Opening Address. Mr Phil Hogan, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government

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1 Opening Address Mr Phil Hogan, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government EU Committee of the Regions Bureau Conference Open Session Royal Hospital Kilmainham Dublin 1 March 2013 Chairman Valcárcel, Lord Mayor, and distinguished guests I appreciate this opportunity to address this open session of the Bureau and the Conference. Employment creation the challenge The goal of creating employment, not alone to meet the needs of those who are unemployed, but in the context of evolving global markets and technologies, is one of the most formidable challenges confronting the EU institutions and the Governments of Member States. The scale of the challenge is evident from the statistics the unemployment rate in the EU in early 2012 hit an all-time high of 10.2% the level of unemployment in the Euro area is its highest ever level the level of job-creation is just a fraction of the jobs that are being lost. This is happening at a time when the EU economy is facing long-term structural changes that are adversely affecting its competitiveness. Like other EU Member States, Ireland has experienced a serious unemployment crisis one that has given rise to many negative economic and social consequences for individuals, families and communities. The rate of unemployment remains unacceptably high at over 14%, and unemployment among young people is a particular concern. However, we had very good news yesterday that, for the first time in nearly five years, the numbers at work have increased and the rate of unemployment has fallen from 14.6% to 14.2%. This is also good news for Europe as a whole because it shows that with the right economic policies, followed with determination, there will be a positive outcome. It should also remind us of the underlying strengths of an Irish economy that was derailed largely by excessive credit, irresponsible economic management, loss of competitiveness and above, all debt. 1

2 Addressing unemployment must continue to be at the very top of the political agenda for us all. The response must be multi-dimensional including strengthened job creation policies, improving job quality, and investment in skills In common with other Member States in the European Union, the Irish Government acknowledges that there is no easy solution to reducing unemployment. Nor is there an immediate answer to the question of providing the labour force with the skills needed to avail of future job opportunities as and when they arise. Addressing these issues requires a sustained, co-ordinated effort from all stakeholders Government and all levels of the public service, employers, education and training providers - to design and implement effective solutions. Improving skills The issue that your Conference is addressing new skills and jobs has a central role to play in the overall strategy to maintain and create employment. Europe s ability to retain and improve its economic competitiveness, and reestablish growth and innovation in evolving market conditions relies on the availability of a highly skilled and technically qualified human resource base. While major national and multinational projects are important sources of jobs throughout the European Community, the availability of skilled labour for local businesses and services is equally important for sustainable growth. A structured approach to the development of skills involving State agencies, businesses and individuals is a proven method to provide routes to employment. Many workers are, highly skilled in their individual fields, but in a changing labour market find there is either a lack or absence of demand for them. Nevertheless, they have much to offer to their communities, and indeed the economy. In contrast, we also find that in some sectors, there are insufficient skillsets available to meet the requirements of employers. It is essential, therefore, that those who wish to either up-skill or retrain are given the opportunity to so do. 2

3 Job creation Ireland The Progamme for Government that Ireland adopted in 2011 gives priority to addressing unemployment. In fact, just last week, the Taoiseach launched the Action Plan for Jobs 2013, building on the progress that we have achieved so far. It aims to rebuild the economy, and accelerate the transition to a sustainable, jobs-rich economy based on enterprise, innovation and export. The 2013 Plan, which contains over 300 actions to be implemented across a large number of Government Department and Agencies, will continue to improve supports for job creating businesses and remove the barriers to employment creation across the economy. These actions are additional to the 250 actions already implemented under last year s Action Plan, which have helped to support a net growth of almost 12,000 in private-sector employment in the past year. In contrast, a net 250,000 jobs were lost in the private sector in the 12 months to March The Action Plan 2013 has 7 headline measures, designed to have a high impact and to be achievable within ambitious deadlines. As part of a new approach, 6 senior industry figures with track records of developing businesses and creating jobs will be appointed to bring their experience and skills to bear on implementing these measures and on the Government s policy on jobs and enterprise more generally. One of these measures is the provision of an additional 2,000 ICT graduate level professionals in 2013, with the aim of leading Europe by 2018 in terms of ICT graduates as a percentage of all third level graduates. This develops the joint Government-Industry ICT Action Plan, which is a direct response to identified ICT skills shortages. Initiatives on Skills We have been acutely aware of the importance of addressing the issue of meeting future skills needs. An Expert Group on Future Skills Needs advises the Government on current and future skills needs of the economy, and on other labour market issues that impact on Ireland s enterprise and employment growth. The Expert Group works closely with Government Departments and the enterprise promotion agencies to address the skills requirements of the sectors that offer future employment growth potential, such as the ICT Sector. Enabling the Further Education and Training sector to better respond to the current and future skills needs of employers is also key to equipping individuals with the skills they will need for the jobs of tomorrow. In this regard, I m happy to say that the Government has a range of policy initiatives in place aimed at the maintenance and improvement of skills. This includes the funding of education and training places, as well as the provision of higher 3

4 education places and re-skilling opportunities specifically for unemployed people in areas of emerging skills. Among the initiatives undertaken under the 2012 Plan for jobs was the launch of a new Labour Market Education & Training Fund. The fund, known as Momentum, commits 20 million from the Irish Government towards targeted training interventions for the long-term unemployed. It tackles the skills shortages in particular sectors of the Irish economy where vacancies have been identified and will provide up to 6,500 training places for the unemployed. Some of the places have been targeted specifically at young unemployed people. The fund will be co-financed by the European Social Fund. Local Government Reform Late last year, I launched a major local government reform programme - an Action Programme for Effective Local Government - setting out Government decisions for reform across all the main areas of local government. One of the top priorities in this programme is to enhance the role of local government in economic development and job creation, building on the significant progress already being made by local authorities in this area and extending best practice. Important components of this role will be the integration of enterprise support functions in local government, alignment of local and community development with the local government system, and the assignment of a clearer and stronger mandate to local authorities in economic development. The local economic role will be supported by a new regional framework of Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies which all relevant agencies will be required to participate in and comply with. These strategies will be drawn up through a new streamlined system of regional assemblies in the context of a radical reform and renewal of regional structures and functions. Strong linkage with the Committee of the Regions will be an important feature of the new regional regime. The reform Action Programme sets out a comprehensive agenda for all the key elements of local government - structures, functions, resources, operational arrangements and governance. It will address long-standing weakness in the system and reverse decades of decline. The Programme is built around a clear vision for local government as the main vehicle of governance and public service throughout the country. Unlike many previous reform documents, this Programme sets out firm decisions by Government rather than proposals for discussion. It will, as its title suggests, result in action. These decisions that the Government have taken will be implemented through wide-ranging legislation that we are currently developing with a view 4

5 to enactment by the end of next year, so that all measures are in place ahead of the local elections in mid Presidency Priorities One of the priorities for Ireland s Presidency of the Council of the European Union will be the progression of discussions and agreement regarding the Youth Guarantee. The Commission s proposal is for a Council Recommendation that each member state should ensure that no person under 25 years of age will remain unemployed (whether after job loss or on leaving formal education) for more than four continuous months without a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship. EU initiatives such as this will further enhance the developments being progressed in Ireland in the further education and training sector. Conclusion In conclusion, I believe that the strategy in relation to job creation requires us to accord it top priority across all levels of government, to be comprehensive and imaginative. The local government reform programme will strengthen the capacity of local authorities in economic development and job creation. The up-grading of skills to meet evolving needs must be an integral part of our strategy. I hope that your work this week will make a valuable contribution towards a coherent strategy across the EU Thank You. 5

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