By Pádraig Hoare
The economy of the South-East has “run out of steam” because of under-investment in critical infrastructures like Waterford Airport and Rosslare, a shrinking labour force and lower job quality.
Those were some of the conclusions of an economic report from Waterford Institute of Technology lecturers, which said the labour market of the region was now an area of great concern.
The third annual South East Economic Monitor by Ray Griffin, Cormac O’Keeffe and John Casey, who are part of the South East Network Social and Economic Research, said that despite a “bumper year” for IDA-supported jobs in the region, it was falling behind in most other metrics.
They said the labour market in the region contracted in 2017 by 2,400 compared to a national increase of 62,000.
The unemployment rate in the South East has plateaued and any modest short-term decreases over the last 12 months are largely attributable to a shrinking labour force, the report said. Just 5,400 net new jobs have been added since the Government’s action plan for jobs was launched in 2015, despite a target of 25,000 every year.
Mr Griffin said: “A weak labour market, combined with lower levels of support from state agencies and the lack of a university in the region, all point to the end of the South-East’s recovery.”
Enterprise Ireland was a good supporter of jobs in the region, but firms are not very successful at accessing the body’s competitive grants, according to Mr Casey.
“The lower educational attainment in the region makes it very hard for the national enterprise agencies to properly support the South East as their scheme and marketing is focused on graduates, and we have less of these in the South East,” he said.
Higher education remains one of the main reasons for the continued poor performance of the region, he added.
Despite the region’s potential for tourism, it was being hamstrung by a lack of critical infrastructures such as commercial flights at Waterford Airport and ferry services reduced in favour of Dublin, the authors said.
Crisis-hit Waterford Airport has been without commercial flights since 2016, and EY is undertaking a review into its future.