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SMEs in Ireland: What are the issues?

Earlier this year the WDC made a submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. They are currently investigating the issue of Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland.  Last Tuesday we were among 15 individuals and organisations invited to address a public hearing of the Seanad on the topic.  A video of the hearings is available here (the WDC’s contribution begins at 3:48) and the final report will be published by the Seanad early next year.

The inputs to the public hearing covered the owner, national and regional perspectives on SMEs in Ireland.  Over the course of five hours a very broad range of topics and issues relevant to the operation and future of SMEs in Ireland was discussed, here are just a few of the themes which emerged.

Incentivising entrepreneurship:  How can we make it more attractive for people to choose to establish their own business?  It was suggested the idea should be encouraged at primary school level, before children enter the ‘points race’, by adding entrepreneurship to the list of potential career choices.  It was also noted that some entrepreneurship, especially in rural areas, may ‘grow from the ashes’ as a result of the closure of a large business and limited alternative employment.  Reducing personal risk as a barrier to entrepreneurship was raised in terms of social insurance, as well as the issue of the rate of capital gains tax acting as a disincentive.

Varied forms of entrepreneurship: It was proposed that more varied forms of entrepreneurship and ownership models, including co-operatives and social enterprise, should be encouraged.  With a more socially conscious generation of young people, it was recognised there could be more demand to buy from socially and environmentally conscious local businesses.  It was suggested that this could support succession planning for family-run businesses with more options for buy-outs by worker co-operatives.

Attracting skills and management capacity:  As the labour market tightens, SMEs increasingly have to compete for employees with large multinationals. SMEs can lose trained staff to FDI companies paying higher salaries and this particularly restricts the development of management capacity as SMEs find it difficult to compete with FDI companies on salaries for high level management roles.  But a strong management team is central to SME success and can also help with succession through a management buy-out.  Incentives to retain staff, such as the Keep scheme, were seen as important to tackle this.  The diaspora was also highlighted as a potential source of key skills for SMEs and a number of initiatives to attract people back to rural, regional and Gaeltacht locations were outlined. For counties in the Greater Dublin Area, promoting ‘reverse commuting’ with SMEs encouraged to establish in commuter towns to take advantage of the pool of talent currently commuting into Dublin, was highlighted.

Education and training: To meet the skill requirements of SMEs there was a need for them to identify their current and future skills needs. EI are currently running ‘spotlight on skills’ workshops for companies which aim to help with this.  Close collaboration between SMEs in a region and local education providers (ETBs, IoTs, Universities) is critical to providing the pipeline of skills needed for future jobs as well as facilitating accredited lifelong learning to upskill current staff.  Increasing the range of sectors covered by apprenticeships and making the apprenticeship path more attractive were also raised.

Costs and regulatory burden:  The rising cost of utilities and insurance and the impact this is having on SMEs.  For example a number of key insurers have left the insurance market for retail businesses in Ireland and there is uncertainty how UK insurers providing cover in Ireland will be impacted by Brexit.  Initiatives to spread costs more evenly, such as the timing of Revenue payments, could help with SME cash flow.  The Government was urged to ‘think small first’ when developing new regulations and to take into consideration the cumulative impact of numerous regulations on small businesses, rather than looking at the impact of one regulation in isolation from others.

Procurement: The potential for public procurement as a market for SMEs.  The ‘bundling’ of contracts could put some public projects out of reach of SMEs and it was felt that, as far as possible within EU tendering guidelines, SMEs should be facilitated to access public procurement

Broadband and remote working: SMEs will not be able to connect with their markets in the absence of high-speed broadband across the country.  The lack of high-speed broadband in some rural and regional locations is a critical issue and has in fact led to the relocation of some companies.  It was noted that 4G /5G mobile technology was not sufficient the needs of SMEs and fibre broadband was the most future proofed technology.  Broadband could also facilitate remote working for employees and entrepreneurs.  The provision of digital hubs and innovation centres could facilitate networking and social interaction. It was noted that there needed to be a culture change in terms of remote working.

Scale and performance:  Recent Irish economic growth has mainly been driven by FDI and Irish SMEs are not performing as well in terms of exports or innovation.  It was felt that they were not living up to their potential, as research by the Enterprise Research Centre has shown that Irish micro-enterprises have greater growth ambition, digital adoption and use of innovation than their UK or US counterparts. Growing the scale of Irish SMEs and diversifying their markets, especially beyond the UK, were seen as priorities for improved performance.  It was also noted that some SMEs may be caught in the ‘middle’, too large for LEOs but not exporting so not within EI’s remit.  Brexit makes it difficult for any SME to plan and it was suggested that some companies may need more direct support to adapt to the Brexit impact.

Investment and finance:  There is a need for more investment in SMEs, who currently largely rely on short-term debt financing rather than longer term equity investment.  Investors need to be incentivised more to make equity investments in SMEs, while SME owners should be encouraged to be more open to equity investment.  While new, high-tech companies were very open to the idea, more established SMEs may be reluctant to seek such investment.  It was also noted there was a lack of private sector early stage and venture capital funding in the regions.  In relation to lending to SMEs, a Local Public Banking model, similar to that in Germany, was proposed.  Based on relationship banking, these local public banks could provide loans to SMEs and would operate on a non-profit basis.

The ultimate outcome of the consultation will be a strategy proposal document on SMEs in Ireland which the Seanad will publish early next week and propose to the relevant Government Minister.  It is hoped this will place a renewed focus on the role and importance of indigenous SMEs to the Irish economy and regional development.

Pauline White

Payments and income from farming in the Western Region

As discussed in the last blog post on farmers in the Western Region, agriculture is an important sector of Irish economy and particularly important to the rural economy and society.  In this post different measures of payments and income are examined using three different sources.  Data on CAP beneficiaries is available at county level, showing how much is received in each county, while the recently published Revenue data for 2016 provides information on average Farming Income and Gross Income for the ‘farming cases’.  Finally, the National Farm Survey, conducted by Teagasc, provides detailed information on farming income.

Each of these sources is measuring different things for different purposes so it is useful to compare them to add to our understanding of farming in the Western Region.

 

Payments from the CAP.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) contributes a significant amount to the local economy.  In 2016 more than €525m was received from the CAP by the 54,215 beneficiaries in the Western Region (Table 1) with an average of €9,689 per recipient in the Western Region.

Table 1: CAP beneficiaries in the Western Region in 2016

Source: DAFM CAP Beneficiaries Database

Galway (€ 135m) and Mayo (€105m) had the highest receipts and also had the highest numbers of recipients, while Leitrim (€35m) and Sligo (€37m) had the lowest total receipts.  However, when the average receipt is considered (Figure 1) the pattern is different.

Figure 1: Average received by CAP beneficiaries in the Western Region

Source: DAFM CAP Beneficiaries Database 2016

Average receipts in 2016 were highest in Clare (€10,945), Galway (€10,292), and Roscommon (€10,050), but these were still among the lowest in the country (Clare has the 17th highest average receipt, and average receipts in Galway and Roscommon were 20th and 21st of the 26 counties). The four lowest average payments in the country were in the Western Region with Sligo the lowest in the country.  In contrast, the highest average receipts were in Dublin (€19,062 and which has a very small number of beneficiaries (867)) and in the South East with €17,806 the average in Waterford, €17,205 the average in Kilkenny and €16,194 the average in Carlow.

The very significant different in receipts between the Western Region and the South East reflect both farm size, and the enterprise type.

 

Farm Incomes- Revenue Data

In addition to information about numbers of farming cases, data is available from Revenue for both average Gross income and average Farming Income.   The data for Revenue cases from farming is from the Revenue Statistics and Economic Research Branch publication ‘The Farming Sector in Ireland: A Profile of Revenue Data’ available here.

In 2016 nationally there were 137,109 ‘farmer’ cases with an average Farming Income of €21,952.  There were 40,709 ‘farmer’ cases in the Western Region with an average Farming Income of €13,338.  Data for each of the Western Region counties is shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Average Farm Income by county- Revenue data

Source: The farming sector in Ireland: A profile from Revenue data, 2016 data, published 2018

The lowest average Farm Income is in Leitrim (€10,679), while the highest was in Clare (€16,701), but the seven Western Region counties are the seven counties with the lowest average Farm Income nationally.  Waterford has the highest average Farm Income (€35,026), followed by Kilkenny (€32,408) and Kildare (€32,292)

Interestingly, for farmer cases the Revenue also provides information about the average Gross income.  This includes income from other sources (the two most significant of these are PAYE income from employment and income from other business sources). It therefore includes income from off farm work.  It should be remembered that where couples are jointly assessed this includes the earnings of both.

Figure 3: Average Gross Income and average Farm Income in Western Region counties –revenue data

Source: The farming sector in Ireland: A profile from Revenue data, 2016 data, published 2018

Non farm income is very significant in the Western Region, accounting for most of the income in the farming cases in the Western Region indicating the importance of off farm employment in farming households.

The National Farm Survey

The final source of data on farm income is the National Farm Survey (NFS) which has been conducted by Teagasc on an annual basis since 1972.  The survey is operated as part of the Farm Accountancy Data Network of the EU and fulfils Ireland’s statutory obligation to provide data on farm output, costs and income to the European Commission. A random, nationally representative sample is selected annually in conjunction with the Central Statistics Office (CSO).  In 2016 the sample of 861 farms which represented 84,736 farms nationally.  Pig and Poultry farms are not included in the survey.

Data from the NFS is not available at county level, but Figure 4 below shows the Family Farm Income[1] for 2016 for each of the NUTS 3 regions.

Figure 4: National Farm Survey Family Farm Income by Region, 2016

Source: Teagasc, 2017, National Farm Survey 2016

The Border and the West regions, which account for six of the seven Western Region counties have the lowest Family Farm Income in 2016.  Clare is part of the Mid West region.

Comparing the data.

As Family Farm Income from the National Farm Survey is not available at county level, it is useful to compare the data on CAP beneficiaries and from Revenue tax cases at regional level.  Figure 5 shows the three different payment and income measures for the NUTS 3 regions.

In most regions, except the Border (and it should be noted the NFS does not include pigs and poultry which are concentrated in the Region) the Family Farm Income is the highest figure, while the average Farm Income for Revenue is lower.  As expected, given that it is only one of the elements of farm income, CAP receipts are lower than either income figure.

Figure 5: DAFM receipts, Revenue average Farm Income and NFS Family Farm Income 2016 by Region

Source: Teagasc National Farm Survey, 2016; The farming sector in Ireland: A profile from Revenue data, 2016 data, published 2018; DAFM CAP Beneficiaries Database2016

 

In the Border, Midland and the West Region in particular, the CAP receipts are a higher proportion of income figures, indicating the greater contribution of the subsidies to income in these regions.

Conclusions

While these three different measures are derived from different sources they are all consistent.  The West and Border have lowest income and lowest average CAP benefit as well as lower taxable income from farming.  The pattern of farming is different in these regions, with different enterprise types, smaller farm sizes and greater reliance on off farm income.  Yet farming in these regions is integral to their rural economy, the rural landscape and CAP payments and their multipliers make a significant contribution the local economy.  These are all important considerations when negotiating the next CAP.

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] Family Farm Income represents the return from farming for the farm family to their labour, land and capital. It does not include non-farm income.  See here for more information.

How important is Wholesale & Retail in the Western Region?

The WDC recently published the first in a series of ‘Regional Sectoral Profiles’ analysing specific economic sectors in the Western Region and identifying key policy issues.  The first sector examined is Wholesale & Retail.  Two publications are available:

  • WDC Insights: Wholesale & Retail in the Western Region (2-page summary)
  • Wholesale & Retail in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile (full report)

Download both here

Wholesale & Retail Employment in the Western Region

42,510 people were employed in the Wholesale & Retail sector in the Western Region in 2016. At 12.7% of total employment, it is the region’s second largest employment sector, after Industry.  It is somewhat less important in the region than nationally (Fig. 1).  At 13.3% of all employment, it is Ireland’s largest employer.

Among western counties, Wholesale & Retail is most significant in Mayo (14.4%) and least so in Clare (11.2%).  Two other largely rural counties (Roscommon and Donegal) had the next highest shares working in the sector in the region.  Wholesale & Retail accounted for a higher share of total employment in 2016 than a decade earlier in all western counties (except Donegal) and most notably in the most rural counties.

Fig. 1: Percentage of total employment in the Wholesale & Retail sector in Western Region and state, 2006, 2011 and 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016: Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ011; CSO, Census 2006: Volume 7 – Principal Economic Status and Industries, Table C0713

52.3% of people at work in the Wholesale & Retail sector in the Western Region are male, similar to the national average.  Males make up the majority in all western counties (at 55.2% Sligo has the greatest male majority) except Clare (50.8% female) and Galway city (50.9% female).

Wholesale & Retail Employment in western towns

Wholesale & Retail is the largest employment sector for 16 out of the region’s 40 urban centres.  There is no clearly discernible pattern in the relative importance (as a percentage of total employment) of the sector across the 40 towns, ranked by descending size (Fig. 2). Factors such as location, distance from larger urban centres, diversity of its economic profile and alternative job options combine with a town’s size to determine the role played by the sector.

Boyle (20.2%), Ballina (20%) and Castlebar (19.1%) have the highest shares working in Wholesale & Retail in the region. These, and other towns with a high share, are important rural service centres located quite some distance from larger centres and serving wide rural hinterlands.  The sector is least important for Strandhill, Newmarket-on-Fergus and Moycullen; all are towns located close to large urban centres which are likely their main retail centre.

Fig. 2: Percentage of total employment in the Wholesale & Retail sector in towns in the Western Region, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016: Profile 11 – Employment, Occupations and Industry, Table EB030

Self-employment in Wholesale & Retail

The Western Region is characterised by greater self-employment in Wholesale & Retail than the national average (15.5% of total employment in the sector is self-employment compared with 12.7% in the state).  Every western county, except Galway City, also has an above average share of self-employment, meaning the sector in the region is characterised by more family or owner/ manager run businesses, likely smaller in scale.

The share of self-employment declined in all western counties (except Sligo) between 2011 and 2016. This indicates a changing composition of the sector with fewer family or owner/manager run Wholesale & Retail businesses and the expansion of multiples and chain stores with a growing share of those working in the sector being employees.

Employment in Wholesale & Retail sub-sectors

Census data on employment in the Wholesale & Retail sector is sub-divided into 17 separate activities.  For ease of presentation here these are grouped into five broad areas: Motor trades; Wholesale; Food/beverage retail; Clothing/footwear retail; and All other retail.[1]

In 2016, the largest sub-sector in the Western Region was ‘Food/beverage retail’ (Fig. 3) accounting for 27.7% of all employment in the Wholesale & Retail sector. The largest element of this is supermarkets.  The next largest sub-sector is ‘All other retail’ (e.g. furniture, computers, petrol stations etc.) followed by ‘Wholesale’.  The relative importance of the five sub-sectors differs across counties. Generally, ‘Food/beverage retail’ is the largest with close to 30% working in this sub-sector in Clare and Leitrim.  Two exceptions are Galway City and Roscommon where ‘All other retail’ is bigger.

Fig. 3: Percentage of total Wholesale & Retail employment in each sub-sector in Western Region and state, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016: Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ011

The sub-sectors have performed differently over time. For the Western Region, ‘Motor trades’ saw the most significant jobs growth between 2011 and 2016 reflecting strong recent growth in car sales and recovery from substantial job losses during the recession. ‘Clothing/footwear retail’ was the only other area to show some growth with the other three sub-sectors declining in the region.  This is in contrast to the national picture where all sub-sectors grew except ‘Food/beverage retail’.

Key Policy Issues

Wholesale & Retail plays a critical role in the regional and rural economy as it is more widely dispersed than many other sectors. It is a highly visible sector and its performance has a major impact on the viability and vibrancy of towns.  It also provides important job options for people with lower skill levels and younger people.  There has been growing policy interest in this sector in the past number of years. Some of the key policy issues include:

  • Increased consumer mobility & rural areas: The trend of travelling to large urban centres to avail of wider retail choice presents opportunities for the region’s largest centres but may have negative consequences for small and medium-sized rural towns.
  • Town centre renewal: Towns are trying to adapt to their changing role. Retail is just one of the services they provide and for many it is declining in relative importance.  Taking a broad approach to town centre renewal is critical to making towns more attractive retail and service destinations.
  • Growth of online sales: Online sales continue to grow but the majority of spending leaks out of Ireland. While online can be seen as a threat to traditional retail, it also presents an opportunity to expand beyond local markets.
  • Declining self-employment: While self-employment remains higher in the region than elsewhere, it is declining. Fewer family or owner/manager run enterprises impacts on the local distinctiveness of the retail offering of individual towns.
  • Quality of employment and skills development: While Wholesale & Retail offers many high quality jobs, it also employs a lot of younger and lower skilled workers. Improving the quality and security of jobs in this sector is important for worker rights and also for the sector’s ability to adapt to emerging trends.

Opportunities exist to grow online activity and to restructure the retail and service offering of towns to meet changing consumer needs.  However, grasping these opportunities will depend on proactive policy to support the sector, a willingness to adapt among retailers, increased capacity for businesses to compete with larger national or global retailers and a collaborative approach to help towns adapt to their changing function.

More detailed analysis and discussion of these policy issues are available in ‘Wholesale & Retail in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile

Pauline White

[1] Appendix 1 of the report provides data for all 17 activities.

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 54,410 enterprises registered in the seven-county Western Region, and only 50 of these were large (250+) 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