Friday 24 November 2017

Emmet Oliver: Bruton to find jobs mismatch from building bust will stymie his plans

The odd timid voice is now being raised to say the banking crisis can be solved and the odd optimistic voice is now prepared to say the deficit can be closed, but nobody to date has anything hopeful to say about the jobs crisis.

But bravely or foolhardy this is precisely the desolate area the new Fine Gael/Labour government now wants to wade into.

A loosely titled "jobs budget'' is on the way in the first 100 days of this administration and one suspects no matter what policies emerge from this process there will be very little political payoff for those introducing them, notably enterprise minister Richard Bruton.

While the private sector is the chief engine for the production of jobs, the government is always summoned to "do something'' on jobs, even though it is actually shedding them itself.

But the catch cry of asking government "to do something'' is growing louder mainly because the numbers of jobless has grown so alarmingly in recent months. At a seasonally adjusted level of 14.7pc, only Spain has a worse rate of unemployment than Ireland in the eurozone (the Greek rate is almost identical to the rate in Ireland).

The headline number is one thing, the composition of the problem is even more chilling -- those out of work for more than a year now make up just over half of the total number of unemployed. This is the first time this has happened since the 1990s.

A package of measures is being prepared we are told, but so far they seem reasonably small scale -- a modest VAT reduction and the scrapping of the travel tax are among them. Training is also to be expanded and it seems here is where the crucial problem lies.

Tackling the unemployment problem this time around will need more than just economic growth. This is because of who the unemployed are. Yes they are in large measure young and male, but they also have another common characteristic, which is buried in the "last held occupation'' part of the monthly CSO live register statistics.

In March, there were 441,193 people on the live register. Of this sobering number, some 185,000 previously worked in construction, the trades or in manufacturing as operatives. Add in about 15,000 who've never had a job before and it means almost half the unemployed either have no previous skills, or skills only available for narrow roles in construction or the lower end manufacturing.

But Ireland's response to the crisis is all about creating jobs in green tech, online gaming and digital media, but will those jobs actually shrink the welfare rolls? Or as one economist said to me recently, we are going to try and make software engineers out of brickies?

The Government is hoping to cure the jobs crisis with jobs in hi-tech and services, but it would seem unless there are radical training solutions, a huge and frightening skills mismatch is the biggest challenge that lies ahead for any jobs budget.

Over to you Richard ... .

Ireland never stopped being dominated by the 'Big Two' - Allied Irish and Bank of Ireland

It was billed as the most important set of numbers ever to be published in the State. When the results of last week's stress tests emerged, there were big numbers there alright, but no real big ideas.

The only part of the package which looked different to what was produced during the Lenihan era, was the idea of having two banking "pillars'' based around AIB and Bank of Ireland.

These two humbled shells of banks are to be rebuilt and while consumers may squirm, the era of duopoly banking is to be revived. But did it ever go away?

While foreign banks eroded their bases dramatically on the lending side, AIB and Bank of Ireland were never truly pushed off their perch in relation to deposits, the most commonly used metric to judge market dominance.

At peak the deposit book of banks operating in Ireland stood at €273bn, with AIB and Bank of Ireland holding a hefty combined share of 62pc.

Throw in Irish Life & Permanent and the combined deposit share of the three currently largest lenders rose to 67pc -- hardly a humiliating retreat.

When one added Anglo's €30bn of deposits at peak you realise other lenders were living off thin rations even during the buoyant years.

UK lenders did manage to partly pinch the lunches of AIB and Bank of Ireland during the boom years, but apart from Ulster they never put down permanent enough roots to really challenge AIB/Bank of Ireland in the area of managing people's money.

Bank of Scotland

Take Bank of Scotland (Ireland). It found it easy to lend out €33bn in Irish loans, but was only able to back this up with a puny €6.6bn of Irish deposits.

To this day the Competition Authority still complains about the lack of customer churn in the Irish market and the dominant positions of AIB and Bank of Ireland.

A neglected report last year from the Central Bank found that the big two were still very much in the driving seat.

Based on the numbers, new Minister Michael Noonan is not so much rebuilding an old duopoly as giving an existing one a lick of paint.

Reilly knows what's best for us on VHI

The old government couldn't make their mind up about the semi-states and the new government is apparently similarly paralysed.

While the IMF and the EU are expecting to squeeze a hefty €10bn from the sale of semi-state companies, the new government is a little less trigger happy, pencilling in only a modest €2bn from such sales.

This indicates that a sale of the ESB is most definitely off the table. This is the price of coalition government it seems.

Modesty of ambition is also evident over at the Department of Health where Fine Gael's Dr James Reilly has taken up residence.

Despite the last government ordering the sale of the VHI, Reilly has jettisoned the idea and the health insurer is to be retained in public ownership, albeit broken up into component parts.

Is this a good idea? It is hard to say.

The only outside figure studying which semi-states should stay and which should go is UCD economist Colm McCarthy.

Unfortunately, the VHI was never actually included in his terms of reference, leaving us with the Reilly option... or the Reilly option.

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