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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.

Infrastructure

  • 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

[1] http://www.nber.org/papers/w7503

New WDC Publication: WDC Policy Briefing No.7 e-Working in the Western Region: A Review of the Evidence

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has published its latest Policy Briefing WDC Policy Briefing No.7 e-Working in the Western Region: A Review of the Evidence, which is now available for download at the following link here.

e-Work is a method of working using information and communication technology in which the work is not bound to any particular location. Traditionally this has been understood as working remotely from the office, usually from home, whether full-time or for a period during the working week. e-Working can provide particular opportunities in regions like the Western Region where many are living some distance from key employment centres.

The WDC Policy Briefing, which includes case studies from companies and individuals, examines:

  • The extent of e-Working.
  • The way in which weaker broadband access in more rural locations impacts on the rate of e-Working.
  • Factors driving e-Work.
  • Recommendations on how e-Working can be further promoted.

This Policy Briefing shows that e-Working is a widespread practice but somewhat hidden from official statistics. It also shows that while there is demand for greater e-working, broadband speeds need to be improved.

The WDC Policy Briefing contains recommendations to support more e-Working, including priority rollout of the National Broadband Plan to those counties with the lowest broadband speeds. Additional case studies are also available for download from here.

Deirdre Frost

2017 – A very important year for Broadband and the National Broadband Plan

2017 – Contract Signing and Build Commencement

2017 is the year when contracts are to be awarded to one or two telecommunications companies to rollout a high speed broadband network as part of the much awaited National Broadband Plan.

For those companies and citizens across regional and rural Ireland trying to operate with very basic broadband services, this is a really important milestone. Not only will it signal the start of an actual physical build out of the network, it will also provide some reassurance that Government policy is actually starting to deliver.

It had been expected that contracts would be signed in June 2017, though late last year the bidders (there are three), indicated they may need more time to prepare their bids. See Dáil Q&A.

Notwithstanding the scale of the project and process, the bidders have had years to prepare for this bid and it is imperative that contracts are awarded and the build commences. Rural businesses have had to endure poor services for too long and in a global marketplace where online connectivity is a basic pre-requisite, rural businesses have to work harder than their urban counterparts to stay in business. Recent research highlights the significance of broadband infrastructure compared to other infrastructure in supporting local enterprises and their development.

Report of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce

In the meantime, just before Christmas 2016, the Report of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce was published. This report seeks to address the gaps in the current delivery of telecoms infrastructure and is focused more on addressing improvements in the short term, in addition and separate to the National Broadband Plan which is over a longer time frame.

This is a very welcome initiative, not least because there is a lot of dissatisfaction with mobile phone coverage, especially in rural areas. Also, anything that can ‘fill gaps’ in existing broadband provision should be progressed, as even when contracts for the NBP are signed, some will be waiting years for the planned new broadband infrastructure.

There are 40 actions aimed at assisting the rollout of mobile services and high speed broadband, to homes and businesses. These include measures to streamline planning procedures for telecoms infrastructure, actions to build out new ducting along the M7/M8, and measures to help consumers directly.

Key actions include:

  • The Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment will work with telecoms operators and ComReg (Commission for Communication Regulation) to identify mobile blackspots and come up with measures to address these blackspots.
  • All local authorities are to assign a Broadband officer who will act as a single point of contact for engagement with telecommunications operators building out infrastructure.
  • ComReg will develop and publish a new network coverage map, and develop a testing regime to measure the performance of mobile phone handsets which will help people to make informed choices on products and services they purchase.
  • There will be a new licensing regime to allow people to install high quality signal repeaters on their buildings – homes and businesses, which will boost their connectivity.
  • Work on building 95km of duct along the M7 / M8 Motorway, which will complete the ducting on the Cork-Dublin route is being undertaken by Transport infrastructure Ireland.
  • From Q1, 2017, all Local Authorities will apply waivers in respect of development contributions for telecoms infrastructure developments.
  • Other key actions include the review and updating of the relevant statutory planning guidelines to ensure consistency by local authorities, and the introduction of an online system to streamline the planning application process.

Spectrum Developments

  • ComReg expects to allocate spectrum in the 3.6GHz band in 2017. This will release an additional 86% of spectrum capacity, allowing fixed wireless and mobile operators to deliver services.
  • It is expected that by 2020 the 700MHz spectrum band is to be made available for use by the telecoms sector which will be particularly important in rural areas.

Finally, there is to be an Implementation Group established which is to drive and monitor the implementation of these actions.

 

For rural users, in the Western Region and across the country, lets hope 2017 will see delivery of these actions, that NBP contracts are awarded and the building of the National Broadband Plan Network commences.

Deirdre Frost

Call for Papers: Annual Conference of RSA-Irish Branch in partnership with WDC & NUI Galway

The WDC is delighted to be partnering with the Regional Studies Association (RSA) Irish branch and NUI Galway for this year’s RSA Annual Conference.  It will take place on Friday 9 September at NUI Galway.

This year’s theme is Planning for Regional Development: The National Planning Framework as a Roadmap for Ireland’s Future?

As the process of developing a new National Planning Framework – to replace the National Spatial Strategy – seems to be gathering pace after the hiatus caused by the election, it seems appropriate to focus on the NPF at this year’s conference.  The approach taken to the NPF and the closely linked Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, should have significant impacts on the future spatial pattern of development in Ireland.  How much of an impact will very much depend on the implementation systems that are put in place.

The conference will examine best international practice in spatial planning and consider what should be at the heart of Irish regional development and planning policy.  It will ask what vision for Ireland should underpin local, regional and national development over the next 30 years.

WDC_LOGO NUI_Galway_LOGO

 

 

 

Call for Papers:

A call for papers is now open. We are seeking presentations from policymakers, academia and practitioners active in the field of regional studies.  Post-graduate students are encouraged to submit.

Potential themes for presentations include:

  • The new National Planning Framework
  • One island, two jurisdictions
  • Visioning Ireland
  • The NPF and Governance
  • The NPF 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 will be included in focussed sessions.

Submissions:

Proposals for presentations (in the form of a 250 word abstract) should be submitted through the Regional Studies Association – Irish Branch online portal by 31st July 2016. Submissions should be forwarded to chris.vanegeraat@nuim.ie

Further details on the conference will be updated on the Regional Studies Association, Irish Branch website

E-Work and New ‘Work’

In a previous blog post, E-Working – what are the trends? I examined the data available on e-work, also termed tele-working. Much of the data, especially the trend data available from the Census, only measures those workers who work ‘mainly at or from home’ and as discussed this only captures a small element of the workforce which we know, frequently work from home.

Capturing the extent to which people e-work is related to how the question is phrased; so for example if the Census question was changed, to ask whether a person worked on one or even a ½ day per week basis, it is likely to significantly increase the number reporting that they are e-workers.

Rural E-working

A recent report commissioned by Vodafone and conducted by Amárach Research, Connected Futures (3.8MB) examined the extent to which broadband has influenced those working in rural Ireland. The research found that nearly one in four broadband users in rural Ireland uses the internet at home in relation to their work (about 430,000 people). Among those remotely accessing work from home, most use the internet to check email and organise their work diary. Nearly half use the internet at home to work on reports and presentations. These e-workers report that with internet access, they can avoid commuting to work, which the research indicates typically occurs about two days a week.

Entirely Home-based E-work

The use of communications technology and more importantly its widespread availability at home has allowed new forms of work to emerge.

An early use of home-based working which is conditional on the availability of a minimum level of broadband speed has been the outsourcing of work where the employee is entirely home-based. For example Amazon and Apple were reported as requiring applicants to have a minimum 5Mbps download speed for home based customer support jobs. This and the need for universal high speed broadband is discussed in the WDC Report, Connecting the West, Next Generation Broadband in the Western Region (Low Res 1.5Mb).

Enforced Flexibility

A new report, published last week by TASC, Enforced Flexibility? Working in Ireland Today, (609kb) discusses an emerging practice where employees work entirely from home, though not by employee choice. For at least one of the high tech multinationals an emerging practice is to place some of their customer service workers in their own homes.  While traditionally the choice to work from home was perceived as a positive option, in this case the decision was made by the organisation rather than the individual: it was not an option as there was no possibility of working in an office. (p.62).

E-working has generally been considered in a positive light from the employee perspective, enabling more flexibility in working hours which can be more family friendly, reduced commuting time as well as fuel and carbon savings. However the TASC report notes that e-working which is wholly and entirely conducted from home, without the option of working in an office may not offer the same degree of flexibility. Constantly online during their shifts they were subject to the same tight supervision as those based in a traditional call centre environment. While it is difficult to establish what proportion of customer service workers now work in this way, there is evidence that the numbers are growing (p.62). In some instances these employees are self-employed contractors even though they are entirely contracted to the one employer.

The ‘Gig economy’

Measuring the extent of e-work is further complicated by the changing nature of work. The evolution of communications technology which has enabled the increased possibility of e-work, has evolved even further to allow new forms of ‘work’ to emerge.

Broadband and online platforms have allowed the development of new types of work and service delivery variously termed the ‘gig economy’, ‘sharing economy’, ‘crowd working’ and ‘uberisation’. Previously ‘gigs’ were how musicians earned a living, now the ‘gig economy’ includes all those who rent out their property, possessions or services for a fee, all of which is managed online!

The ‘gig economy’ is another form of e-work as it relies on electronic communication, though with the increasing use and availability of smartphones and mobile broadband this type of e-work is often less tied to a fixed location, whether this is at home or elsewhere. The ‘gig economy’ can also be seen as entrepreneurial, allowing individuals to initiate a process of selling goods or services and increasing the potential for self-employment.

Much of this type of work and service delivery is likely to be more developed in large urban centres, with significant critical mass. So far, within Ireland, Uber is just in Dublin and Cork – though the IDA announced a significant jobs announcement by Uber  in Limerick earlier this year.

However while parts of the ‘gig economy’ are urban driven, it is by no means exclusive to it. Airbnb can operate anywhere and maybe very popular in more rural areas with more limited supply, especially in high season.

As a type of employment, the ‘gig economy’ has raised questions about workers’ rights and protections such as guaranteed income, health care and pensions. Hillary Clinton, US Presidential candidate, when outlining her economic plan noted, This on-demand, or so called gig economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.

Evidence of the ‘Gig Economy’

To what extent the ‘gig economy’ is changing the nature of work is not clear. Some argue that while more are choosing to earn income from this ‘gig economy’, it is not clear whether this is in the absence of another job or to supplement existing paid employment?

Research undertaken by the University of Hertfordshire has tried to quantify the extent of the ‘gig economy’ in both the UK and Sweden.

The research found that in the UK around 5 million people are engaged in the ‘gig economy’. In the UK online survey 21% say they have tried to find work managed via so called ‘sharing economy’ platforms such as Upwork, Uber or Handy during the past year, equivalent to around 9 million people or almost one fifth of the adult population. Around 1 in 10 (11%) of respondents said they had succeeded in doing so, equivalent to around 4.9 million people.

Almost a quarter (24%) of UK women responding to the survey claim to have sought work via online platforms, and one third (33%) of 25-34 year olds.

3% of respondents claim to find paid work via online platforms at least once a week, equivalent to around 1.3 million adults, with 4%, or around 1.8 million finding work at least once a month.

Main source of income or a supplement?

A quarter of all those workers in the ‘gig economy’ say they rely on this income as their sole or main source of income.

Only 10% of those workers in the ‘gig economy’ were students, a proportion that dropped to 6% among those working in the ‘gig economy’ weekly. This is in line with the general proportion of students in the adult population of the UK (at around 8%).

The range of work is extremely broad, from high-skill professional work at one extreme to running errands at the other. The most common type of work, undertaken by more than two thirds is office work, short tasks and ‘click work’ done online. However a significant proportion are doing professional work, creative work, providing taxi services or a range of other services in people’s homes.

Where is the ‘Gig economy’?

From a geographic perspective, the largest numbers are in England with one in five based in London, just under a quarter each in the South, the Midlands and the North with 7% in Scotland and 3% in Wales. This reflects the general distribution of the UK population.

The Swedish online survey found a similar pattern to the UK survey. In Sweden 12% are working in the so-called ‘sharing economy’ for platforms such as Upwork, Uber or Skjutsgruppen, equivalent to around 737,000 people. Twice as many people (24%) used such sites in the hope of finding work – equivalent to almost a quarter of the working age population.

Conclusions

E-work can describe a variety of employment types ranging from ‘traditional work’ conducted at home or on the move, through to occasional engagement in online activity to generate additional income.

This can include a traditional employment relationship between an employee and an employer with the employee working from home possibly one or two days per week. It can also include the ‘new’ types of work and service delivery associated with the gig economy’, where people are often self-employed.

E-working of all types and the more recent growth in online platforms which has enabled new forms of income generation are all dependent on the widespread availability of broadband. The research to-date indicates that this type of employment and income generation is a very significant and growing element of the economy and labour market. The evidence cited from rural areas suggest that online participation for work is as prevalent, if not more so than in urban areas. This reinforces the need for the universal availability of quality broadband, another reason for the speedy rollout of the Government’s National Broadband Plan.

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.

Conclusions

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

Transport 2016 – Issues and themes

Transport Ireland 2016, a conference organised by Eolas last week included a wide range of speakers on a range of transport issues, providing an update on public transport investment plans as well as technological developments, for example electric vehicles and alternative fuels.

The conference programme is available here.

A couple of the following presentations were of particular interest to the WDC and the Western Region.

Ethna Brogan from the Department of Transport outlined some of the transport commitments of the Capital Plan 2016-2021 Building on Recovery noting that unlike other elements of the Plan which cover a 6 year period, Transport covers a 7 year period to 2022.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport received an allocation of €9.6 billion for transport investments comprising €6 billion for roads and €3.6 billion for public transport. The stated objectives of the transport investments are two fold

  1. Develop and maintain transport networks to the required standard to ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and freight
  2. Encourage modal shift to ensure transport makes a contribution to Irelands’ climate mitigation targets.

The objective of greater modal shift is welcome given the significance transport has in Ireland’s energy emissions. As noted in a recent WDC Insights publication (245kB) though Agriculture is the single largest contributor of emissions in Ireland (33.3%), it is followed by Transport (19.5%) and more importantly, in the last fifteen years (1990-2014), Transport has shown the greatest overall increase in emissions – by 120.9% over the period.

Therefore, the Transport sector represents a major contributor to energy emissions which is forecast to increase further in line with economic growth, for example emissions from transport have increased by 2.5% from 2013 to 2014. With this in mind, and along with the urgency to tackle climate change, the questions arises as to whether we have we got the balance right between conventional and alternative and more sustainable modes of transport?

That being said, the WDC Western Region is a largely rural region, requiring significant investment in maintenance and improvements in the roads network, national, regional and local roads, which support bus transport as well as car travel. For example the continued funding for the Gort-Tuam motorway and other roads projects is very welcome.

Edgar Morgenroth from the ESRI gave a presentation on The Regional Development Impact of Transport Infrastructure noting that ‘significant accessibility differences remain across Ireland’ and he noted that much of the North West along with West Kerry are the only regions were accessibility to a motorway junction is 120 minutes drivetime or more. There was also reference to the positive effect of transport infrastructure in national and regional economic development, with roads having the largest productivity effect in contrast to other transport modes.

Martin Nolan, CEO of Bus Éireann noted that Bus Éireann services are particularly important to regional and rural Ireland. There are three aspects to their business; public service obligation (PSO) routes, Commercial and School Transport services, which all combined delivered 79 million customer journeys in 2015. He noted that while lower fuel costs benefit the company’s operating costs, they also impact on some of their customer base, making it more attractive to travel by car!

One of the most interesting presentations and the only one to exclusively examine rural transport was by Carmel Walsh of Kerry Community Transport Ltd, soon to be renamed Local Link Kerry. She outlined the Rural Transport Programme and its work since 2002, the various changes it has undergone and its current status, managed by the National Transport Authority and now delivered nationally by 17 Transport Coordination Units (TCUs).

In 2015 there were 1.76 million passenger journeys delivered by 400 private operators who are mainly local businesses, with a strong knowledge of their community and their needs. There is a focus on ensuring accessibility but the service is for and is used all the community, young and old. There is recognition that further integration with Bus Éireann services will improve services for Rural Transport users.

Technological developments will be important in reducing transport emissions and many of the speakers focused on the ways in which technology can reduce urban congestion.

One technological development which will impact on regional and rural areas is the electric vehicle. According to Declan Meally of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), while the technology is now available, the price is somewhat prohibitive. This looks set to change in the next few years.

Finally, a study entitled Greening Transport is actually looking at a fairly logical option – lowering transport emissions by reducing transport use, through behavioural changes such as more telecommuting. The WDC is also examining this in forthcoming research on tele-working/e-working.

 

Deirdre Frost

 

 

Developments in Rural Policy: Charter for Rural Ireland

In January, the Taoiseach launched the Rural Charter, A statement of Government Commitment to support Rural Ireland’s regeneration and to underpin the future sustainable development of Ireland’s rural communities.
Maybe the attention was already focussed on the upcoming election, but given the recent focus on rural Ireland and the perceived two speed recovery; where the recovery in urban areas and especially Dublin is not being felt in rural Ireland, the launch of the Rural Charter received remarkably little attention.

The Charter for Rural Ireland January 2016 (pdf, 1,261 kb) is a short document (13 pages) containing 10 commitments and aims ‘to support and accelerate rural Ireland’s regeneration’ (p.3).

The commitments include

  • the development by the end of 2016 of a Rural Development Policy Framework, the preparation of which will include ‘full and comprehensive public consultations’, as well as the involvement of Government Departments and State Agencies. This framework will also feed into the development of the forthcoming National Planning Framework.
  • the Rural Development Policy Framework will include ’a mandatory system of assessment to ensure that future Government policies are designed with full and stated consideration of their impact on Rural Ireland’– a type of rural proofing.
  • the introduction of a robust reporting mechanism requiring each Government Department to report on actions as they relate to rural Ireland.

At the local level

  • Guidelines will be introduced for local community development committees (LCDCs) to support participation by rural dwellers in local economic development.
  • All stakeholders will collaborate and seek to eliminate barriers to rural enterprise development.

The Rural Development Policy Framework aims to create systems which will provide a basis for all stakeholders to work together to support enterprise development, job creation and a high quality of life. Government Departments will be required to ensure that impacts on rural Ireland are fully considered and policies and strategies will be amended if they are seen to be impacting negatively on rural areas.

The commitments in the Rural Charter recognise the need for action at national and local levels, they seek to include all stakeholders and actions are required within a short timeframe, all of which are welcome.

In this election campaign rural issues are an important theme, with the need to spread the recovery to all regions a constant refrain. It will be important that rural policy, whoever is returned, builds on the extensive work that has been done to-date.
There has been much analysis and research of what the problems are and what can be done for Rural Ireland. Most recently, the Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA), chaired by Pat Spillane and supported by the WDC and Teagasc, has done extensive research on what are the problems and what are the solutions during 2012-2014. The associated publications and research is available at www.ruralireland.ie.

On various policy issues there has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes. Where policy improvements have been instigated, these should be supported.

For example, the most significant infrastructure barrier facing rural Ireland is quality broadband. There is the National Broadband Plan, currently at procurement phase, with rollout to commence towards the end of this year. This aims to deliver future proofed broadband to all. The planned rollout is often compared to rural electrification in its significance and while the timescale is not fast enough for many, its objective is to solve the rural broadband problem for a generation or more. This compares with previous interventions which only ‘fixed’ the problem for a couple of years at most. It will be important that this policy is continued and fully supported by the new Government.

There are other policy areas where more needs to be achieved. The publication of the Rural Charter and the commitments it contains is very welcome. Its continued implementation needs to be supported following the election to ensure that Rural Ireland can contribute to and benefit from continued economic recovery.

 

Deirdre Frost

WDC Insights- Christmas Quiz!

We hope you have been following and reading the WDC Insights blog in the last year. Take our Christmas Quiz (9 questions) and see how well you score on regional development and Western Region issues. The answers are below with links to more information and the relevant posts.

Good Luck!

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1      The WDC published its report on ‘Trends in Agency Assisted Employment in the Western Region’ in January. This included an analysis of data for each of the seven western counties. In 2013 what proportion of the total jobs in Sligo were agency assisted?

  1. 63.2%
  2. 27.6%
  3. 15.3%

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2      Agriculture in the Western Region of Ireland is characterised by smaller farm size, poorer land quality and a higher dependence on off farm income than in many other parts of Ireland. Nonetheless agriculture remains a significant employer and makes an important contribution to the regional economy.

What is the average farm size in the Western Region?

  1. 43.7 ha
  2. 15.2 ha
  3. 26.3 ha

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3      In the latest CSO data on Income and Living Conditions (released 26th November) poverty and at risk of poverty rates are given. What is the difference between the at risk of poverty rates between the BMW and S&E regions?

  1. 5.7%
  2. 15.2%
  3. 1.3%

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4      In a recent a creative momentum project survey what proportion of creative entrepreneurs were exporting?

  1. 8%
  2. 48%
  3. 68%

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5      Examining regional indicators can help us to understand the growth and development taking place in our regions, to highlight changes and assess issues of efficiency and equity among regions.

Looking at the data since 2003 are regional disparities

  1. Widening?
  2. Narrowing?
  3. Staying the same?

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6      Understanding the sectoral pattern of jobs in the region and patterns of sectoral growth and decline is particularly important to the development of job creation, skills and enterprise policy for the region.

What is the largest employment sector in the Western region?

  1. Industry
  2. Wholesale and Retail
  3. Public Administration and Defence

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7      The WDC has been highlighting rural broadband needs for more than a decade. It recently submitted its views to the consultation on the rollout of the National Broadband Plan.

What is the minimum download speed set down under the National Broadband Plan (in Mega bits per second (Mbps))?

  1. 30 Mbps
  2. 100 Mbps
  3. 12 Mbps

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8      In February 2015 the IDA published a new 5-year strategy which put considerable focus on the regional balance of future FDI investments. The strategy includes a target to increase the number of investments in every region, outside of Dublin. By how much are the investments in the regions targeted to increase?

  1. By 10-20% over the 5 years of the strategy?
  2. By 30-40% over the 5 years of the strategy?
  3. By 80-90% over the 5 years of the strategy?.

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9      With The Paris Agreement at COP21 marking a turning point in the response to climate change, it is time to consider how we will meet those targets in Ireland so we examine some of the issues for climate change mitigation in the Western Region in this post.

What percentage of households in the Western Region use oil to heat their homes?

  1. 63.1%
  2. 84.2%
  3. 38.8%

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Answers:

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  1. Assisted jobs

Answer:3) 15.3%

The WDC published a report on ‘Trends in Agency Assisted Employment in the Western Region’ in January 2015.week. This included an analysis of data for each of the seven western counties. Taking Sligo as an example in 2013, there were 3,880 people working in agency assisted jobs there. 15.3% of total jobs in the county were agency assisted, which is below the state average (19.3%). Some 55.6% of assisted jobs in Sligo are in foreign owned companies; lower than a decade earlier. Irish owned assisted employment has grown steadily since 2011 and was up 4.8% in 2013. Sligo’s second largest assisted sector – Traditional Manufacturing – has had the strongest recent growth, up a fifth (21.5%) between 2010 and 2013.

For more about agency assisted jobs in the other Western Region counties see this post

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  1. Farm size

Answer: 3) 26.3 ha

Agriculture in the Western Region of Ireland is characterised by smaller farm size, poorer land quality and a higher dependence on off farm income than in many other parts of Ireland. Nonetheless agriculture remains a significant employer and makes an important contribution to the regional economy.

The average farm size in the Western Region (counties Clare, Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo) was 26.3 ha in 2010. Farm sizes are significantly smaller than in the rest of Ireland where the average farm in 2010 was 36.9 ha. Nonetheless farm size in the Western region has grown by a third since 1991 when the Western Region average was 19.8 ha with most of the growth occurring in the 1990s (almost 27% of the growth occurred between 1991 and 2000). For more information, read this post.

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  1. Poverty data

Answer: 1) 5.7%

The CSO released the latest data on Income and Living Conditions on 26th November 2015. The headline figures indicate a rise in incomes – increasing by 3.5% between 2013 and 2014, which in turn was higher than the figure in 2012. The release also provided data on poverty rates at a regional level.   Analysis of consistent poverty rates by region, which will be influenced by rural-urban patterns, shows that the rate for the Border, Midlands and Western region was 10.8% compared with 7.0% for the Southern and Eastern region in 2014. The at-risk of poverty-rate was also higher in the Border, Midlands and Western region compared to the Southern and Eastern region, 20.5% and 14.8% respectively. The difference was 5.7%.

For more on poverty and at-risk of poverty rates see this post.

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  1. a creative momentum project survey

Answer: 3) 68%.

In order to inform the development a creative momentum project activities, an online survey was circulated to creative entrepreneurs based in the participating regions. The survey ran from 28 September to 18 October and there were a total of 170 responses.

68% reported that they made some sales outside of their own country, which was higher than indicated in previous surveys. Cross-border business between Ireland and Northern Ireland seemed to be a strong element in these export sales. Of those businesses who did not export currently (44), 70% indicated a desire to export.

For more on the survey see this post

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  1. Regional Disparities

Answer: 1) Widening

There has been a significant widening of the gap between the BMW and the S&E regions since 2008, the difference in 2012 was 48.3 points and in 2008 was 40.6 points (in 2003 it was 42.6).

Disparities in regional GVA have been increasing in recent years and have been particularly significant since 2008 while, in contrast, disparities in disposable income reduced between 2003 and 2010, but have increased since then. For more see this post

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  1. Employment sectors

Answer: 2) Wholesale and Retail.

The largest employment sector is Wholesale and Retail and the two largest employment sectors in the Western Region are Wholesale and Retail, and Industry which together account for about 30% of jobs.  Of the region’s top seven sectors, all (except Health) account for a greater share of jobs in the region than the rest of the state.  Agriculture and Industry (manufacturing) are considerably more important in the region.  Among the region’s smaller sectors the share working in them in the region is considerably below that in the rest of the state.

In general the Western Region’s jobs profile relies more heavily than the rest of the state on the traditional sectors (Industry, Agriculture and Construction) and local services (Wholesale and Retail, and Accommodation and Food Service) which depend on domestic spending and tourism.  The region’s sectoral jobs pattern is influenced by its largely rural nature. For more information see this post

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  1. Broadband

Answer: 1) 30Mbps

The WDC in its submission to the consultation on the rollout of the National Broadband Plan suggests that one option would be to review the basic minimum standard, for both up and download speeds, every 5 years (or more frequently depending on technological change and demand requirements) and raise the minimum standard accordingly. For more from the WDC on broadband see here and here

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  1. IDA Strategy

Answer: 2) 30-40% over the 5 years of the strategy

The strategy includes a target to increase the number of investments in every region, outside of Dublin, by 30-40% over the lifetime years of the strategy. With Dublin maintaining a similar level to currently. For example for the West, which received 71 investments over the 2010-2014 period, the target is to achieve 92-99 investments over 2015-2019. For the Border region the target is 61-66 investments (it received 47 in the past five years). These targets do not just refer to new name investments, but include expansions by existing FDI companies and R&D investments.

Read more about it here.

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  1. Climate change

Answer: 1) 63.1% of homes use oil as their main heating fuel

The pattern of fuel usage in central heating is very different in the Western Region and the rest of the state. This is primarily due to the lack of access to natural gas across most of the region. Less than 5% of households in the Western Region use natural gas to heat their home compared with 40% in the rest of the state. Lack of access to natural gas makes the Western Region far more reliant on other fuels, many which have higher carbon emissions. Oil is used by 63.1% of households in the region compared to 38.8% in the rest of the state. Wood fuels and other biomass are slightly more important in the Western Region 1.4% compared to 1.3% in the rest of the state but there needs to be a significant policy focus using renewable energies for domestic heating. These include solid biomass (wood chips, pellets and logs). In many rural situations users have more space and fuel can be sourced locally with less transport required, so these options may be more suitable than for urban dwellers. Uptake could be improved with appropriate, targeted incentives.

For more on rural urban differences, western region statistics and the need for climate change mitigation to focus on rural areas see this post.

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How well did you do?

You got 8 or 9 answers correct

CONGRATULATIONS! You really know a lot about regional development, the Western Region and the Western Development Commission’s work.

 

You got between 4 and 7 answers correct

WELL DONE, a good score but some deficiencies in your knowledge. Perhaps you should read the WDC Insights posts more carefully in 2016!

 

You got between 0 and 3 answers correct

OH DEAR! Time to pay more attention to regional development and Western Region Issues. You’ll have to do some extra study over the holiday! Reread the WDC Insights blog and check out the WDC publications page and re-take the quiz in the New Year!

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Helen McHenry

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 http://www.ppan.ie/latest-news/

Deirdre Frost