West losing out to urban centres in job creation, study reveals

 

THE exceptionally good news on the jobs front last week has the IDA riding high on a wave of favourable publicity. It is not often more than 4,000 jobs are announced in one week, many of them highly paid ones in the computer industry.

But it is not all good news. The latest announcements confirm a worrying trend in job creation which undermines what other Government agencies are trying to achieve.

An analysis by the Western Development Partnership Board, set up and endorsed by the Government, says the distribution of new jobs is becoming more focused on large urban centres.

Dublin and Cork are doing better out of the IDA's efforts than elsewhere in the State.

Of the 57 major investments announced last year, only eight went to the western region from Donegal to Clare. This figure does not take account of 37 other projects for the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin, which are in a separate category.

If the investments in Galway city are excluded from the calculation, the IDA's score in the region in 1995 is just two industries.

Compared to this, Udaras na Gaeltachta has put in a very impressive performance. A total 1,250 jobs were created in Gaeltacht areas last year, bringing the number of full time jobs there to an all time high of 6,835. This is an 8.5 per cent increase on 1994, which itself was a good year with more than 1,000 jobs created.

There are particular difficulties the IDA has to deal with in attracting industry - but so does the Udaras. They both face stiff competition from counterparts in Britain and elsewhere.

Of particular concern to the Western Development Board, however, are indications that the IDA has effectively given up on its previous aim of spreading the cake as widely as possible. In recent years land banks held by the agency in a number of small towns have been quietly sold, in a tacit acknowledgment of this.

The IDA's position is explained in its 1995 annual report by its chairman, Mr Denis Hanrahan. "There are large projects which, by their nature, need the scale and range of skills and the support services and infrastructure of larger urban areas. As the infrastructure and support levels required to operate such industries rise, and as the diversity of skills required increase, such investments gravitate towards the larger population centres," he writes.

The Western Development Board disputes that analysis. "The board is concerned with the latter part of this observation, which accepts as inevitable that more and more jobs will be targeted at urban centres. This in effect means an acceptance of defeat by IDA Ireland of its stated objective of achieving effective distribution of development across the entire country'," it says.

The particular problems of the west were recognised by the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, when he endorsed the board's 20 year action plan. "I believe that there is a valid case for a regional policy for the west," he said.

Such commitments will mean little in practice unless the IDA implements a less urbanised and less centralised strategy.