TO its credit, the government’s national Action Plan for Jobs led to the creation of 100,000 additional jobs 21 months ahead of the deadline it set itself. However, there was an imbalance in where they were created with rural regions losing out to their urban counterparts as a lot of the jobs were in Dublin and some of the country’s bigger cities.
Having shipped some criticism for this, the government is addressing the problem now by launching a series of regional jobs strategies across the country, quite fortuitously in the months leading up to the next general election, so that they cannot be accused of neglecting the regions when the campaigning gets under way in earnest.
Last Friday at Cork County Hall, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, TD, launched the South West Action Plan for Jobs, which is the second of eight such regional jobs strategies that will cost a total of €250million. Like its national equivalent, it has an ambitious target, which aims to create 40,000 extra jobs in the Cork-Kerry region between now and 2020 by putting measures in place to increase existing jobs numbers by between 10 and 15 percent
Cork and its harbour area have done well so far in the creation of jobs especially in foreign companies exporting goods and services from here. From their lowest point in the aftermath of the economic downturn, the number of jobs in Cork increased by 24% between 2011 and 2014.
In the South West region, as a whole, the unemployment rate is now down to 9.7% from a high of 14.1% four years ago. In building on this success, however, the bodies charged with monitoring the new regional jobs strategy must ensure that there is a wider geographical distribution of new jobs in order to provide work for people who are unemployed and perhaps encourage some of those forced to emigrate to return home to rural areas and raise their families here.
Extra jobs and pay packets in smaller towns and villages are much more valuable pro rata and can help keep, shops and services and schools open, adding vibrancy to communities as a rising tide lifts all boats. There are great opportunities in West Cork in the tourism and agri-food sectors, and it is good to note that the strategy will be looking to create jobs in the life sciences, manufacturing and ICT, as well as high-potential emerging sectors such as multimedia-content and the green economy, energy and the marine.
Most towns in rural Cork and Kerry have been starved of manufacturing jobs for a long time and rarely get any of the foreign direct investment that is driving our overseas exports sector, which is currently boosted by the weakness of the euro against sterling and the US dollar. It is high time for the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to start delivering more jobs for peripheral areas; the former is developing an advance facility in Tralee, but there is no joy for West Cork in this regard.
Apart from the tourism, agri-food and seafood opportunities, it is important that the area gets a far share of jobs in areas such as ICT and in the multimedia area, but this is dependent on a timely roll-out of high-speed broadband so that places can benefit from them. These are the types of jobs we need to encourage young people to stay in rural areas or return to them after college or from abroad as their presence is vital in order to stave off the threat of rural depopulation.
While Minister Bruton is optimistic that the ambitious target of 40,000 extra jobs in the South West region can be attained, the Action Plan qualifies this by stating that the levels of employment growth actually achieved will depend on factors including the level of support and collaboration within the local community and the level of collaboration between organisations in the region and the main government bodies involved in the plan.
However, if the target is achieved and all the promised extra jobs are created, the Action Plan for Jobs cannot be deemed a true success if they are not spread equitably across the region. In fact, there should be a bias towards the rural areas within the Cork-Kerry region that have not benefitted from job creation to the same extent as urban centres and the Implementation Committee being put in place to monitor progress needs to make sure that the imbalance is being addressed properly.