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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - County Enterprise Boards.

Wednesday, 28 February 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 462 No. 3

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 8. Mr. E. Byrne Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton  whether he intends reviewing the operation of the county enterprise boards in view of the differential between the numbers of jobs created by various county enterprise boards; when he intends bringing forward proposals in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4516/96]

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton A review of the operation of county enterprise boards will commence in 1996 as part of the brief of the external evaluator appointed under the Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development, 1994-99, under which the CEBs receive Structural Fund support. This review work will be undertaken at two levels, assessing the progress achieved at the overall level of the Local Enterprise Sub-Programme of the Operational Programme, and it will be complemented by review activity undertaken by each county enterprise board. The review will examine the success of the boards [716] in achieving the aggregate quantitative and qualitative targets set out in the operational programme and in the enterprise plans prepared by each board. This review will also contribute to the mid-term review to be carried out under the Community Support Framework.

In addition, the current OECD County Review of Local Development in Ireland should serve as a valuable guide to possible improvements to facilitate greater effectiveness, accountability and subsidiarity in the operation of the various local development strategies.

Over £18 million was provided in grants by the 35 CEBs during 1994 and 1995 resulting in the creation of over 4,000 full-time and 1,000 part-time jobs, according to figures supplied by the boards. The cost per job created up to the end of 1995 was £3,558. In addition, a sum of over £1.4 million was provided to the boards in 1995 to facilitate their soft support activities.

Differentials in the rate of job creation as between various boards can arise for a variety of reasons relating to the nature of the projects, the rate at which they approve these projects and the long-term viability of the projects, to name but a few. These are the same factors that inevitably give rise to disparities in cost per job figures for different boards.

While these job creation and cost per job figures are encouraging, it has to be borne in mind that the boards have only had two full years of operation. The key issue, namely the sustainability of the jobs created, which will determine the success or failure of the county enterprise initiative will, by definition, take some time to determine. This is the area of the boards' operations which will be most carefully assessed and monitored.

Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne I thank the Minister for his in-depth reply. I very much welcome the offer to review the implementation of the county enterprise plans in the [717] course of this year. As a TD representing an urban constituency, and not begrudging Kerry, Laois, Mayo and even Wicklow their relative successes under the schemes, would the Minister agree that rural Ireland seems to have done far better than urban areas which have the highest concentration of disadvantage? Kerry which has fewer than 125,000 inhabitants created 140 full-time jobs in 1995 whereas Dublin city, with 0.5 million people, created only 134 jobs.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney Kerry has the Tánaiste.

Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne Does the Minister share my concern at the apparent inability of urban areas to use these schemes to maximum advantage? County Wicklow created 113 full-time jobs plus 81 part-time jobs while the capital city did not achieve one part-time job. Why the anomaly? Is it that rural Ireland is more entrepreneurial? Are the rural county enterprise boards freer in issuing funding to their schemes than those in urban areas?

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke Zoom on Mary O'Rourke They might get up earlier.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton There are a number of factors underlying the position of urban areas, in particular Dublin city. One factor is the flat sum of approvals to each board which is the same for every area regardless of size or need. I am actively looking at some way of introducing differentiation in the allocations that would take into account other factors such as need and size. That might go part of the way towards meeting the Deputy's concern.

There are other factors that have to be borne in mind in looking at different counties and the extent to which they have created employment to date. For example, some have decided to establish enterprise centres which in themselves may not be job-creating projects in the initial phase but may involve considerable expenditure. That might fit into their strategy of creating enterprise [718] in their area and we would see the effects not immediately but in the longer term. It is difficult at this early stage, after only two years of operation, to compare the impact in different areas. Many of the counties are genuinely adding value by their approach and that is not always to be seen in simply counting the number of job approvals that have gone out across their counter. It is very often in the other approaches they take to building networks, enterprise centres, etc. that will support employment creation in their area.

Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne I appreciate and support everything the Minister has said. Perhaps he should direct the enterprise boards in the city to work in closer liaison with the voluntary sector which is trying to create some form of employment in its communities. Often the formality of making applications to an agency where the personnel are not known to them is a disincentive. Greater bonding of the county enterprise boards with local community activists and communities struggling against unemployment and trying to create jobs could be fostered by the Minister.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I would support enterprise boards forging good strong links with the voluntary sector. We have endeavoured, in the structure of the boards, to ensure that sort of link in that on the board there are local councillors, representatives of trade unions, representatives of employers in the area and representatives of the State agencies. There is an attempt within the board structure to ensure that it has good roots in the community. I certainly would commend any board for working with the voluntary sector. Some have built very successful partnerships with different voluntary groups in helping to prime the pump of activities in their county.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney The Minister said he [719] intended to look at the criteria for allocating grants to the different county enterprise boards. Has he any plans to rationalise the number of agencies in the area of job creation? We have Forbairt, county enterprise boards, area partnership boards, Leader. I understand in the Cork-Kerry region there are 38 different bodies one can go to for assistance or finance. It would be helpful if the Minister would at least bring them all together in one location if he is not going to rationalise the number of agencies.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton It would be difficult to rationalise Forbairt with the county enterprise boards. The county enterprise boards are essentially addressing the issue of micro-enterprise, new start-up companies. They are explicitly mandated to try to tap into the strength of local enterprise by embracing employers, the community and the trade union movement as well as State agencies. The idea behind it is not to have a centralised system with one agency. It was deliberately devolved power, and in the case of Dublin power is devolved to four different areas. Dublin city, Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown have developed their own county enterprise plans which are adding value. They are genuinely tapping into an enterprise approach within their own areas which is valuable and supportive of the emergence of new small start-ups. While it might not be neat to have several agencies, if they are creating added value, they are to be welcomed. If it becomes established that they are not giving value for money we will have to look at them carefully, but on the basis of the plans submitted and the achievements to date, they are generally adding a diversity to our approach to stimulating enterprise.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke Zoom on Mary O'Rourke I am very much for stimulating enterprise, but I agree with Deputy Harney on the complexity of agencies, an issue I have raised publicly and in regard to which the Government [720] of which I was a member and previous Governments were at fault. If a young person approaches me in my clinic on a Saturday with an idea and wants to know whom to approach, I have to tell that person that he will have to go to every agency because otherwise he might miss out on the one agency that would be of help to him. He therefore goes to Forbairt, the IDA, FÁS, the county enterprise board, the area partnership board, Údarás, if he is in an Údarás area, or to SFADCo if he is in a SFADCo area. Time and money are wasted. People are afraid they will miss out if they visit one agency and not another. The Leader programme is valuable but many of these schemes were set up to draw down EU funding and as this will not be ongoing it is time to begin a programme of rationalisation.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I accept there is need for closer co-operation with agencies. In many counties there is a commitment to a one stop shop approach so that the public are aware whether to seek support from Leader, partnership companies, enterprise boards and so on. The Department of the Taoiseach has taken initiatives in that area. There is a strong commitment at EU level to local development projects as they are worthwhile. While the existence of bodies such as Leader, partnership companies and county enterprise boards is confusing, if they can help to develop enterprise they deserve to be given a chance. The county enterprise system, established by Fianna Fáil, has not been long in existence. If it transpires that it does not add value we should review its role. We must ensure that wastage does not occur while at the same time giving such bodies scope to develop.

Mr. Hughes: Information on Séamus Hughes Zoom on Séamus Hughes I am surprised that the Minister did not link his reply to Question No. 30 which relates to county enterprise boards. When does he anticipate that the review will be completed? Will outside consultants assist in carrying out the review? A flat rate of grant aid is given to each county irrespective [721] of its size, economic activity or tradition in creating an enterprise society and is the Minister aware that in counties such as Mayo approvals were held up when county boards ran out of money? Will the review be carried out as a matter of urgency?

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton External evaluators will carry out the review this year. It would be hard to have a final view on a full scale evaluation as this is its second year of operation. They must prioritise their work within their financial allocation and I would regard that as a test of the efficiency with which they conduct their business. However, there is a case for reviewing the flat rate and examining more coherent ways of deciding the amount for each board.

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