The Government launched the latest phase of its Action Plan for Jobs in late January. The 2015 plan was unveiled at Icon’s corporate headquarters following an announcement that the multi-national company intends to create an additional 200 jobs in Dublin and Limerick.
The action plan is the fourth of its kind since the process was introduced in early 2012 and is regarded as a “whole-of-government initiative” which incorporates the efforts of all 16 government departments as well as 46 state agencies. The plan catalogues a series of nearly 400 detailed actions to be completed in 2015. Themes include regional development, start-up companies, energy, skills development and competitiveness. Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton stated: “This year’s action plan continues to keep a focus on competitiveness and areas of real potential, like energy and intellectual property, but it puts a very heavy spotlight on encouraging even more new start-ups and also introduces new approaches to deliver on balanced regional development.”
The action plan retains the five principal strategic objectives around which each annual phase is delivered i.e. the creation of 100,000 additional jobs by 2016, the return of Ireland to a top-five ranking of international competitiveness, the stimulation of the domestic economy, the establishment of an “indigenous engine of growth,” and the creation of world-class clusters in the “main sectors of opportunity”.
At the launch, Taoiseach Enda Kenny stated: “We began the Action Plan for Jobs process in 2012, mapping out the huge amount of little steps necessary to support enterprise in the creation and maintenance of jobs. It is working.”
Unemployment rates dropped from 15.1 per cent in early 2012 to 10.6 per cent by late 2014 with an additional 80,000 people in employment since the action plan process commenced. Furthermore, the document emphasises IMF forecasts for Ireland having the strongest rates of growth in the euro area in 2015.
The action plan tasks Enterprise Ireland with generating a gross total of 13,000 new full-time positions within client firms. IDA Ireland has been simultaneously allocated a gross target figure of 14,000 new jobs. Job creation within these agency-supported firms should produce expenditure spill-overs which in turn support other sectors of the economy.
The Action Plan for Jobs contends that Ireland’s recovery since 2011 has been “founded on a deliberate policy of driving export growth across the economy and supporting successful Irish based enterprises in international markets.” Enterprise Ireland will target clients in an effort to attain €19 billion in exports in 2015. Meanwhile, IDA Ireland aims to win 160 new investment projects for Ireland.
The domestic economy
One strength of Ireland’s indigenous agri-food industry is its ability to impact upon all regions of the country. The action plan illustrates how the ambitious targets set by Food Harvest 2020 for farm-level investments has the potential to positively affect employment opportunities in rural areas and subsequently act as a stimulus within local economies. The Government has also pledged to provide 1,450 trading online vouchers in 2015 which will enable local businesses to trade online and compete for new commercial opportunities, both domestically as well as through exports. Furthermore, the Government plans to establish a new tourism action plan. Overall, the tourism sector has an allocated target of 7.7 million overseas visitors in 2015.
The Government is pursuing a reduction in the number of citizens in long-term receipt of jobseeker benefits. The Pathways to Work strategy aims to continue the work of its predecessors in ensuring that increased employment figures under the action plan are matched with a reduction in figures for those who are dependent on jobseeker payments. Tánaiste Joan Burton stated: “We are making very significant progress in getting people back to work but we want to increase the momentum. So we are introducing further schemes to assist the out of work to return to employment, including the back to work family dividend.” This particular scheme enables those returning to work to retain the element of their welfare payment intended to support their children.
The Government reaffirms its commitment to obtaining a top-five international competitiveness ranking. The action plan outlines plans for a reduction in administrative burden and highlights an enhanced use of ICT, the revoking of outdated legislation or red tape, communication of best practice, and increased awareness of government assistance schemes as factors expediting business in Ireland. The Government intends to implement the high-speed broadband plan as well as the national postcode system.
Finance flow to SMEs
Building upon previous efforts in this sector, the action plan outlines how government policy will speed up the flow of finance from both bank and non-bank spheres. It is anticipated that the establishment of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland will make funding for SMEs more accessible. Furthermore, the action plan recognises the significant challenges which continue to obstruct the SME sector and pledges to tackle the “cyclical and structural constraints” which hinder financing.
The Government has indicated that it regards any interaction, whether a consultation with or a challenge from industry partners, as having value and it specifically refers to the National Competitiveness Council and the wider enterprise sector as being included in this “key part of the process.” The action plan contains an embedded assessment framework which links objectives and actions to impacts, simplifying the ability to track the direction of progress and its contribution to the core principle of increased employment.
Opposition parties have responded to the latest government proposals with criticism. Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín stated: “Since entering into government in 2011, employment has increased by just 58,600. This figure falls far short of Labour and Fine Gael’s commitment to create 100,000 jobs during their term in office. For every job created, five people have emigrated.” Meanwhile Fianna Fáil jobs spokesman Dara Calleary commented: “The recent CSO figures suggest that there are over 80,000 people who have been on the Live Register since  and are still on it today.” Calleary continued: “What is being done for the 165,000 people who have been signing on for more than a year?”