Thursday 27 June 2019

Samantha McCaughren: Naughten spends €2.9m on one-horse broadband race

Communications Minister Denis Naughten
Communications Minister Denis Naughten
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

Eir may have pulled out of the seemingly never-ending National Broadband Plan process, leaving just one choice for the government - Enet. Even so, the Department of Communications appears to need help deciding the winner of the one-horse race.

"If in doubt, bring in the consultants," has long been a mantra of government departments, state agencies and semi-states. Why would the broadband project be any different? New figures reveal Minister Denis Naughten and his team have spent €2.882m to date in 2018 on the project.

"This expenditure principally relates to the cost of acquiring external expertise to support the procurement process for the NBP state intervention," the minister said in response to a parliamentary question. "The NBP procurement process is complex and is supported by a specialist team including external expertise and advisors. These include a range of national and international experts with commercial, economic, environmental, financial, insurance, legal, procurement, state aid, tax and technical, expertise and experience. The procurement process is now in the final stages."

Broadband-free residents of rural Ireland will be happy to know the professional classes are being kept gainfully employed while they continue their long wait to get plugged in. The department might feel Naughten is showing restraint, however, given his NBP budget is €15m this year.

North Dublin city braces itself for hotel boom

Plans for hotel builds show little sign of easing off on the north side of Dublin.

Pat Crean’s Balark Trading is proposing a new apart-hotel in Upper Abbey Street. It is hoping for two bites of the hospitality cherry — on one side is a nine-storey building fronting onto Great Strand Street, with 269 bedrooms. The second part of the plan is a nine-storey hotel fronting Abbey Street Upper, with 207 bedrooms.

Crean is not the only one with plans for the Abbey Street stretch. Solicitor and developer Noel Smyth is planning a budget hotel on Liffey Street with more than 300 rooms. But it’s not just the relative newcomers to the trade who are seeing the opportunity. Wynn’s Hotel on Lower Abbey Street, which opened in 1845 and is popular with the city’s more mature visitors, wants to add two new floors to the historic building. Alas, they won’t be in time for the Pope’s visit, which the hotel is promoting heavily.

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When it comes to the politics of shifting huge manufacturing plants between countries there are obvious sensitivities. Little wonder that Jaguar Land Rover’s UK press office was last week choosing words carefully.

News broke last week that the iconic British car and jeep maker is to move manufacturing of the Land Rover Discovery from the UK to Slovakia, while it tools up its huge plant at Solihull to build more electric vehicles. Contacted by Ergo, the company’s press office insisted this had no implications for the new software engineering facility it opened early this year in Shannon, where electric vehicles are the key focus for 150 engineers. So would it be fair to say the new Shannon facility is a key component of Jaguar Land Rover’s move towards increased production of electric vehicles?

“Think you could say important rather than key. We have 12,000 engineers working in the UK too!” came the wary response, mindful, no doubt, of how words can sound to a workforce feeling uneasy given recent events.

Specsavers see room for growth in new premises

Optician Seamus Breslin was one of the first employees of Ireland’s first Specsavers, which opened in Dublin’s GPO Arcade in 1991.

A franchise-style outlet, he went on to buy it soon afterwards in a joint venture partnership with college friend Peter McGrath. The pair are now involved in four Specsavers, including the Grafton Street premises, which they opened in 1994 and are now relocating to Dawson Street.

Breslin told me the new shop represents an investment of around €1m, and will have state-of-the-art services for eyes and, a newer area of businesss, audiology. The shop will be twice as big as the Grafton Street store, while staff numbers will increase from around 45 to 55.

There are now 53 Specsavers across the Republic of Ireland and sales are strong. Although the company still focuses on a value-for-money message, one of the big changes since Breslin started out is the company’s shift towards designer frames, such as Gant, Tommy Hilfiger and now collaborations with and Kylie Minogue.

Breslin also says the strength of the group’s ad campaigns have given business here a boost, with ‘You should have gone to Specsavers’ one of the most widely-used taglines around.

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Fast-growing listed British IT reseller Softcat is getting Brexit ready — it opened its first outpost outside the UK in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, last week.

Managing director Colin Brown told industry magazine Computer Reseller News UK: “There is an element of having a foot in the eurozone post-Brexit. None of us really knows what’s going to happen post-Brexit.”

They expect to be up and running at the start of August. “We’ll probably have about a dozen people there when we start,” he said. “We’ve already signed up three new people and we’ve got another assessment centre this week to try and recruit a few more locals.” While Brexit was listed as its fourth reason for stepping outside the UK, it has big international ambitions and hopes working “with  foreign currency and different employment and tax laws” will be a learning curve for future expansion.

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