planning covered a broad range of topics.  Louis Nuachi (DIT) presented on the importance of social and cultural objectives in town planning using a case study of planning in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.  David Minton, the CEO of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) discussed issues for the development of the North and West in the RSES, some of the historic development of the region and a number of the challenges in developing a region wide approach.  Finally in that session, John Nugent (IDA) discussed the IDA role in attracting Foreign Direct Investment to the region and some of the important factors which influence the location of FDI, including the importance of having a strong indigenous sector already in place and the ways the indigenous and foreign sectors are mutually beneficial.

After lunch international perspectives were provided by Dr Andrew Copus from the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and Professor Mark Partridge, the C. William Swank Chair of Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University.

Dr Copus paper  The Scottish City Region Deals – A rural development perspective noted that optimistic assumptions about how a wider functional region benefits from city investments, are commonplace and generally unquestioned, despite meagre evidence of such impacts.   He discussed the two strands of ideas on policy for urban rural development that of polycentricity and rural urban co-operation (theories which are stronger in EU countries and in OECD work), and City Regions (which have tended to have more focus in the UK).  He highlighted the importance of defining what is meant by rural when considering the impact of such regional policies and  he discussed the development and implementation of regional policy by the Scottish and UK governments in Scotland.

He noted that in general in these deals the dominant rationale relates more to “Smart Specialisation” than to any kind of urban rural cooperation, interaction or spread effect concept, but the way growth deals developing for rural areas of Scotland will fit into the Post Brexit rural development landscape remains to be seen.

Figure 3: Audience at the conference

Prof. Mark Partridge’s paper Is there a future for Rural in an Urbanizing World and Should We Care? noted how rural areas have received increased attention with the rise of right-wing populist parties in Western countries, in which a strong part of their support is rural based. Thus, bridging this rural-urban economic divide takes on added importance in not only improving the individual livelihoods of rural residents but in increasing social cohesion.

He discussed the background of rural and peripheral economic growth, noting the United States is a good place to examine these due its spatial heterogeneity.   He showed that, contrary to public perceptions, in the US urban areas do not entirely dominate rural areas in terms of growth.  Rural US counties with greater shares of knowledge workers grow faster than metro areas (even metros with knowledge workers).

He had some clear suggestions for regional policy, noting that governance should shift from separate farm/rural/urban policies to a regional policy though a key issue is to get all actors to participate and believe their input is valued. In rural development it is important to leverage local social capital and networks to promote good governance and to treat all businesses alike and avoid “picking winners.  Rural communities should be attractive to knowledge workers and commuters, while quality of life, pleasant environment, sustainable development; good public services such as schools are important to attract return migrants.  Building local entrepreneurship is key too and business retention and expansion is better than tax incentives for outside investment.

Figure 4: Dr Chris Van Egeraat (Maynooth University)

In the final session ‘Understanding Regional and Urban Dynamics’ I gave a presentation on what regional accounts can tell up about our regional economies and discussed some of the issues associated with the regional data and the widening of disparities among regions.  Dr Chris Van Egeraat (Maynooth University) presented a paper, written with Dr Justin Doran (UCC) which used a similar method to Prof. Partridge to estimate trickle down effects of Irish Urban centres and how they influence the population in their wider regions.  Finally Prof. Edgar Morgenroth (DCU) presented on the impacts of improvements in transport accessibility across Ireland highlighting some of the changes in accessibility over time and noted that despite these changes human capital is the most important factor influencing an area’s development.

While the conference had smaller attendance than previous years there was good audience participation and discussion of the themes.  The conference papers are now available on the WDC website here and will shortly be available on the RSA website.

 

Helen McHenry

Issues for the Western Region’s SMEs

The WDC recently made a submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the important topic of Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland.

In our submission we highlighted that the Western Region is a predominantly rural region with 65% of the population living in rural areas (outside centres of 1,500).  Trends in the location of FDI investments, especially in the period of the recovery, have shown increasing concentration in Ireland’s cities and their hinterlands, although this year has seen greater distribution (e.g. to Sligo) as Dublin’s cost of living and housing shortages drive multinationals to seek other locations. Regardless of this however, FDI is only one element of job and enterprise growth and is not the solution for the vast majority of the Western Region.  Therefore supporting the start-up, expansion and viability of Irish indigenous SMEs is at the core of both the region and Ireland’s future growth.

Indeed the important role of SMEs in regional development will be among the topics discussed at this Friday’s Regional Studies Association Annual Conference at IT Sligo, on the theme City-Led Development & Peripheral Regions.  International keynote speakers Professor Mark Partridge (US) and Dr Andrew Copus (Scotland) will be joined by academics and policymakers from Ireland to consider how (or indeed if) a ‘city-region’ regional policy approach can really bring benefits for peripheral regions and rural areas. Register now

SMEs in the Western Region

In 2016 there were 51,574 SMEs (under 250 persons) registered in the seven-county Western Region, and only 50 larger enterprises.[1]  Next week the WDC will publish a new WDC Insights publication examining enterprise data for the Western Region.

In our submission, we noted that SMEs located in the Western Region, including those in small and medium-sized towns, villages and rural areas, face some specific challenges:

  • Small local markets and distance from larger markets;
  • Poor transport connectivity (for staff and freight) with no motorway in the Western Region north of Tuam and often poor quality local and regional roads linking to primary and secondary routes;
  • Weaker broadband infrastructure (access and speed) constraining online operations;
  • Poor mobile phone coverage for voice calls and data;
  • Difficulties in identifying and recruiting suitably qualified staff, especially at senior managerial and technical levels;
  • Lack of regional seed and early stage venture capital funders;
  • Declining populations in some areas, especially in the economically active (and higher spending) age categories;
  • Reduced activity and footfall in smaller town centres with the growth of online retail and improved transport access to larger urban centres offering greater retail and service choice;
  • Isolation and lack of networking opportunities;
  • For SMEs based around Galway city, traffic congestion can be a major constraint;
  • SMEs in Border counties and throughout the Western Region currently face uncertainty regarding the implications of BREXIT. After March 2019 there may be very significant impacts on their businesses.  These smaller businesses are most vulnerable, lacking staff and resources to change and develop in response to changes in their commercial relationships with the UK.

The submission then goes on to set out some specific policy recommendations on access to finance, recruitment and retention of suitably qualified staff and infrastructure.

Read the full submission here.

Pauline White

 

[1] CSO (2018), Business Demography 2016

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

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

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

Two international experts, Dr Andrew Copus from the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and Professor Mark Partridge, the C. William Swank Chair of Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University, have been invited to present other countries’ experience on this theme and to stimulate debate about the reality of city led development.

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

Mark’s paper Is there a future for Rural in an Urbanizing World and Should We Care? examines how rural areas have received increased attention with the rise of right-wing populist parties in Western countries, in which a strong part of their support is rural based. While the underlying reasons are complex and unique to each country, one common feature is that rural areas have typically faced recent economic decline, creating anxiety, and in some cases, anger of rural residents directed at their urban counterparts. Thus, bridging this rural-urban economic divide takes on added importance in not only improving the individual livelihoods of rural residents but in increasing social cohesion. One way to bridge this economic gap is to improve rural-urban economic linkages through an urban-led economic strategy. For example, urban growth can create commuting and market opportunities for rural residents and firms if there is sufficient connectivity. While such a process has strong theoretical advantages it also requires rural areas to more carefully think about quality of life to attract and retain residents who would otherwise relocate to urban areas.

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

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

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

 

Helen McHenry

Creating Stronger Rural Economies and Communities- A Forum

The Rural and Regional strand of Project Ireland 2040 was launched in Westport last Friday (13 July 2018) at a Forum held in the Town Hall Theatre.  The focus was on the National Strategic Outcome 3 in Project Ireland 2040 ‘Strengthened Rural Economies and Communities’.

The Forum, themed “Creating Stronger Rural Economies and Communities”, was co-hosted by the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and featured panel discussions and a keynote address from An Taoiseach .  The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed T.D. also spoke at the event as did Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring T.D.  Minister of State Sean Kyne T.D. was also in attendance and participated in the event.

The speeches highlighted the recently launched €1 billion Regeneration & Development Fund which was a key commitment in Project Ireland 2040.  The Fund is to support collaborative, innovative and transformative projects across both public and private sector bodies and successful projects will leverage additional funding to maximise their impact in communities.

The Forum was structured around two panel discussions on the themes of creating stronger rural communities and creating stronger rural economies.

Creating Stronger Rural Communities

The first “How do we create stronger rural communities?” included An Taoiseach Leo Vardakar on the Panel along with Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring T.D.  Also on the panel were Dr Maura Farrell from NUI Galway and the designated researcher for the National Rural Network (NRN), Ms Anna Marie Delaney the Chief Executive of Offaly County Council and Ms Irene Kavanagh from Kerry Social Farming.

The discussion was largely focussed on the farm family and farm diversification although Minister Ring also stressed the significant investments made under the Town and Village Renewal scheme and the benefits of investment in Digital and Food Hubs in rural towns under that Programme.

Creating Stronger Rural Economies

The second Panel discussion “How do we create stronger rural economies?” was preceded by a short presentation from Minister of State Sean Kyne T.D. and the panel members were three rural entrepreneurs. Mr Colman Keohane from Keohane Seafoods in Co Cork, Ms Evelyn O’Toole founder and CEO of CLS in Co. Galway and Ms Natalie Keane, from Bean and Goose , artisan chocolate company from Co. Wexford.  The panel also included Enterprise Ireland’s Manager for Regions & Entrepreneurship, Mark Christal.

The entrepreneurs told stories of their business set up and development and there was lively discussion of the positives and negatives for small business in rural Ireland.

 

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed T.D. closed the Forum with thoughtful comments on the need to reimagine a rural Ireland that is fit for purpose today.  He noted that for rural Ireland to thrive it needs young people and they will want good quality of life, good jobs and connectivity in order to remain in rural Ireland.  He emphasised that, in thinking of the future for rural Ireland the focus should not just be on what worked before.  We need to consider the current context and develop a rural Ireland that works for now.

Attendees also received a publication “Strengthening Rural Economies and Communities’ which includes descriptions of schemes and policies which impact on rural Ireland and a number of case studies of businesses, farms and communities which have benefited from the schemes.

 

 

Helen McHenry

Annual Conference of Regional Studies Association

The WDC is sponsoring this year’s Annual Conference of the Irish Branch of the Regional Studies Association. The theme of this year’s conference is ‘City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions’ and takes place on Friday, 7th September at IT Sligo

Submission themes

The call for papers for the conference is now open. Abstracts of no more than 250 words can be submitted here. Presentations from policymakers, academia and practitioners active in the field of regional studies, as well as post-graduate students are welcome. Presentations may deal with, amongst others, the following themes:

  • Cities as a source of economic growth
  • Development in peripheral regions
  • Urban centres and economic development
  • The National Planning Framework and governance
  • The National Planning Framework and housing
  • Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies
  • Local and regional economic forums
  • New approaches to regional development
  • International comparator cases

Other contributions dealing with the topic of regional studies are invited and may be included in focussed sessions.

Speakers

Two international speakers have already been confirmed:

Dr Andrew Copus, The James Hutton Institute, Scotland: Andrew Copus joined the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences Group of The James Hutton Institute in March 2013. For the previous eight years he was a Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio (Nordic Centre for Spatial Development, Stockholm) and the Centre for Remote and Rural Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands.

Andrew is an economic geographer by training, whose research interests relate to the changing rural economy and rural/regional policy. Much of his work has been based upon analysis of small area or regional secondary data and indicators. He has a long-standing interest in territorial rural development and regional disparities, which through recent projects is presented as “rural cohesion policy”.

Much of Andrew’s work has had a European perspective, variously funded by Framework Programmes, ESPON and as a consultant for the European Commission. He has studied the role of rural business networks, the changing nature of peripherality and most recently, patterns and trends in poverty and social exclusion.

Professor Mark Partridge, ​Ohio State University, USA: Mark Partridge is the C. William Swank Chair of Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University and a Professor in the AED Economics Department. He has published over 125 peer-reviewed journal papers in journals such as the American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Geography, Journal of Urban Economics, and Review of Economics and Statistics. He co-authored the book ‘The Geography of American Poverty: Is there a Role for Place-Based Policy?’

Dr. Partridge’s current research interests include investigating regional economic growth, urban spillovers on rural economies, why regions grow at different rates, and spatial differences in income equality and poverty.  Dr. Partridge has consulted with OECD, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and various governments in the U.S. and Canada, as well as with the European Commission. He has presented to the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament on regional issues.

Registration

The conference fee will be €70, including lunch, and online registration will open in the coming months. In the meantime any queries regarding registration should be sent to chris.vanegeraat@mu.ie or Justin.doran@ucc.ie

How can we develop renewable heat use in the Western Region?

The WDC has recently published an analysis study of opportunities for the development of the renewable heat sector in the Western Region.  The study ‘A Regional Renewable Energy Analysis: Using Biomass to Contribute to the National Renewable Heat Target’ was under taken as the Western Development Commission (WDC), along with SEAI, were tasked under the Action Plan for Jobs: West Region 2015 – 2017  (Action 134 ) to undertake a Regional renewable energy analysis on the use of biomass as a local contribution to the national renewable heat target and develop a range of actions to support the development of renewable energy in the region”.

The study considers the use of biomass use in the WDC region (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare), along with an assessment of the potential contribution to the national renewable heat target.  The analysis focused on ‘solid biomass’ – that is forest derived wood fuels used for energy production[1].

The use of biomass for heat generation is likely to have the greatest potential for the Western Region in the immediate future in achieving the renewables heat target and reducing carbon emissions.  An EU 2020 target of 16% renewable energy is to be achieved by 2020 across the electricity, transport and heat (and cooling) sectors in all member states. Ireland is one of only four countries in Europe expected to miss its renewable energy target[2][3].  Heat is the largest of these three sectors, and Ireland has a target of 12% of final heating demand be derived from renewable sources by 2020.

Between September and December 2017, the survey of biomass deployment in the WDC region was undertaken which found seven large industrial biomass schemes using 110,000 tonnes of wood fuels a year. The installed capacity of these schemes ranges from 2,000kW to 22,000kW (31.2 Kilotonne of Oil Equivalent (ktoe)). The survey also found 43 smaller non-domestic biomass installations with installed capacities ranging from 50kW to 550kW. Only 24 of these are known to be operational, representing 6,600kW of installed capacity using 6,269 tonnes of wood fuel a year (1.74 ktoe).

In the WDC region, total biomass deployment is equal to 32.94 ktoe. This represents 8.1% of the Western Region heat market.  Taking into account the already installed biomass, this means 7.78 ktoe of new biomass deployment is needed by 2020 to achieve a target of 12% renewable heat for the Region.

This would require €35 million of capital investment and would create 70 new full time jobs and save 28,000 tonnes of CO2. As the potential total market is estimated to be 275MW, suggesting that 35MW of new capacity is a viable aspiration.

The WDC proposed 2018 – 2020 Action Programme, which is part of this report, considers how some of these barriers can be overcome and the growth of biomass could be achieved in the Western Region.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] There is a modest percentage of non-solid biomass used to generate renewable energy, and this has been commented upon in the report where appropriate.

[2]https://www.seai.ie/Publications/Statistics_Publications/Energy_Modelling_Group_Publications/Ireland%E2%80%99s-Energy-Targets-Progress-Ambition-and-Impacts.pdf

[3] The others are the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg

What is Rural?

Many of us probably feel we know what rural means.  Perhaps when we hear the word we think of green fields, or wild mountains, or deserted beaches.  Or maybe we think of small villages, modern bungalows or just anywhere beyond ‘the big smoke’.  Arguably all of these are or can be considered rural and, indeed, in most situations it is not important how we define rural.  We know what it is, we use our mental definition, we even have casual conversations where everyone is talking about a different ‘rural’ and for the most part that doesn’t matter.

But is does matter when we come to make policy for rural places and when we think what should be included in ‘rural policy’, because the kind of policy we make and the kind of issues we address are strongly influenced by what we define as rural.  If we think of rural as fields and pastures then we may think of rural policy as agricultural policy, and if we think of it as market towns and pretty villages we may see it as a heritage or cultural issue and when we think of rural dwellers we have to think about how different policies affect people.

Defining Rural

The question of how we define rural for policy purposes and in relation to people rather than based on landscapes or places has not been resolved in Ireland.  While the OECD uses a definition relating to population density[1], the CSO defines the rural population as those living outside settlements of 1,500 people, while CEDRA (the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas) defined rural as those areas outside the administrative boundaries of the five main cities (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford).  That definition includes some large urban settlements like Ennis, Dundalk and Kilkenny.  Realising our Rural Potential- the Action Plan for Rural Development refers to the CEDRA definition and provides a map of population densities but does not specify a definition of rural.

Finally, and most recently, the new Draft National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040- Our Plan defines rural as all areas outside towns of 10,000, unless they are within the immediate or ‘metropolitan’ catchment of a city[2].

How we define rural impacts on how many people we are considering when we make rural policy.  Is it a minority, niche policy, or something relevant to a majority of the population?  With the different definitions we get a very different population groups.  Under the OECD definition (a variation of which is used by Eurostat) 70.5% of the state population is predominantly rural.  Ireland is the most rural of the EU27 countries for both population and land area (for more information see note 1 below).

Looking at the different definitions used in Irish policy making (by the CSO, CEDRA and the NPF), for both the state as a whole and the Western Region we can see significant differences in the proportion of the population which is rural.

Figure 1: Percentage of the population living in rural areas according to definition for Western Region and State

Source: CSO Census of Population 2016,  Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements / E2014 own calculations

The Western Region is a very rural region and, whichever definition is used, the majority of the Region’s population falls into that category.  The CSO has the narrowest definition, with fewest defined as rural people (65%, or 535,953 people in the Western Region) while the CEDRA definition is inevitably the broadest, including on two thirds of the population of thewhole state (90% of the people in the Western Region). Nationally the definition of rural can take in anything between 37% and 66% of the population (between 1.8 and 3.1m people).

Looking at what is defined as rural in the three Regional Assembly Areas, which are important policy regions in the NPF and forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (to be developed by the Regional Assemblies) there is a clear contrast among the regions.

Figure 2: Percentage of the population living in rural areas according to definition for three Regional Assembly Areas

Source: CSO Census of Population 2016,  Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements / E2014 own calculations

The NWRA is the most rural, with at least two thirds of its population classified as rural in the narrowest definition.  The EMRA, even using the broadest definition, has less than half its population defined as rural.

Rural Policy or Policy for Rural People?

Given the rural population numbers, whichever definition is used, most policy affecting the Western Region is  rural policy as it impacts on the majority of the population.  Even policy which focuses more on Galway and the larger towns has important effects on rural people as these are centres of employment, enterprise education and health services.

The question becomes whether policy for a rural region is rural policy or, given that more than half population is living in rural areas, are not the needs of a rural region integral to all policy, including that for enterprise, employment, healthcare or transport?  Does labelling large parts of the country as rural and expecting their needs to be covered by a ‘rural policy’ serve those dwelling in rural areas well?  Does it ensure infrastructure provision takes account of our settlement pattern as it is, rather than as we think it should be?  Or, if we treat rural as different and needing separate policy rather than as an integral part of our policy focus, can we ensure that businesses can operate efficiently throughout the country, or that people can find varied employment in different places?  These are not narrow issues of rural policy but involve addressing the needs of the wider population through all government policy

Clearly areas which are very peripheral and which have small populations have particular policy requirements but most people in rural areas, however they are defined, have the same needs for employment, healthcare, education and transport as the rest of the population.  It is therefore not only important to consider how we define rural but why we are doing so, and how these definitions can be used to ensure people throughout the Region and the country have their needs addressed equally.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] The OECD methodology classifies local administrative units level 2 with a population density below 150 inhabitants per km² as rural.  For more information on the definition see http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Urban-rural_typology

[2] These catchments are not mapped in the draft NPF and it is not clear how much of the country is considered to be within the influence of a city.

Capital Infrastructure priorities – Broadband remains top of the list!

Engineers Ireland recently published The State of Ireland 2017, which focuses on the state of Ireland’s infrastructure and the extent to which it is fit for purpose. This is timely as the Government are in the process of considering the capital infrastructure priorities to be funded over the next few years.

This State of Ireland 2017 report, download here (3.4MB), is the seventh in a series of annual independent reports, on the state of the country’s infrastructure, informed by panel discussions and expert advisory groups.

This year’s report focuses on two key sectors, transport and communications though the report also makes separate recommendations on the infrastructure areas of energy, water supply and wastewater; flood management, water quality and waste infrastructure.

Transport

Ireland’s transport system was awarded a ‘C’ grade – meaning it is of mediocre standard: It is inadequately maintained, and / or unable to meet peak demand, and requiring significant investment. The report notes that investment in Ireland’s transport infrastructure is simply too low to support economic growth and jobs and more investment is needed to reduce congestion and increase sustainability.

Communications

The WDC was a member of the Communications Advisory Group which considered the coverage and connectivity of Ireland’s communications network and how Ireland’s communications network rates with the country’s needs.

As is evident from the report, unlike any other infrastructure considered, the quality of the broadband and communications network was graded spatially. A different grade was awarded depending on whether the infrastructure was located in urban, intermediate urban or remote rural areas which highlights the different quality of the infrastructure depending on location.

The urban areas are classed as the five major cities of Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Intermediate urban areas are those other urban areas and surrounding townlands. The third category, rural including remote rural are the hinterlands of towns and remote locations.

Considering the question How would you rate Ireland’s communications network with the country’s needs, urban and intermediate urban were awarded a ‘B’ grade, whereas rural areas were awarded  ‘D’, conveying a poor, below standard poorly maintained, frequent inability to meet capacity and requiring immediate investment to avoid adverse impact on the national economy. The report notes that in rural and remote rural areas, State intervention is needed and the Government’s NBP programme must intervene for 542,000 premises representing 21% or one million of the national population.

For those of us who have long advocated that intervention is needed and that the National Broadband Plan needs to be implemented speedily and comprehensively, none of the report’s finding are a surprise. However the fact that the Communications Advisory Group, composed of companies such as the main telecoms providers, the telecoms regulator and Google among others, highlights the universal agreement that investment is needed as a matter of urgency.

Census 2016

Elsewhere, publication of Census 2016 data provides county data on broadband use in households.

Census 2016 Summary Results Part 1 Section 9, download here (1.1MB) shows the increasing take-up of broadband nationally, from 20% in 2006 to 70.7% in 2016.

The report also highlights the rural – urban divide where 61.1% of households in rural areas have a broadband connection compared to 76.2% of urban households. Looking at counties in the Western Region, all have a broadband rate lower than the state average of 70.7%, apart from Galway city, see Fig 1 below. Leitrim and Roscommon have the lowest broadband rates across the Region with 58% and 59.8% respectively.

Fig 1. Percentage of households with broadband internet access, Western counties 2006-2016

The National Broadband Plan

These same counties are relatively poorly served with broadband infrastructure. As the State of Ireland 2017 report shows the more rural areas are often the least well served. Under the National Broadband Plan the Western Region counties are among those requiring the most state intervention in rolling out high speed broadband networks. While 23% of premises nationally will be included in the National Broadband Plan ‘Intervention Area’, the rate is much higher across the Western Region with an average of 36.5% of all premises. Counties such as Roscommon and Leitrim are particularly dependent on the National Broadband Plan with 48% and 51% of premises respectively in the NBP Intervention area. The state intervention area in the other counties of the Western Region extends to 44% of premises in Mayo, 36% in Sligo, 34% in Donegal, 34% in Clare and 29% in Galway.

How Ireland Compares Internationally

Data recently released from the OECD highlights the need for urgent investment in Ireland’s fibre based broadband infrastructure. As Figure 2 below shows, Ireland is nearly at the bottom of the pile for the percentage of fibre connections as a share of total broadband subscriptions.

Fig 2. Percentage of fibre connections in total broadband subscriptions, December 2016

Located 4th from the bottom of OECD countries, this data published in July 2017 relates to December 2016 and there is likely to be an improvement since then, however the relative position of Ireland in the OECD group shows how far we are from being in the top tier. Without a doubt, investment in fibre connectivity throughout the country is needed. These data and additional comparative data across the OECD are available for download here.

 

Deirdre Frost

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.