DÁIL QUESTION WITH JOBS ON DEPARTMENT FUNDING

  1. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her priorities for budget 2018; the amount of increased funding she expects to access; projects or areas for such; if increased resources are being sought for her Department’s agencies for Brexit work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30229/17]

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I also wish the Minister well in her new portfolio. I am sure she will miss the Department of Justice and Equality and the lengthy questions both I and other Deputies used to submit to her. I also wish the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, well in the portfolio he has retained.

Budget 2018 will be vital. I do not agree with removing any part of the Department and transferring it to another Department. In what appears to be a reflection of the hard right ideology of the new Taoiseach, it appears employment will be moved into the Department of Social Protection. These are different functions and responsibility for employment should be in the same Department as responsibility for jobs. What areas will not be included in the Department’s Estimates this year?

A couple of Deputies discussed the issue of Brexit at length. What additional resources will the Department be allocated to address the issue of Brexit? The previous Minister secured an additional €100 million for the Department last year. I wonder how ambitious the new Minister will be in at least matching that achievement.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Final decisions have not yet been made on the specific functions of the Department that may transfer. It is important to have close co-operation with the Department of Social Protection because we want people to move seamlessly into employment when opportunities arise. We do not want there to be barriers preventing people from taking up jobs that become available.

The Deputy asked about the forthcoming budget. My Department is engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on budget 2018. It is too early in the process, however, to be definitive about the Department’s capital and current ceilings for 2018, which will not be finalised until later in the year.

As part of 2017 budget negotiations, the overall gross allocation to my Department was substantially increased to €858 million, which included the highest ever capital allocation of €555 million provided to my Department. This increase was targeted at ensuring my Department’s enterprise agencies were in a position to respond proactively to the evolving Brexit situation.

I have already held discussions in the Department and with others on a number of discrete and significant priorities for the coming year. These include the need to continue progress on delivering on the Government’s regionalisation agenda, which I have discussed with Deputies, and its commitment to create 200,000 extra jobs by 2020, including 135,000 jobs outside Dublin. A second priority is to ensure the Department’s enterprise agencies are in a position to provide transformational supports for indigenous enterprise. I discussed this important point with Deputy Brendan Smith. We must also continue the roll-out of research and development investment in support of the Government’s science strategy, Innovation 2020, and provide, if required, contingency funding and access to finance packages over two years to support firms most at risk from the threat of Brexit. As the Deputy is aware, some firms will be more at risk from Brexit than others. I intend to ensure that these priorities are at the forefront of discussions on budget 2018.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The Minister’s predecessor established a Brexit unit in the Department. How many officials are engaged in the unit and what type of ongoing work is it doing with business on the ground in the regions and in the capital? The previous Minister informed us in January that Enterprise Ireland would recruit an additional 39 staff and IDA Ireland would recruit an additional ten staff to prepare for Brexit. Will the Minister comment on the work the enterprise agencies have been doing? Can additional resources be allocated to these bodies? There is still grave anxiety about the prospect of Brexit. We heard a British Minister speak casually about trucks being pulled over on the roads in the context of North-South trade. It would be intolerable to be dragged back into that environment with that type of Border.

Brexit has already impacted on tourism numbers from the United Kingdom and the used car trade. Other worrying issues are developing, such as the possibility that the projected growth rate will be cut. In addition, the Economic and Social Research Institute has indicated Brexit could cost 40,000 jobs. What will be the focus of the Department? The Minister must take a dynamic role in the budget.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: The focus must be on addressing the issues of most concern to business in the run-up to Brexit. This includes meeting the challenges presented by our reliance on the United Kingdom in the context of Brexit. It is difficult at this stage because we do not know what will be the final shape of Brexit. However, Brexit has significant implications for trade generally but specifically for firms which are dependent on the UK market. The focus in the budget will be on ensuring that we have a range of initiatives in place that are supportive of business in this environment. Addressing the issue of access to finance will also be key because businesses will need to invest in capital, innovation and research and development. The Government wants to be able to help businesses to do this. We also want to ensure they access funding that is available from international resources and take all necessary steps to prepare for Brexit. I will consider these initiatives in the context of the budget.

As the Deputy correctly noted, additional funding was provided in last year’s budget to facilitate significant recruitment in the enterprise agencies. This continues to be supported by my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

We are aware of the need to have staff on the ground doing the work and dealing with the challenges for businesses in the run up to Brexit. The latter is a question of businesses’ development, preparations and access to finance so that they can take the necessary steps to cope with Brexit.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: My final point is on the subject of a parliamentary question that we will not reach but that relates to this matter. In terms of the census returns on unemployment, many of us found it disturbing that there were 79 major blackspots around the country, for example, in Waterford and Limerick. In those areas, 27% of people reported themselves as being unemployed, which is far above the figures that the Taoiseach and his predecessor have talked about. In fact, seven of the blackspots are in Dublin constituencies.

Is the Minister’s Department meeting or speaking to the CSO? Are these figures coming across in programmes? For example, certain people cannot get on community employment, CE, schemes, training schemes or the like with a view to returning to work. What initiatives will the Minister take in respect of constituencies like Waterford and the north, west and south sides of Dublin?

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Does Deputy Quinlivan wish to ask a question on the same matter?

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan: Yes. I tabled a question on this issue to the Minister, but it was referred to the Department of Social Protection. It concerned the blackspots highlighted by the CSO, 17 of which are in my constituency of Limerick, with eight of the top ten in Limerick city. If creating jobs in Moyross, Southill and St. Mary’s Park is the responsibility of the Department of Social Protection rather than the Minister’s Department, what work is she undertaking with the former to ensure that people in those areas, especially young people, who have been left behind are able to access the workforce? CE schemes, apprenticeships and so on could be considered. Will the Minister’s Department liaise with the Department of Social Protection, given how important this issue is?

Unfortunately, that Limerick is in the top ten is not news to us. It was in the same situation in the previous stats.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: We can see what is happening with the unemployment rate. Its decrease is positive and is spread across the country. I recognise that there are particular challenges in some areas but, as the recovery continues, we want the decrease to reach further and deeper in every region. The Department of Social Protection’s focus on activation plays an important role, as does access to apprenticeships. We need to communicate more about the range of opportunities that are available to young people. They have a variety of options beyond the CAO process, which is not a route that everyone wants to take. We must ensure that young people understand this and that information is available to them so that they can take up various options.

The census was the subject of a different question. I will ensure that replies are made available to both Deputies.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Does Deputy Niall Collins wish to ask a brief supplementary question?

Deputy Niall Collins: Yes. I will pick up on the topic raised by the Deputies. I tabled a priority question about the CSO’s publication on employment blackspots and highlighted the situation in Limerick in particular. While I recognise that the relevant functions have been transferred to the Department of Social Protection, there is an overlap, so will the Minister furnish us with her views on the matter?

I wish to impress upon the Minister the point that, in Limerick and the other blackspots, unemployment is intergenerational, with households having two, three or four generations of unemployment. That is the key underlying factor. What can the Minister do to try to address this situation? Unemployment seems to be rolling over and rolling over within particular households in places like Limerick, Waterford, Dublin and so on.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Employment is increasing across the country and will impact on all areas. There is also the important work being done under the regional action plans for jobs. The topics raised by the Deputies are for those regional plans and initiatives. Skills assessments and apprenticeship opportunities are being developed across the country.

The intergenerational issues that Deputy Niall Collins outlined are challenging, but access for young people in those families must be our focus. We are examining all of the issues around access to training programmes and skills. The strong approach being taken by the Department of Social Protection to activation plays an important role in work that will help those families and break the vicious cycle.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.