Executive could use EU money to support construction industry - de Brún
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún speaking at a Fermanagh Employment Conference today has told the local business community that the Executive could use EU funds to part-finance a programme of energy efficiency renovations that would support our construction industry and help us meet our climate change obligations and tackle fuel poverty. Ms de Brún also called for the Executive to ensure that infrastructure projects were accessible to local firms. She said: “The Construction industry can benefit from the infrastructure projects to be brought forward by the Executive in the coming months and could also benefit from investment in energy efficiency. Executive departments can front load infrastructure projects and also ensure that government procurement procedures allow local companies to compete. But these contracts need to be accessible to the small local company as well as to the larger ones. Ms de Brún also highlighted the potential of the green economy. She added: “Renewable energy will be one of the growth areas for Ireland North and South in the time ahead. Energy efficiency will also be crucial in both meeting EU climate and energy targets but also helping the economy and local business. “I believe that the Executive could, following recent decisions in Europe, use EU funds to part-finance a programme of energy efficiency renovations that would provide a boon to our construction industry, saving jobs and creating jobs while at the same time playing a part in meeting our climate change obligations and tackling fuel poverty. “The European Commission's Economic Recovery Plan includes concrete proposals of particular interest to SMEs and there are real opportunities in developing our green economy.” ENDS Full text of speech Fermanagh Employment Conference I very much welcome the opportunity to address today’s conference. Despite a relatively small population, the small rates base which is an issue often raised by my colleagues on Fermanagh District Council, and its large size there is an industriousness that Fermanagh people are justly proud. Fermanagh is overwhelmingly a rural county, where there is a huge potential in tourism, not least in cross border tourism. Ecotourism is becoming increasingly important in Europe and beyond and in this respect Fermanagh has a good story to tell. It makes sense to build on this potential and I would encourage the Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland to make a hard sell in this respect and to help promote ‘green’ tourism in Fermanagh and the surrounding counties. I recently visited the Marble Arch Geopark and was greatly impressed with the links it has made with other European geoparks. Through links with some important geological and archaeological sites in Cavan, they have now become the first cross-border geopark in the world. This has the potential to be an even bigger success story and to provide increased jobs and employment opportunities. Fermanagh has one of the highest rates of business start up in the north. Many of these are farmers who benefit from help from EU rural development funding. With help from Invest NI many of these businesses could grow to the point where they take on other workers and indeed for some to the point where they are ready for the export market. I would appeal to Invest NI to do more to support the growth of Fermanagh based businesses. Invest NI and other agencies should pool their resources in a collaborative effort to assist viable small and medium businesses. I believe that these agencies should join with their southern counterparts to develop an export sales strategy. This should help local businesses access export markets. Strengthened co-operation between those administering rural development and other business development funds at local level would also help those seeking to access those funds in rural areas Renewable energy will be one of the growth areas for Ireland North and South in the time ahead. Fermanagh will be well placed particularly in terms of wind energy. The Highland and Islands in Scotland have shown that those producing wind energy can engage actively with local people and ensure that local people benefit directly in areas where wind farms are to be built. We could learn from that experience in terms of renewable energy production locally. A good example of how our green industries can become market leaders is Balcas Timber, a local company with a log processing facility, combined heat and power plant and wood pellet production plant just down the road. Balcas are at the forefront of generating renewable energy using wood fibre from forests as a fuel to produce electricity for industrial consumption and wood pellets for business and domestic use. A focus on local business and on maximising the all Ireland economic potential in tandem with maximising the resources available for example from Europe will enable Fermanagh to move forward. Ireland, north and south, is suffering immensely from the economic crisis. Those relying on the construction industry have been particularly affected. The Construction industry can benefit from the infrastructure projects to be brought forward by the Executive in the coming months and could also benefit from investment in energy efficiency. Executive departments can front load infrastructure projects and also ensure that government procurement procedures allow local companies to compete. The Executive has a significant spending power in terms of Goods and Services, which can support the local economy. But these contracts need to be accessible to the small local company as well as to the larger ones. The Central Procurement Directorate, which works for all of the Executive departments, has provided the construction industry with a comprehensive list of projects being advertised over the next three months or already in the procurement process; some 60 projects with a value of over £400million. The £600million procurement project for the new A5 Western Transport Corridor has also recently been advertised. But we can and must do more to ensure easier access by local companies, including SMEs to procurement projects, not only through the supply of clear information but also by encouraging useful partnerships. Streamlining the tendering process for public sector contracts will be important. Energy efficiency will also be crucial in the time ahead in both meeting EU climate and energy targets but also helping the economy and local business. I believe that the Executive could, following recent decisions in Europe, use EU funds to part-finance a programme of energy efficiency renovations that would provide a boon to our construction industry, saving jobs and creating jobs while at the same time playing a part in meeting our climate change obligations and tackling fuel poverty. We also need to learn from excellent projects such as the STEM project which has helped SMEs to meet environmental standards which many feared would entail a high cost when they found it actually saved them money. I would appeal to business and the Assembly to put the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency and conservation at the heart of developing our economy in the time ahead, making the most of the opportunities available. Local firms can also benefit from being part of the supply chain for those who win contracts in relation to the London Olympics in 2012 and it is important that firms make the most of online assistance and information on how to compete for these business opportunities. London 2012 expects to have around 7,000 direct contracts which, together with its suppliers, will form supply chains of around 75,000 opportunities. No one is in any doubt that we are facing challenging economic times. The crisis in the financial sector and our housing market is having a profound impact. Hard working business people cannot access the finances they need. As firms cut back on their order books this has an impact all along the supply chain. Yesterday’s announcement by Quinn Cement of a suspension of bulk cement production at their plants in Fermanagh and Cavan is a clear example of this. I hope that the plant can re-open next month and that jobs will be secure. While some parties seem to believe that the extra money for the North of Ireland announced in the budget goes some way to compensating for the additional £123 million extra efficiency savings now being imposed for years 2010/2011 they are overlooking the fact that this is in effect a cut of £123 million in the Block grant that will not be recovered in subsequent years. Decisions taken by the British Treasury are taken in the interests of the British Government, the British Banking system and economic conditions pertaining principally in GB. Any beneficial effects that these decisions have on conditions in the North of Ireland are peripheral to the thinking of the British Treasury. Political arties here must unite in demanding that the British Government delivers on previous commitments with regard to addressing the legacy of underinvestment in the north. We need to understand and make the most of what our local Assembly and Executive can do. We also need to acknowledge the limited fiscal instruments they have. We do not yet have the tax varying powers locally that would allow us to deploy targeted tax breaks or deal with wider taxation issues. I would appeal to those parties who opposed the Sinn Féin motion for the acquisition of more fiscal powers for the Assembly to rethink their position. I welcome some of the steps we have taken; the introduction of the Rates Relief that will be of particular benefit to our SMEs. Sinn Fein has long advocated such a Rates Relief Scheme. In Europe, one out of four insolvencies is due to late payment. The European Parliament has welcomed the Commission proposal to review the directive on combating late payment in commercial transactions and the Executive is setting a strong example by setting a target for government departments of paying invoices within 10 days to help firms’ cashflow situation. The European Commission's Economic Recovery Plan includes concrete proposals of particular interest to SMEs and there are real opportunities in developing our green economy. Getting Irish workers back to work is a major priority for Sinn Féin at this time. With the global economy in downturn and the financial sector in crisis and creating a cash flow crisis for Irish businesses, we all need to look at ways of turning the economy around. Any recovery plan must focus on ensuring that we come out of the recession ready for the future and that we have the infrastructure, skills and services to put us at the top of the competiveness rankings. We must ensure that at the same time we improve the quality of life of all our citizens. We need a joined up approach to our third level and Further and Higher Education sectors and strengthened links between our local businesses and educational institutions. We need to ensure that people can access the training they need and that we can develop the skills base to underpin future economic growth. Cross border trade is currently bringing millions north of border. This is playing out especially well for the big supermarkets – Tescos posted the biggest profits for any retailer in Britain and Ireland - and there is increased foot fall to benefit local traders. Welcome as this is we can’t rely on this in the longer term. Is this sustainable, is it planned and strategic? It is a see-saw effect that will sometimes have a short-term advantage for one side of the border and sometimes to the other. The British chancellor’s hike on the price of alcohol as well as on prices at the petrol pumps show how precarious this advantage can be. We believe there needs to be a long-term strategy that can sustain and create jobs in the medium to long term. On 7 April 2008, the European Commission adopted a report from its Task Force that identifies key EU policy initiatives and programmes which can be mobilised in support of the region's economy. The Task Force was set up by the Commission’s President, José Manuel Barroso and led by Commissioner Danuta Hübner to take stock of our economic development and it points out ways that we can take advantage of our EU membership and can boost our modernisation. The EU Task Force report identified a number of key areas where EU funds and programmes could make a difference. I welcome the Executive’s response and recognition that Europe could play a key role in the expansion our of transport infrastructure through the TENS (Trans European Networks) programme, in lifelong learning and in the environment. The Executive has now presented its Action Plan outlining its priorities for future European policy and funding and I will be working to ensure we can use the resources available from Europe to create and sustain jobs, to protect and promote the environment and advance the all Ireland agenda. The EU Task Force identified a number of key issues, including; the relatively wide educational gap between high performing students and those emerging with poor or no qualifications, underinvestment in infrastructure, low levels of investment in new technologies. Two key areas for action were increasing our participation in research and development projects under the EU's Seventh Framework Programme. The other is steps to encourage the growth and development of our small businesses. In the field of the environment and energy, contacts with the Commission have revealed potential in EU transport and energy programmes such as Concerto, Intelligent Energy, Civitas. There is also scope for involvement in the sustainable development strategy through projects supported financially under Life+. Through Europe we can also do more for our local business. In the European Parliament Sinn Féin has supported moves to; Ensure access to finance; Strengthen SME access to and participation in public procurement specifically by adapting the size of contracts and alleviating the administrative and financial burden in tendering; using e-procurement; Turn sustainability into business: recognising that efforts to improve sustainability could become an important source of (eco-) innovation. Matching local conditions to global trends will be important. We need to be able to make our local areas good places to live, to work and to locate and grow business. Tackling infrastructure deficits will be part of this. Broadband coverage will help very rural areas such as much of rural Fermanagh compete on a level with other areas around the country. EU funds can help here and form the basis for the Broadband Fund to boost affordable, high speed broadband services in rural areas. I would encourage organisations in Fermanagh to avail of the opportunities for organisations undertaking broadband technology trials here.