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Is e-Working on the Increase?

There has been much talk recently of an increase in e-working but does the evidence support the idea that it is more prevalent?

Technology development and in particular high speed broadband enables much office based work to be conducted remotely or away from the office. This, coupled with increased journey times to work has led to a greater demand for the opportunity for staff to work remote from the office and closer to home on a one or 2 days a week basis. Companies are reportedly increasing the availability of e-working in part as a means to retain key personnel[1].

The growth in employment opportunities in the shared or gig economy is another factor driving broadband demand to support employment growth and there is evidence that work and income generation in this sector is an important feature in rural areas such as the Western Region, see here.

Regional employers also value the ability to provide remote working opportunities, for example, Shopify recently announced the addition of 100 remote working jobs in the west of Ireland due to the presence of high-speed broadband, while Pramerica, a US multinational in Letterkenny, employ at least 20 e-workers who work from a well-established hub in Gweedore, Co. Donegal. Wayfair has also recently announced their intention to add over 200 jobs to their “Virtual” workforce in the west of Ireland (https://www.idaireland.com/newsroom/wayfair).

Benefits from e-working

Analysis for the Department of Communications measured benefits arising from delivery of high speed broadband planned under the forthcoming National Broadband Plan[2];

  • found that each house could yield a benefit of €89.00 per household per annum resulting from journey time and fuel cost savings from increased e-Working as a consequence of the availability of high speed broadband. This does not include other benefits such as carbon emissions savings etc.
  • Increased productivity is also forecast, generated from improved productivity of white collar workers living in rural areas but commuting to work in urban areas. This shows the benefit to the enterprise expressed as an increase in GVA per employee of 1.53% (€1,342) per worker, working from home or remote working on a 1 day per week basis. This does not capture benefits such as increased staff retention and more satisfied employees[3].

Demand for e-working/co-working spaces/ Hubs

The success of initiatives variously called e-working spaces/ co-working spaces/ hubs also suggests e-working is on the increase. However the various terms are used to describe a variety of uses, only some of which may actually support the individual e-worker.

There are working spaces in the enterprise space some of which are funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Hubs variously classed as innovation, enterprise or community hubs, many are focussed on start ups and incubation spaces rather than providing e-working spaces for individual employees.

In the Western Region, the success of Digital hubs in County Clare, https://www.digiclare.ie/  where there are spaces in three sites across the county, Kilrush, Miltown Malbay and Feakle suggest an increased demand for e-working spaces.  Many of these types of hubs are providing high speed telecommunications access to communities that do not yet have access and are (still) awaiting the rollout of the National Broadband Plan. Initiatives such as Grow Remote suggest e-working  is an increasing phenomenon.

 The evidence on e-Working

However as the WDC pointed out in its e-working policy briefing, the evidence on e-Working in Ireland is limited and complicated by different definitions. The most comprehensive data is collected in the Census and the same question has been asked on previous Censuses. The question asked is ‘how you usually travel to work?’ with one of the answers being ‘work mainly at or from home’.

According to the Census, nationally, in 2011, 4.7% (83,326) of all those at work, stated they worked mainly at or from home. By 2016 there were 94,955 persons working ‘mainly at or from home’ in April 2016, an increase of 14%. There was a 11% increase in the numbers at work over the same period, indicating an increasing prevalence of working from home.

However, the Census definition is a very broad definition in that it includes all those that are self-employed and work from home (such as childminders, home-based GPs, farmers and sole traders across all sectors) and not just e-Workers. Moreover, the Census definition only captures those employees that work from home most of the working week and excludes those who e-Work even one or two days per week, which some studies suggest is the most common pattern of e-Working.

In 2016 an IBEC survey of their membership found that 30% (110) of companies had a practice of e-Working/ home-working, on one or two days per week. At a regional level, 21% of companies in the West/North-West report a practice of e-Working one or two days per week, lower than the national average. The likelihood of e-Working among companies increases with company size so that 40% of companies with 500+ employees cite a practice of e-Working nationally. The trend is for continued growth in the practice with 31% of companies’ surveyed planning to increase their use of e-Working, with a forecast that 60% of office based workers will work remotely regularly by 2020, see here.

Examining e-Working in rural Ireland, a report commissioned by Vodafone, found that nearly one in four broadband users in rural Ireland use the internet at home in relation to their work (about 430,000 people) and one third have remote access to their company network for work purposes. These e-Workers report that e-Working means they can avoid commuting to work, typically about two days a week. An estimated 150,000 workers avoid commuting some or all of the time because they can connect to work remotely.

However, the same report found that a quarter of those who work from home – or nearly 100,000 adults – say their current broadband service is not sufficient to meet their requirements for e-Working, and that it limits the work-related activities they can do from home. This share rises to nearly half of those living in detached houses in the countryside. 30% report that slow and unreliable speeds currently prevent them and/or family members from working from home.

Conclusions

It is clear therefore that the incidence of e-Working is greater than the measure of ‘those working mainly at or from home’, as captured by the Census. It is also likely that the trend is generally upward.

It is also clear that the rollout of the National Broadband Plan remains a vital infrastructure investment needed to support employment growth and retention, apart from the various and widespread social benefits it can yield.

Better data is needed to capture the actual extent of e-Working. The CSO should consider revising the Census question as it currently only captures those ‘who work mainly at or from home’. Data should measure the incidence of e-Working on a one day, two days and more frequent basis. This will also provide a useful baseline for measuring trends.

[1] https://www.wdc.ie/wp-content/uploads/WDC_Policy-Briefing-no-7.pdf, https://www.wdc.ie/wp-content/uploads/WDC-Insights-Home-Based-Working-July-2017.pdf  IBEC HR Update Survey 2016, Issue 2.

[2] Indecon International Economic Consultants, July 2012. Economic / Socio-Economic Analysis of Options for

Rollout of Next Generation Broadband. http://www.dccae.gov.ie/communications/SiteCollectionDocuments/Broadband/National%20Broadband%20Plan.pdf

[3] See footnote 3. There is also an increase in productivity at the enterprise level – measured at 0.67% increase in GVA per small non-farm enterprise in the Intervention Area. This is as a result of productivity gains through improved businesses processes, online sales and owner managers having the flexibility of ‘always-on’ connectivity.

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

Travelling from the Western Region to work in Dublin. How has it changed and Why?

The Western Development Commission (WDC) recently published a report on Travel to Work patterns in the Western Region. Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments (2018) is available for download here.

The report draws on Census 2016 POWCAR data to examine the travel to work patterns in centres with a population greater than 1,000 across the Western Region. The analysis, undertaken by the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO), contains a detailed labour market profile of the principal towns in each of the seven counties of the Western Region, namely: Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon.

Travelling to Dublin City for Work

Of particular interest is the place of work of residents living in the Western Region and how this has changed in the last 10 years when the WDC conducted the same analysis based on Census 2006 data. In this blogpost we examine the numbers travelling to work in Dublin city from these seven centres and the extent to which this has changed over the last decade.

From the analysis of 2006 Census of Population data and accompanying report, (published in 2009), see here , the numbers travelling to work in Dublin city from each of the catchments in the Western Region ranged from 73 (Roscommon) to 411 in the Galway city labour catchment. These figures represented 1.0% and 0.63% of the total catchment size respectively, see Table 1 below.

Table 1. Numbers travelling to Dublin city from labour catchments in Western Region, Size of catchment and Share of catchment travelling to work in Dublin, 2006 and 2016.

Examining the same data 10 years on there is quite an obvious change. Though both periods are similar in that they are characterised by strong employment and economic growth, across each of the catchments there is a considerable increase in the numbers travelling to work in Dublin city. It is also notable that while the relative population size of each of the catchments all increased, the rate of increase is not that significant. Therefore the share of the total in each catchment travelling to work in Dublin city is much greater in 2016 than it had been in 2006, now ranging from 1% in Letterkenny to 3.5% in Carrick-on-Shannon.

So the numbers and the share of all resident workers in each catchment travelling to work in Dublin has all increased considerably and has generally doubled or in some cases nearly trebled (for example Ennis and Roscommon).

So what are the factors behind this change?

  • Improved transport between Dublin and the regions is also important; the example of Carrick-on- Shannon and Letterkenny applies here. The improved road and motorway networks serving Limerick (Ennis), Galway and to a lesser extent Sligo as well as intercity rail services, all make journey times quicker.
  • Better job opportunities and the relative the lack of opportunities in the regions is another key factor. There is no doubt that especially for more senior or more specialised positions, most of these are located in Dublin. For those living in the Region and who want to progress up the career ladder, work in Dublin may be the only option.
  • The economic crash between 2006 and 2016 and ensuing high unemployment, may have forced people living in the Western Region to take up positions in the Capital, ‘in the short-term’, but the short-term has turned into the long-term, especially in the absence of good opportunities closer to home.
  • It is also possible that many of these positions, while based in Dublin, allow for some degree of flexibility and working from home for a day or two during the week. This can make the long commute on the alternate days more manageable for some. There is a range of data attempting to measure the incidence of e-working or teleworking and most suggest that it is on the increase. It is also likely to be a factor in retaining key personnel during periods of skills shortages and low unemployment. See WDC publications on e-working here, the Gig economy here and Home-based working here.
  • Finally, geography is an important factor in the relative differences. It is no surprise that the share of the total catchment working in Dublin from Carrick-on-Shannon (3.5%) is much higher than Letterkenny, given its relative proximity.

Accessibility to Jobs

Recent research by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, National Road Network Indicators 2017, see here, shows the changes that have occurred in the road network between 2006 and 2017 and how this has influenced accessibility to jobs, see Page A1 showing the impact of the improved road network linking Dublin and the regions.

The report notes that A significant proportion of the road capital spend from 2013 to 2017 was within the West of the country and this has resulted in improved employment accessibility for these areas. This is to be welcomed but the report also notes that despite this peripheral areas in the North-West, West and South-West and South-East still tend to suffer from poor accessibility to jobs.

It is also worth noting that the decline in accessibility on routes into Dublin, due to ongoing traffic growth, are in part caused by the increased numbers of people from the Western Region travelling to the city to work.

To counter this, to help ease congestion and improve accessibility into Dublin, regional growth needs to be supported and accessibility within the Regions needs to be improved. This will improve interregional mobility, enhance labour catchments and supply in the Regions and make it more attractive to do business there.

Project Ireland 2040

The Project Ireland 2040 National Development Plan 2018-2017 commits to Enhanced Regional Accessibility as National Strategic Outcome 2. This recognises the importance of travel catchments and urban centres and their regions. From a Western perspective it is also welcome that it acknowledges the need to invest in transport to the North West which has been comparatively neglected until recently.

From an interregional perspective, the commitment to deliver the Atlantic Corridor, linking Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo is very important. Enhancing this network will improve travel to work times within the region, helping to improve accessibility and improving job prospects for residents within the Region. It will also hopefully make the region more attractive for new job creation. While the Plan notes that the Atlantic Corridor will be delivered progressively, it is hoped that it will be completed as timely as possible, both for those commuters who wish to find work closer to home and to realise the wider objectives of regional growth under Project Ireland 2040.

A Snapshot of the Western Region – WDC publishes a series of county infographics

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just published a series of eight infographics showing of key statistics for the Western Region and each of its seven counties.  The data is from the CSO’s Census of Population in 2016 with analysis by the WDC.

 

The infographic shows

  • The population of the county
  • The percentage living in rural areas.
  • The percentage of the working age population is in the labour force
  • Average time to travel to work in minutes

There is a different infographic for each county and there is also one for the Western Region.   The Region’s infographic  shows the Western Region population growth since the last Census in 2011 (1.0%) and the growth over the last ten years (8.7%).

The Region has more females (50.4%) than males and that 15% of the population are over 65 and more than a fifth are under 15 (21.1%).

Infographics are an entertaining way to provide information about the Region and its counties.  They show important county characteristics and information in an accessible and lively way.  We hope they will be used in schools and in workplaces and anywhere that people want to know more about the places where they live or are visiting.

There is a good mix of statistics highlighted on the infographics, showing access to broadband in the Western Region (64%) and also that most of the population consider themselves to be in very good health (57.6%).

The infographics also give information about work and education.  In the Western Region the average time taken to travel to work is 24.8 minutes.  59% of the working age population is in the work force and 39% have a third level qualification.  Two employment sectors are also shown.  Almost 14% of the Region’s workers are in Industry and 6.8% working in agriculture.

You can download the infographics for the Western Region and for the seven counties here:  https://www.wdc.ie/publications/reports-and-papers/

 

Helen McHenry

Understanding Changes in the Components of County Incomes

While my previous post on county incomes (based on the CSO’s publications County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015) considered the changes in Disposable Income over time, in this post I look at the components of Disposable Income, some of the changes in these since 2000, differences among Western Region counties and their impact on the changes in Disposable Income.  The key component of Disposable Income is Total Household Income (which includes Primary Income and Social Transfers) and this is examined first.

 

Total Household Income is the amount of income from available to the household from earnings, and Rent of Dwellings (imputed) and net Interest and Dividends, as well as ‘Social Benefits and Other Current Transfers’.  Total Household Income grew steadily (Figure 1) in all counties between 2000 and 2008 (in Donegal there was a tiny decline between 2007 and 2008).  In most counties it declined between 2008 and 2011 and then began to grow slowly.  Despite this growth, preliminary figures show that by 2016 neither in the State nor any Western Region county had Total Household Income per person recovered to 2008 levels.  In Roscommon, for example, it was €25,061 per person in 2008 and €21,522 in 2016 (a difference of €3,539) , while in contrast in Sligo it was €24,940 in 2008 and €24,818 in 2016 (a difference of only €122).

 

Figure 1: Total Household Income per person

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP ; Estimates per person based on own calculations using inferred population estimates. 2016 figures are preliminary.

 

Primary Income

Primary Income is the main component of Total Household Income and Figure 2 shows Primary Income as a percentage of Total Household Income over the period 2000-2016.  It should noted that Total Household Income also includes Social Benefits and Other Current Transfers and is balanced by the Statistical Discrepancy (arising from different collection methods being used to estimate income and expenditure).  Therefore that Total Household Income does not equal the sum of Primary Income & Social Transfers.

Nonetheless, it is useful to see how the importance of Primary Income (and by inference social transfers) has been to Total Household Income.  In 2000, in the State as a whole, Primary Income was 87% of Total Household Income.  It was also 87% in Clare but as low as 80% in Donegal but by 2016 it was 81% in the State, 79% in Clare and 70% in Donegal, indicating the increased importance of social transfers.

 

Figure 2: Primary Income as a percentage of Total Household Income

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP

 

What is Primary Income made up of?

Looking at the breakdown of Primary Income (Figure 3) in 2015[1], it is clear that the main component in all counties is wages and salaries (Compensation of Employees (i.e. Wages and Salaries, Benefits in kind, Employers’ social insurance contribution) which nationally makes up 77% of Primary Income.  In the Western Region, Primary Income accounts for 77% in Sligo, 76% in Galway and 75% in Clare.  It accounts for 74% of Primary Income in Donegal, Mayo and Leitrim while in Roscommon it is only 73%.

 

Figure 3: Contributors to Primary Income, 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP

Other elements of Primary Income are accounted for by Net Interest and Dividends (4% in the State and all Western Region counties), and Rent of Dwellings (imputed) which is between 8% and 10% in Western Region counties and 9% in the State.

Income from self employment is the other main component of Primary Income, and this accounts for 14% of Primary Income in Roscommon  and Leitrim, and 11% in Galway and 10% in Sligo and 10% in the State as a while.  Income from self employment is more significant in all Western Region counties than the State as a whole.

Alongside a decline in self employment shown in recent years  there has been a significant decline in the proportion of Primary Income coming from self-employment (Figure 4).  In the State it accounted for 16% of Primary Income in 2000 and was 10% by 2016.  Western Region counties, though starting from a higher base, have followed a similar pattern.  For example in Roscommon income from self-employment was 24% of Primary Income in 2000, but 13% in 2016.  It is not clear why this decline has taken place, perhaps because of a decline in the numbers in farming, or perhaps because of poorer earnings from self-employment.

 

Figure 4: Self employment as percentage of Primary Income

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP

 

Social Benefits over Time

Looking again at Total Household Income, it is interesting to examine the changes in social benefits (Figure 5) over time.   With the growing economy in the early part of the century, the amount received in social benefits per person grew alongside the growth in Primary Income, peaking in most counties in 2009.  After the downturn, however, there was a slow decline in the level of social transfer per person.  This was during a period of significant in some of the social benefits, but high levels of unemployment kept the level of transfers per person quite high.  The decline has continued, to 2016, presumably as the numbers claiming unemployment benefit and assistance has decreased.

 

Figure 5: Social Benefits and Other Current Transfers per person

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP ; Estimates per person based on own calculations using inferred population estimates. 2016 figures are preliminary.

 

Taxation levels over time

Much of the discussion above has related to the components of Total Household Income, but in order to get to a figure for Disposable Income taxation has to be taken into account.

As would have been expected (see Figure 6), in line with growth in incomes between 2000 and 2007 taxes on income (per person) also grew to 2007.  With pay cuts and job losses, there was a sharp decline between 2007 and 2010 but then then taxation on income grew again to 2016.  It is likely that in the first few years this related to increases in tax levied, and then in more recent years the growth has probably come from the increase in the numbers employed and paying tax.

 

Figure 6: Taxation on Income (2000-2016) per person

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP ; Estimates per person based on own calculations using inferred population estimates. 2016 figures are preliminary.

 While I have looked at changes in taxation and social benefits estimated on a per capita basis from 2000 to 2016 it is also interesting to see a direct comparison of the two for each county in 2015. Figure 7 shows social benefits and taxation as a percentage of Total Household Income (as noted above, these percentages should be used to compare the differences amount the Western Region counties, rather than as absolute proportions, as they do not take account of the effect of the statistical discrepancy).  Nonetheless it is useful to compare the different levels of taxation on income and social transfers among the counties.  Higher numbers of people in non-working categories (children, older people and people with disabilities) influences both the amount of tax paid and the level of social transfers received.  For a more detailed discussion of the levelling effects of the redistributive tax and transfer system (as relates to income inequality rather than regional inequality) see this paper from the ESRI.

 

Figure 7: Social Benefits and Taxation as a percentage of Total Household Income 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP; own calculations.

In the State as a whole taxation (24%) is a higher proportion of Total Household Income than Social Benefits (20%), and this is also the case in Galway and Clare.  In the five other Western Region counties social benefits are a higher proportion of Total Household Income than taxation.  This is most evidently the case in Donegal with taxation 18% and social benefits 31% of Total Household Income in the county.

 

Conclusion

Finally, given that this post has examined the various components of disposable incomes Figure 8 gives an overview of the different broad income components in Western Region counties in 2015.  As discussed above, Primary Income is largely made up of earned income (and imputed rent and net interest and dividends), while Total Household Income also includes social benefits.  Taxes are deducted from Total Household Income to give Disposable Income per person.

 

Figure 8: Primary, Total Household and Disposable Incomes for State and Western Region counties in 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP ; Estimates per person based on own calculations using inferred population estimates.

Disposable Income, the key ‘county income’ measure, is made up of different sources of income and transfers and is also affected by taxation, therefore it is valuable to understand the changes in each of these components in the different counties when considering changes to income.

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] Figures published this year (2018) are for 2015, with provisional figures for 2016.  Therefore when looking at the most recent components of income, 2015 is examined

WDC Insights Publications on County Incomes and Regional GDP

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just published two WDC Insights: How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region and What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA.

Both of these examine data from the most recent CSO County Incomes and Regional GDP publication for 2015 (with preliminary data for 2016) and they have a particular emphasis on the counties of the Western Region and on our regional economy.

These two page WDC Insights publications provide succinct analysis and commentary on recently published data and on policy issues for the Western Region.  Both of these WDC Insights are shorter versions of the series of blog posts on County Incomes and Regional GVA which you may have read previously.

How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

In this WDC Insights data on County Incomes in 2015 are examined with a focus on the difference among Western Region counties and changes over time.

Five Western Region counties had Household Disposable Income per Person (Disposable Income) of less than 90% of the state average, while Galway and Sligo were both 93%.  They  had the highest Disposable Incomes in the Western Region in 2015 (Galway (€18,991) and Sligo (€19,001)).

Donegal continues to have a significantly lower Disposable Income than any other county in Ireland (€15,705 in 2015).  Disposable Income in Roscommon was also significantly lower than the state average at €16,582 in 2015. This was the second lowest of any county in Ireland, while Mayo had the fourth lowest.

Regional divergence was at its least in 2010 when all parts of the country were significantly affected by recession. Since then, incomes in some counties have begun to grow faster and divergence has again increased, particularly since 2012.

The WDC Insights How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region can be downloaded here  (PDF 260KB)

 

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

The most recent regional GVA and GDP data (for 2015 and preliminary 2016) published by the CSO is discussed in this WDC Insights with a focus on the regions which include the seven Western Region counties.

Between 2014 and 2015 there was very significant growth in GVA and GDP nationally (a level shift which occurred for a variety of reasons). It is therefore valuable to examine how this rapid economic growth was spread among regions. While data for the largest regions of Dublin and the South West has been suppressed by the CSO, to preserve the confidentiality, variation in growth and disparity in the other regions continues to be of national and regional importance.

The data shows that disparities are widening and economic activity, as measured by GVA, is becoming more and more concentrated.  The smaller contribution to national GVA from other regions highlights their significant untapped potential.

The WDC Insights What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA can be downloaded here  (PDF  350 KB)

 

If you find these WDC Insights on County Incomes and Regional GVA interesting and would like to read more detailed discussion of the data please visit these recent WDC Insights blog posts:

Leprechauns in Invisible Regions: Regional GVA (GDP) in 2015

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

How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

I hope that you find these WDC Insights useful.  Let us know what you think.  We’d welcome your feedback.

 

Helen McHenry

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

Broadband benefits – but when?

Recent statistics show that Ireland will not meet the EU 2020 targets for the universal availability of fast broadband[1]. Like other EU states, in Ireland there are particular challenges delivering fast broadband to rural areas and this is not helped by the complicated and lengthy procurement process.

Given the many initiatives in the recent past aimed at delivering better universal broadband, the WDC has believed that this current Plan, aimed at providing ‘future proofed services’ is the right approach, however given the fast pace of technological change, it is and will be imperative that future proofed technology is at the cornerstone of delivery to all.

There have been various analyses of the economic and social benefits of broadband and some Irish research was presented at a recent ESRI seminar. The seminar, titled Evidence of Some Economic effects of Local Infrastructure in Ireland focussed on the economic benefits of broadband infrastructure. Key findings included:

  • The availability of broadband infrastructure is a significant determinant on the location of new business, but its effects may be influenced by the presence of the levels of human capital and skill levels in the area.
  • Therefore when rolling out broadband in a structurally weak area, parallel measures to boost human capital should be deployed.
  • Human capital and proximity to third level institutions is important for all firms.
  • The effect of broadband depends on education levels within an area.
  • Infrastructure roll-out can help to re-balance economic activity.
  • Government departments and agencies usually have discrete mandates designed not to overlap too much.
  • Decisions to build infrastructure often not taken together (e.g. broadband or transport) or considered along with other factors such as health care provision or education.

The latter two points in particular highlight the need for co-ordination and the value of a comprehensive spatial and economic development plan such as Project Ireland 2040. See here for more information on the ESRI seminar.

Previously, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment conducted its own research which examined the benefits of high speed broadband and research and this is available here. In particular the research identified travel savings through more remote working and increased gross value added, see here.

The analysis measured benefits arising from delivery of high speed broadband planned under the forthcoming National Broadband Plan, to the ‘Intervention Area’ (IA), which comprises approximately 757,000 premises across rural areas throughout Ireland. These areas are not currently receiving high speed services from commercial providers.

The analysis found that each house in the IA could yield a benefit of €89.00 per household per annum resulting from journey time and fuel cost savings from increased e-Working as a consequence of the availability of high speed broadband. This would amount to an annual total saving of €48.39 million, which does not include other benefits such as carbon emissions savings etc.

Increased productivity is also forecast, generated from improved productivity of white collar workers living in rural areas (the IA) but commuting to work in urban areas. This shows the benefit to the enterprise expressed as an increase in GVA per employee of 1.53% (€1,342) per worker, working from home or remote working on a 1 day per week basis. This does not capture benefits such as increased staff retention and more satisfied employees.

Research elsewhere reflects some of the findings of the ESRI research. For example, work undertaken in the US by Professor Mark Partridge found that our review of the economic research finds that broadband’s contribution to economic development in rural regions is often overstated. Broadband expansion does produce positive economic effects in certain rural area, specifically more populated rural counties adjacent to metro areas.

The same research quantifies the economic benefits of additional consumer choice, produced when households are able to access a broader range of products and services at lower prices. The research conducted in Ohio, see here, estimates that reaching full broadband coverage there would generate between $1 billion and $2 billion in economic benefits over the next 15 years. This estimate does not include other potential benefits that broadband offers such as reducing the period of unemployment among job seekers.

Professor Mark Partridge is due to present at the forthcoming Regional Studies Association Irish Section Annual Conference, to be held in Sligo IT on Friday 7th September 2018.

The theme of the conference is ‘City-Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions’ and the call for papers is now open. Further details are available here.

The WDC believes that to realise all benefits from next generation broadband, it is imperative that the National Broadband Plan deploying future proofed broadband is delivered as soon as possible.

Deirdre Frost

[1] Reported in Irish Times 6th June 2018

‘Delivering Balanced Regional Development’ … 10 years on

I was recently reminded that it’s been ten years since the WDC’s conference ‘Delivering Balanced Regional Development’ in May 2008. The context at that time was that balanced regional development had been included as a key objective of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 and was to have been a key consideration in public investment decisions.  At the same time however, the economic crisis was beginning to unfold. The WDC therefore felt it was timely to provide a forum in which the policy issues involved in balanced regional development could be discussed and debated.

Held at the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone, speakers included academics and researchers Professor Neil Ward from the Centre for Urban and Rural Development Studies at Newcastle University, Professors Gerry Boyle (NUI Maynooth) and Michael Keane (NUI Galway), as well Dr. Edgar Morgenroth (ESRI).  The line-up also included a number of policymakers including Julie O’Neill, Secretary General of the Department of Transport, Mark Griffin (Department of Planning) and Dermot O’ Doherty (InterTradeIreland).  All the presentations can be downloaded from here.

The focus of this post however is the paper by the WDC Policy Analysis team, presented by Dr Patricia O’Hara, then Policy Manager of the WDC.  Looking back at the paper I’m struck by how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.  The past ten years have seen massive changes in the country – the recession and recovery, a return to emigration, Brexit, significant social changes (very evident from last week’s referendum).

While the initial years of the recession actually saw some narrowing of regional disparities as all regions took a hit, the recovery has been spatially uneven and it could be argued that some of the trends driving the recovery e.g. multinational IT services firms, is accentuating regional imbalance.

2018 has seen the launch of the new National Planning Framework and a new National Development Plan, with three Regional Economic and Spatial Strategies currently being devised.  Therefore it seems an opportune time to reflect on what we had to say about balanced regional development a decade ago.

Deirdre Frost, Helen McHenry, Éamon Ó Cuív TD, Patricia O’Hara, Pauline White at the ‘Delivering Balanced Regional Development’ conference, 23 May 2008

The WDC’s paper was titled ‘The Regional Development Challenge: A Western Region Perspective’ and it set out what we considered better regional balance might look like, i.e. what regional development policies should be trying to achieve.  The list still seems as relevant today as then (but replacing the word ‘Gateway’ with city and key regional centres).

  • Future population growth distributed more evenly across Ireland.
  • Gateway centres with sufficient critical mass to serve as drivers for their regions.
  • Population increase in hubs and in small and medium-sized towns across the regions based on inward investment and indigenous economic activity, including significant employment in the public sector and locally traded services.
  • The natural resources of rural areas utilised in a sustainable manner and such areas well-linked to local centres.
  • An infrastructure base that enables all regions to optimise their participation in, and contribution to, the knowledge economy.
  • Quality social provision at local level and efficient access to services in other centres so that location does not contribute to social exclusion.
  • Careful planning and management of the environment, including landscape, cultural and heritage resources.

Following a discussion of regional disparities and trends, as well as international insights, the paper concluded with seven policy recommendations on what was needed to achieve more balanced regional development:

  1. Political commitment and vision based on an understanding of the kind of spatial structure most suited to Ireland’s social values, history and geography.
  2. Clear responsibility for delivery of regional development policy so that key government departments ‘mainstream’ the regional dimension into their spending decisions. One government department should have the mandate and resources for this and ensure, for instance, that other relevant departments include regional development outputs in their Annual Output statements to the Oireachtas.
  3. Resources should be provided to address the research and intelligence gap for policy-making, especially the development of regional indicators, measures of output and urban-rural links. Robust analyses of policy successes and failures are also necessary.
  4. Regional investment strategies should be directed to improving regions’ infrastructure, skill endowment and quality of life as the key drivers of their capacity to maximise their resource endowment and attract inward investment. Spending decisions in transport, energy, telecommunications, human resources, research, development and knowledge issues should clearly target reducing structural disparities between regions and not reinforce them.
  5. The NSS provides a robust framework for balanced regional development, but its operationalisation needs to be informed by a thorough understanding of the investment and planning requirements at different spatial levels.
  • The new, smaller gateways need support appropriate to their scale and state of development that maximises the possibility of sustainable growth and encourages them to form strategic alliances.
  • The interaction between gateways, hubs, provincial towns and rural areas needs to be investigated and understood in order to construct effective policy to support their function in the spatial hierarchy.
  1. All levels of government and stakeholders should be involved with common purpose in structures that facilitate knowledge-sharing and efficiency. Pending other reform, ‘ad hoc coalitions’ of local authorities could be an effective way of tackling common problems and facilitating cross-boundary/border cooperation between towns and smaller centres.
  2. The north-west of Ireland has some particular weaknesses that could be addressed by acceleration of investment in infrastructure links which would facilitate crossborder links and act as a counterbalance to the Dublin-Belfast corridor.

It can be argued that some progress has been made in a number of these areas with efforts to more closely align the National Development Plan investment priorities with the National Planning Framework. However many of these recommendations remain relevant, the need to integrate regional development far more closely in the investment decisions of the main spending Departments, the need to understand the interactions between different levels on the spatial hierarchy far better and to develop effective policy for cities, towns and rural areas and of course the continuing challenge for development in the north-west, which has been further exacerbated by Brexit.

It seems that delivering on effective balanced regional development is still a work in progress.

Pauline White

 

 

 

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