Clear progress made on jobs but effort must be kept up

Opinion: The question now is who will be the likely beneficiary of improvement in circumstances

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 00:01

A range of economic indicators have moved into positive territory over the past few months and there is no longer much doubt that the long-awaited economic recovery is under way. The big question now is where the benefits of the recovery will go.

Will they be directed at creating the tens of thousands of new jobs that the country so badly needs or will those already in secure employment get the biggest slice of the recovery by clawing back some of the cuts imposed at the height of the crisis?

Since they took office Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Ministers have repeatedly stressed that job creation is their central objective and it appears that their focus has started to pay off.

The latest figures published during the week are encouraging and show that the Coalition is on the right track. The unemployment rate has now fallen to 12.3 per cent from 13.9 per cent in January 2013 and the 15.1 per cent peak in February 2012. If the pace of improvement is maintained the rate is on track to fall to below 10 per cent by the end of 2015.

The cut of almost three percentage points in two years still leaves the country with a huge problem, with 400,700 people on the Live Register in January, on a seasonally adjusted basis, down from the 449,000 peak in September 2010.

The Government’s action plan for jobs has undoubtedly been important in creating the right conditions for job creation but the pressure will need to be kept up all the way to the next election to get the figures down to a remotely acceptable level.

No big bang
The action plan has involved hundreds of small decisions aimed at making it easier to do business in Ireland rather than any big bang policy, but it does appear that the attention to detail is paying off.

None of the other euro zone countries which have experienced serious economic difficulties and bailouts in recent years have managed to turn their jobless figures around in a similar fashion.

A key aspect of the action plan has been the way it has forced Government departments and State agencies to focus on meeting their targets. Monthly meetings of officials feed into three-monthly reviews by the Cabinet subcommittee on jobs followed by a press conference at which the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton have to account for progress or the lack of it.

“One of the reasons this process works is that the Taoiseach gets a constant update about what is being done and there is a mad scramble in the last few weeks before the three-monthly deadline to ensure that decisions are made and items on the action plan list delivered,” says one Government source.

One of the political ironies of the situation is that Kenny and Bruton, who were rivals for the Fine Gael leadership less than a year before the Government took office, are partners in this approach to the job crisis and both of their political reputations are on the line.

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