17 February 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

There are several praiseworthy elements to the Government’s “Action Plan for Jobs” unveiled on Monday with much orchestrated fanfare by its creators and, subsequently, a pronounced want of enthusiasm by Opposition politicians and some media commentators.
Its chief merit is perhaps an intrinsic one – by producing a wide-ranging blueprint for employment creation, with a sequel publication planned for next year and the promise of quarterly progress reports on its effect, the Government are signalling some serious, if overdue, concentration on the task of stimulating the economy.
We’ve had an intensity of pain inflicted through cuts and revenue-garnering measures – the action plan carries at least the promise, though hardly the guarantee, of some visible gain to rebalance the scales of the country’s pitiably askew fiscal fortunes.
The initiative has drawn much criticism for its emphasis on reforming structures and policies at the expense of substantive detail on the mechanics of actual employment delivery.
The cries of “Where’s the beef?” undoubtedly resonate with the thousands of unemployed who, if they care to scan the exhausting detail of the 270 ‘actions’ that comprise the document, will find little that is immediate to the resolution of their plight.
It must be conceded, however, that a certain amount of preparatory reform in these areas would seem essential if any package of employment stimulation measures is to have effect.
The recent criticism of the effective neglect of this county by agencies such as the IDA might caution us to rein in our condemnation on the emphasis on administration and policy change contained in the Government plan.
The devil, however, could rest in the detail – and there will be many among our readership who will have reacted with alarm to the news that the Co Enterprise Board structure is to be abolished and subsumed into the operations of Enterprise Ireland.
This prospect, and the lack of any fundamental restructuring of the IDA, would seem to be making more monolithic the established structures of jobs stimulus in this country at a time when the exigent need is for them to be rendered more fluid, accessible and flexible in their ability to address established local or regional need.
Both our local politicians and our leaders of business, trade and commerce will be extremely anxious to know what this measure portends for the work of enterprise development in their midst – will such a move, for example, take away vital support structures that could be of assist to the admirable Economic Development Strategy evolved by the Monaghan Co Development Board couple of years ago to initiate incremental progress towards some realistic and achievable goals for local economic revival.
Any threat that might arise to the implementation of the strategy accentuates the importance of the request by Monaghan Co Council for a meeting with Jobs Minister Richard Bruton being acceded to at an early date – and should encourage our county’s Dáil Deputies to lobby the Minister even more zealously for such an audience.
Our county’s politicians and employers will, however, approval of the plan’s intent to institute much-needed change in the operation of the State’s public procurement process and the manner in which contracts for major capital contracts are tendered and awarded.
If, as promised, this results in a more equitable playing field for small-scale and medium sized construction enterprises, it will correct a fundamental flaw in this process and remove some of the considerable and unfair disadvantages that local contactors seeking work on major State development projects have historically been faced with.
The full benefit of this measure will not be felt locally until such time as the Government’s capital investment programme is restored to full throttle, but, if delivered upon, the changes promised are significant and reflective of some success for the intensive political and business lobbying on the issue that has taken place within Co Monaghan over recent years.
Ultimately, approval or condemnation of Government job creation strategies at the time of their announcement is premature.
They can only be judged on delivery – this plan has put a figure of 100,000 on the jobs it will “help to create” by 2016 but also comes with the Taoiseach’s caveat that his Government will not be held to specific job creation targets.
This might seem an irreconcilable paradox, but no politician jumps out of the policy plane without a parachute of sorts and Mr Kenny is conscious – and perhaps expectant that the Irish people will be also – that the vagaries of economic forces beyond this nation’s destiny to more than peripherally influence will ultimately be the determinant in the years to come of how many and what sort of additional jobs come to be created here.
And it is the type of employment rather than the degree of its proliferation that, we would respectfully suggest, is the most important consideration for Co Monaghan in plans of this nature.
The Action Plan makes detailed mention of traditional as well as emerging sources of job creation – the “old reliables and the new reliables” as Mr Kenny termed them.
The Taoiseach foresees growth in the agri-food sector and in aspects of manufacturing – both traditional fortes of this county, but areas that have suffered significant change and in some cases drastic decline. And there are the new spheres of cloud computing, the life sciences and information and computer technologies – areas where many young students from this county are achieving highly academically, but where there are as yet only the rudiments of a local employment base.
The prudent and visionary among this county’s political and economic leadership will in their study of the Government’s jobs blueprint be seeking to evolve strategies that can overcome the disadvantages of our traditional industry decline and our new industry immaturity in order to optimise our dividend from its measures.
The jobs plan is aspirational, flawed in some of its emphasis and vague in other aspects – but it is a plan, and at the very least it deserves the response of some structured local planning to determine whether the pattern for employment creation it sketches can be impressed productively onto Co Monaghan’s particular economic terrain.

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