BUDGET 2022 is an opportunity for Government to deliver on the ambition of ‘Our Rural Future’ and make available the necessary resources to ensure the strategy is a success.
The social and economic impact of the pandemic on the regions will be lasting. Therefore, appropriate and sufficient investment is vital to a balanced and fair post-Covid recovery where no-one is left behind.
Remote working presents an opportunity to reinvigorate rural communities, but in order for Government strategies such as ‘Our Rural Future’ and ‘Making Remote Work’ to be successful, the supporting infrastructure must be put in place. Put simply, without adequate services and infrastructure, rural communities will not survive.
In Budget 2022, Government should prioritise investment in improved and expanded services in the regions, prioritising public transport, broadband, healthcare, childcare. This will contribute to regional attractiveness in remote and rural areas and provide the social and economic infrastructure to ensure that those who live there, and those who take up the opportunities through of remote working have access to quality public services and a better quality of life.
To deliver on this in Budget 2022 an investment of €50m in the Rural Transport Programme to increase the range of public transport options available and a €10m investment in cycling and walking infrastructure (including greenways and blueways) would support improved infrastructure and services across the regions.
One of the clearest lessons from the pandemic is that a good quality internet connection is not a luxury but is in fact essential to allow people to fully participate in society. This applies not just to economic inclusion, but to educational and social inclusion as well.
If it was not clear prior to the current crisis that a quality internet connection is an equality issue, it surely is now. It is one that has both regional and financial dimensions, and covers a broad range of policy areas.
Strategies and plans to promote rural and regional economies are heavily reliant on the provision of reliable, quality, high-speed broadband.
To ensure delivery of the remote working hubs across the country, and those already planned in Waterford City, Dungarvan and Dunhill, Government should invest €200m in the Budget to provide the supporting infrastructure and shared services to make these hubs a success and upgrade existing hubs.
Almost half of the labour force will be impacted by changes to their jobs as a result of automation by 2040. In some regions, many of the jobs currently available will be transformed or indeed made redundant in the medium term either by disruptive technology or by the need to adapt to a low carbon economy.
Regions dependent on tourism face an uncertain future. To ensure viable rural and regional economies into the future means that Government must provide the required support for the provision of public services, investment in micro businesses and small or medium enterprises, and innovation.
Investment in education and training focussed on people in jobs at risk from automation and those unemployed in rural areas will be vital to ensure that our regions and communities are supported to adapt to this change.
Almost half of the labour force will be impacted by changes to their jobs as a result of automation by 2040. Our training and skills development policy must be adapted to meet this challenge to ensure that our regions and communities have the necessary supports in place to ensure that they can adapt to meet this challenge.
“Without adequate services and infrastructure, rural communities will not survive.”
Focussed investment in education and training for people in low skilled jobs or those unemployed in rural areas as part of an overall regional employment strategy aimed at generating sustainable jobs should be an integral part of rural development policy.
In Budget 2022, Social Justice Ireland is calling for a €40m investment in Further Education and Training to develop and expand apprenticeships and traineeships to all age cohorts, particularly at a regional and community level.
Government should also consider investing €10m in a Transition Skills fund targeted at young people and people employed in sectors whose jobs are at high risk of automation.
To support economic development across the regions Government should allocate €25m to Enterprise Ireland to develop and support indigenous enterprises and job creation across the regions, particularly those areas most impacted by Covid-19 and those who will be most impacted by Brexit.
Budget 2022 should also establish a Regional Development and Transition Fund of €100m targeted at Smart Villages to support remote working, developing local cooperatives and regional ‘Farm to Fork’ strategies, improving and expanding public services to promote and support rural living and support for the current and future generation of farmers to move to more sustainable agricultural methods.
Budget 2022 will determine whether Government is truly committed to rural Ireland. A regional recovery for the South East is possible, but money – not platitudes – are required.
Michelle Murphy is a Research and Policy Analyst with Social Justice Ireland