Fall in Enterprise Ireland company jobs ‘could have been much worse’

‘Very challenging’ year saw net job losses of 872, with sectors such as food hit hard

Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon: she  described 2020 as “a very challenging year” for Irish enterprise. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon: she described 2020 as “a very challenging year” for Irish enterprise. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The number of jobs lost by Enterprise Ireland-supported companies exceeded those created last year, but chief executive Julie Sinnamon has praised Irish businesses for their resilience and said the figures could have been much worse.

Ms Sinnamon described 2020 as “a very challenging year” for Irish enterprise due to the dual threats of Covid-19 and Brexit.

Speaking as the State agency announced that 17,386 job losses were reported by client companies in 2020, she said Enterprise Ireland’s key aim was to get back to where it was this time a year ago when it was in a position to announce a net rise in jobs created.

Overall job creation closely matched the performance in 2019, with 16,496 new jobs created in Enterprise Ireland-backed companies as against 16,971 a year earlier. This brought total employment up to 220,613. Once losses are stripped out, however, a total of 872 jobs were lost in 2020.

The coronavirus crisis was the primary reason for the losses, although the impact of Brexit was also felt in some sectors.

Underestimate

“Not to underestimate the impact on businesses but 872 jobs were lost against a portfolio of 220,000 companies, equivalent to 0.4 per cent of all companies,” said Ms Sinnamon.

“You can see the impact of the Covid crisis, but it isn’t consistent with some sectors such as life sciences, cleantech and construction all seeing significant growth, while others, such as food, recorded losses.

“Things could have been much worse. The figures show the resilience of Irish businesses, and the impact that supports had in helping them to deal with liquidity problems,” she added.

Growth in life sciences rose 6.8 per cent during 2020, while cleantech and construction were up 6 per cent and 4.7 per cent respectively.

Employment in the food sector fell by 1.5 per cent, the figures show.

In total, €142 million in funding from Enterprise Ireland was provided to 1,919 companies under a range of Covid-19 funding initiatives introduced in response to the pandemic, including €11.8 million under the online retail scheme. In addition, 8,650 companies were supported through Enterprise Ireland’s Covid-19 information hub, online support and helpline.

Ms Sinnamon said some companies still were not prepared for the possible impact of Brexit on their business.

“We’re still trying to get the message out to companies that it isn’t too late to avail of supports, such as our customs grant, which has supported just under 1,000 companies to date.

Issues

“Many of the issues encountered so far have been ones that weren’t encountered but it is still probably too early to see the impact of Brexit yet, partly because the detail of the deal is still not clear to everyone and also because of the huge amount of stockpiling that happened on both sides of the Irish Sea,” Ms Sinnamon added.

Enterprise Ireland on Monday announced its new strategic priorities for 2021, including increasing employment to 222,000, supporting a recovery in exports, with a continued focus on market diversification, in particular to the euro zone, and increasing the level of research and development (R&D) investment by Irish companies to €1.25 billion.

Ms Sinnamon, who is due to step down as chief executive later this year, said the State agency’s key focus in 2021 is on “sustaining the maximum number of companies possible”. She also said it would continue to search for the best talent in the Republic.

“I think there are communities like, for example, immigrants coming into Ireland, who are very entrepreneurial, and we need to find ways of reaching out so that we can avail of all of the talent across the country.”