Cloudy southeast: region’s recovery ‘running out of steam’

Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow lagging behind rest of country, report finds

“The regional economic system is broken,” says report author Dr Ray Griffin. Above, Waterford city. Photograph: iStock

“The regional economic system is broken,” says report author Dr Ray Griffin. Above, Waterford city. Photograph: iStock

 

A report examining the economic performance of the southeast claims there is a “missing generation” from the region, with economic recovery now “running out of steam” in Wexford, Waterford and neighbouring counties.

The South East Economic Monitor, prepared by academics from Waterford Institute of Technology, argues that the counties of Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow are all lagging behind other parts of Ireland.

It says that although the Government is investing €2.2 billion under the Ireland 2040 plan, just 2.4 per cent (€51.8 million) of that is going towards the southeast.

Plans are at an advanced stage to turn the region’s two Institutes of Technology into one of the State’s first technological universities.

However, the report’s authors say there will have to be more financial support from the Government if the merger is to go ahead.

“The regional economic system is broken,” one of the report’s authors, Dr Ray Griffin, said.

“We do not have adequate higher education capacity. Our youth leaves for better opportunities. That feeds into not having good-quality jobs and that weakens the social and cultural fabric of our communities.”

Co-author John Casey, a lecturer in accounting at WIT, said census 2016 data “shows that education attainment in the southeast is far below the national average and is leading to a ‘demographic doughnut’, with a missing generation of 20-45 years now evident in the CSO returns”.

Demographic deficits

The CSO data shows there are relatively more teenagers as well as more over-45s than the national average, but the proportion of people aged 20-45 is 5 per cent below average.

The effect is that there are fewer people spending their wages and starting families in the region.

The monitor goes on to say it is “unlikely that the ambitious regional population growth projections in the Ireland 2040 plans will come to pass” on the figures shown.

Local media on Monday reported comments by WIT president Willie Donnelly, who said it and Carlow IT would be making the joint bid for university designation at the end of September.

However, Dr Griffin expressed a note of caution. “When the Taoiseach was down for the 2040 launch earlier in the year and was asked about the merger for a southeast technological university, he said to get on it. But we’re not getting any additional resources, so how can we?”

He said a campus with a capacity and range of courses similar to University College Cork and University of Limerick was needed to “tackle the brain drain”.

The report features more positive news when looking at the work of the IDA, pointing to how the region attracted a “relatively large share” of new jobs created through the body’s work in 2017. But it goes on to say that a “huge gap remains” between the southeast and the rest of the country.

Close the gap

Dr Cormac O’Keefe, who also authored the report, said the IDA needed “another six years like their 2017 performance to close the gap”.

The economic monitor, the third to be produced annually by academics in the region, notes how the labour market in southeast contracted in 2017, with 2,400 fewer people in work, against a national increase of 62,000.

“We can find no evidence of actions taken to support Government’s commitments in the Action Plan for Jobs to bring unemployment in the southeast to within 1 percentage point of the national average,” the authors say.

“Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the southeast will meet the target of having 25,000 net new jobs before 2020. There does not appear to be any measures in the recently announced Ireland 2040 stimulus plans that will address the structural issues in the southeast labour market.”

The report also cites data from April 2017 showing that the southeast has the second highest amount of employees on the national minimum wage (€9.55) or less.

“The unemployment rate in the southeast seems to have plateaued, and any modest short-term decreases over the last 12 months are largely attributable to a shrinking labour force,” it adds.