Today the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI) launched its Framework for the Development of Regional Enterprise Strategies. It includes many sensible ingredients. The Regional Enterprise Strategies are to be developed ‘bottom-up’, with the key regional stakeholders, such as local authorities, regional bodies, higher education institutions, other public bodies, the private sector and communities, working collaboratively across the region. In addition, it is recognised that economic activity is not confined to administrative boundaries, and that it is important that the Regional Enterprise Strategies address synergies for collaboration between the regions. That is, the Regional Enterprise Strategies should fit into cross-regional frameworks. The Framework will be applied to regions designated at NUTS III level (the former eight administrative regions of Ireland). The DJEI recognises the need to examine alignment of the current regional structures of Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Universities and Institutes of Technology, and the regional operations of the Department of Social Protection, SOLAS and the Training Boards, with these NUTS III regions.

With this document, DJEI takes a proactive approach in the development of regional development policy and related governance structures. Unfortunately the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) acts less fast and the actions of DJEI happen in the absence of an overall regional and national spatial planning strategy and regional tier of governance. The role of the 2002 National Spatial Strategy (NSS) was seriously undermined by Phil Hogan who stated, in February 2013, that the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) was to be scrapped and replaced by a new policy in about a year’s time (see here). Proposals would be brought to Government later that year for a roadmap to develop a successor strategy but we are still waiting. The Regional Authorities and Regional Assemblies were abolished in 2012 as part of the Action Programme for Effective Local Government. These were to be replaced by three Regional Assemblies (see here). Two-and-a-half years later we are still waiting.

The idea is to have a successor National Spatial Strategy. This will provide a framework for the development of Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, under guidance of the new Regional Assemblies.  This should guide regional strategies and frameworks of other departments, including those of the DJEI and its agencies. The Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies should, in turn, act as the framework for the development of Local Economic and Community Plans by the Local Authorities. But the actual situation is rather different. Some local authorities proactively started developing Local Economic and Community Plans (and bottom-up governance structures), in the absence of any guidelines or regional framework. The guidelines were developed kind of retrospectively, incorporating what was happening on the ground in various local authorities. The Regional Framework and the Spatial and Economic Strategies will follow later, hopefully in 2015. And successor National Spatial Strategy, the overall framework, will follow after that. We are backward engineering our regional and national frameworks. There is a difference between ‘bottom-up’ and ‘in-reverse-order’. Chairman Regional Studies Association – Irish Branch