There is a feeling of watching boxes being ticked when reading the State’s White Paper on Enterprise, published this week by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. It is ever thus with official policy documents – and reaffirming established strengths and weaknesses, while identifying new areas for development, has its uses. Government policy evolves over time and there is much in enterprise policy which has been successful, notably the efforts to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) to Ireland.
However in looking at how policy priorities can be advanced, the White Paper has little new to offer, beyond pointing to what needs to be done.
The split in the productivity performance between the FDI-dominated sectors and the rest of the economy has long been identified as an area of concern. The document correctly points out that there are also an increasing number of indigenous companies which are highly productive. And Enterprise Ireland policies are, as identified, helping the stronger, exporting firms.
But improving the performance of the wider domestic enterprise sector, where slow digital adaptation and limited management skills have been identified as problems, is another, long-standing challenge.
The White Paper correctly identifies the need to foster a competitive enterprise environment through investing in energy provision and infrastructure and, of course, housing and lowering the costs of doing business. Little new is said about these vital areas and while these policies cover a number of Government departments, the most vital issue in enterprise policy now is making progress on them. Perhaps the list of actions due to emerge from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment next year and to be monitored by a Cabinet sub-committee can try to put target times on the required actions.
White Papers have a use in plotting a way to the future – and there is some useful thinking here on priorities for development. But when you know the vital things to be done, the key thing is finding a way to get on and do them.