24 June 1999 Edition

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One small step for the IDA

BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN

     
The change in policy is long overdue. The IDA will have to make a huge effort to redress the imbalances of the past
After decades of work, the Industrial Development Authority has taken a small step towards recognising the reality of Irish economic life.

``From now on we will measure our performance not only against job creation results but also by monitoring the regional distribution and the quality of project as indicated by the level of salaries, the skills content in companies and the range of additional functions beyond the core manufacturing or service activity.''

In short the IDA will judge itself on the wages, the working conditions, the location and the spin-off jobs from projects they attract into the 26-county economy.

An Phoblacht spoke to an IDA spokesperson who told us that this change of strategy was ``absolutely a sea change for the organisation''.

``Previously the IDA's priority was simply to get industries into Ireland,'' he said. ``Now the priority for the authority is to deliver more than half of all the new greenfield jobs into counties designated for Objective One status''.

What is all the more significant about the new IDA strategy is that they plan to deliver on this objective within five years. The only thing standing in their way is a lack of infrastructural development. The IDA say that they are ``in a constant battle to persuade government of the need for infrastructural development''.

Telecommunications and roads were cited as the core factors in the lack of an adequate economic infrastructure as was the ``piecemeal and slow development'' of the road network. The IDA will open a new office in Cavan and have reorganised their own senior management structure. According to the IDA: ``Key executives are being charged with responsibility for delivering to specific regions.''

Over the past year, the IDA paid £137.9 million in grants to companies in Ireland. These companies employ almost 116,000 people. The average cost per job, according to the IDA, is £11,462.

In 1998 they created 16,000 new jobs, However the net change in total IDA-backed jobs was only 8,810 new jobs, as 7,186 people also lost their jobs in IDA-backed companies in 1998.

Sinn Féin TD and Ard Chomhairle member Caoimhghín O Caoláin welcomed the IDA's strategic shift. He told An Phoblacht that ``the change in policy is long overdue. The IDA will have to make a huge effort to redress the imbalances of the past.''

``For example, the North East, which includes Monaghan, had 4,781 IDA-backed jobs in 1994. In 1998 the same region had 4,790 IDA backed jobs. Compare this to the Eastern region. In 1994, this area had 28,354 jobs compared to 50,552 today. That's an increase of 78%''.

Seán MacManus, Sinn Féin councillor and deputy Mayor of Sligo Corporation, highlighted the imbalances in the North West. He said: ``The IDA figures show the extent of the neglect suffered by the North West. In 1994, there were 6,705 IDA-backed jobs in the North West. At the end of 1998 the number was 6,568.

``The people of Sligo and the North West have every right to feel aggrieved at being overlooked when it comes to job creation. There is a need for a comprehensive development programme for the North West which would tackle the infrastructural and economic development needs of the region.

``The IDA's change in strategy is welcome but there is a need for a greater involvement of local communities and local government in the workings of the IDA. It is not enough for the IDA to regionalise its approach to job creation. They must also decentralise their decision making and structures and become an organisation run from the bottom up, not from the top down.

``Then the IDA will be truly in a position to plan for a regionalised approach to job creation. Otherwise they will be in danger of repeating the many mistakes of the past.''

An Phoblacht asked the IDA why was a bottom-up approach not being considered. The authority spokesperson said that the incoming businesses preferred a top-down approach to planning investment projects because of a need for ``absolute confidentiality'' when planning job-creation projects. However, the spokesperson also cited examples where local communities had played crucial roles in attracting inward investors to their area.

The IDA have taken a very small step forward to being a more effective development agency. There are many more to be taken before they can truly be a representative democratic regional development agency. Time will tell if they are really willing to take that road.

IDA's job creation record


Region    1994     1998
North-West    6,705    6,568
West    7,671    10,758
Mid-West    10,114    12,180
South West    11,760    15,102
South-East    8,340    9,802
East    28,354    50,552
North-East    4,781    4,790
Midlands    5,799    6,229

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