After three years of rapidly rising unemployment, and 22 months after the government published Building Ireland’s Smart Economy – A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal, it has finally set out a plan for job creation (three years since the crisis started and 22 months between vision and plan is poor progress to say the least).  Earlier today the Taoiseach launched Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy: A Strategy and Action Plan for Irish Trade, Tourism and Investment to 2015, which details plans for programmes and investment to generate trade and tourism (how tourism constitutes being part of the ‘smart’ economy I’m not sure, but we’ll leave that to one side for now).    Effectively the strategy and action plan is the implementation phase of the Forfas report, Making it Happen – Enterprise Growth in Ireland.

The aim of the plan is to put focused effort into seeking new inward investment and expanding exports of indigenous and foreign-owned businesses.  Specifically it hopes over the next five years to:

  • Create over 150,000 direct new jobs in manufacturing, tourism and internationally trading services, with another 150,000 spin-off jobs
  • Increase the value of Irish exports by indigenous agency-assisted firms by one third
  • Increase the number of overseas visitors to Ireland to eight million (growing by a million)
  • Diversify the destination of indigenous exports
  • Attract an extra 780 foreign investment projects through IDA Ireland [780 is a nice specific figure, why not go for a round 1,000?]

Key actions to support the implementation of the Strategy include:

  • Developing a strong international reputation for Ireland in high-growth markets and repositioning our reputation in existing markets through a joined-up approach;
  • Developing cohesive marketing messages for distinct markets combining economic, tourism and cultural identities;
  • Developing and internationalising our enterprise base
  • Developing Ireland as a hub for global high-technology enterprises and clusters;
  • Maximising the effectiveness of our overseas diplomatic and agency representatives in key markets; making effective use of EU diplomatic resources, the Irish diaspora and country/state specific collaborative agreements and fora;
  • Improving the environment for trade, tourism and investment by expanding our international access and air connectivity, and driving the deployment of next generation broadband nationally;
  • Internationalising our banking links; further developing our international network of tax treaties;
  • Aligning visa entry requirements with our trade, tourism and investment priorities;
  • Developing joint actions and partnerships with other countries to promote trade, investment, and market access.
  • Exploiting the potential of EU Free Trade Agreements and WTO trade agreements, while advancing the strategic interests of key indigenous sectors.

The strategy is to focus attention on the following sectors: services, tourism, food, education, life sciences, software, creative industries, Next Generation Network-enabled sectors, clean technology and green enterprise, construction and the built environment, ‘silver’ technologies (loosely meaning ‘stuff for older people’).

The plan will be driven forward by a new agency, the Foreign Trade Council comprising representatives from all relevant government departments and agencies.

“The intention is that joined-up thinking will lead up to joined-up action, and that all of the available resources are used to ensure that our trade, tourism and investment sectors are well positioned to respond smartly and effectively to emerging opportunities as the global economy returns to growth” (p. vii)  Thankfully, I have faith that Forfas, IDA, EI, and some government departments, if not ministers, can do joined up thinking and action; hopefully the Foreign Trade Council will be more Forfas/IDA/EI than Fas Interesting Fas (Ireland’s National Training and Employment Authority) is not mentioned once in the document and nor were they represented on the high level group that put the plan together – one would think that given its remit it might have a role to play in creating a smart economy?).

Section 6 (pages 43-54) is the key part and there’s good stuff in there.  I’m sure there are other good ideas that could be added by opening it up to wider consultation.  What is missing are time frames, goals/targets and milestones.  Without these there is every possibility the plan will slip (and if the lead up to the plan is anything to go by, the slippage will be significant).  Indeed, it will be interesting to see in a year’s time how many of these initiatives are underway in any meaningful way.  It is critical at this stage that all the initiatives in this section start as soon as possible.  Like now.  We’ve waited long enough for the plan, we don’t need another long delay for implementation, we need action.

Rob Kitchin