A national ‘cluster’ policy to help agri-businesses prepare for Brexit must be prioritised by the Government, according to an economic think-tank at the Cork Institute of Technology.
“Clustering is about industry collaborating with academia and government to increase competition and drive innovation,” said John Hobbs, a senior lecturer at the CIT School of Business, who heads up the V-LINC expert research group within the faculty of business and humanities.
The group, which promotes clustering as a tool of economic development, is at the cutting-edge of economic research, and uses software to map, analyse, and evaluate links between different sectors within industry clusters. “There are a very large number of agribusinesses, small and large, both in Cork and nationally.
“What the sector needs, with Brexit looming, are supports to bring micro-companies together and support them in finding new markets.
“We need a co-ordinated, national clustering policy, which would put together a framework that would allow small agri-businesses to come together in a structured manner to collaborate on selling their products on the international market, and engage in collaborative research and innovation, which would give them a higher price point for their product and increased access to new markets and customers,” Mr Hobbs said.
“The idea of establishing clusters is to drive competition and support internationalisation and innovation in SMEs, at targeted sectors at regional level,” he said.
“We’re talking, here, about companies such as local food producers, who need to expand their range internationally. Some of them are already selling internationally, but they need to build on that, as Brexit poses a challenge.
“We’re urging the Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation to redouble its efforts to prioritise a co-ordinated national clustering policy,” Mr Hobbs said.
While several clusters in different industry sectors have been established, “they’ve been doing things independently,” he said: “There’s no joined-up thinking and no structure or criteria. It’s a bit arbitrary. V-LINC has been calling on government for years to draw up, and implement, a national clustering policy, with a standardised approach to cluster development across the country.”
Instead, he warned, clustering was happening piecemeal, under initiatives driven by organisations such as Enterprise Ireland, local authorities, and Institutes of Higher Education.
“It’s not nationally co-ordinated and that’s a big problem. There are no common criteria, frameworks, or rules as to how these clusters should be delivered,” he said.
IT Tralee, for example, had been funded to establish an agri-tech cluster, he said, while CIT was involved in the establishment of Cyber Ireland, a national cluster for cyber-security groups.