Crippled IDA still in dark on plans to solve staff shortages
ENTERPRISE Minister Batt O'Keeffe has still not made a decision about what to do about chronic understaffing at the state agency charged with creating 105,000 jobs.
Mr O'Keeffe promised he would tell the IDA this week how he would meet its manpower needs and claimed it would be "happy" with his decision. However, with just one working day left before his own deadline expires, Mr O'Keeffe's spokesman last night confirmed the issue has still not been resolved. "No decision has been made," he said.
It is now a year since the agency set up to attract foreign investors to Ireland raised its resourcing difficulties with his department.
The Irish Independent revealed last week that IDA chairman Liam O'Mahony pleaded with the minister on behalf of the board for more staff as it could not meet its targets.
It also revealed that, despite the urgency expressed by Mr O'Mahony last May, there was still no agreement on the issue, while the State faces the worst jobs crisis in its history.
Mr O'Keeffe claimed this was a "non-story" on RTE's 'This Week' last Sunday.
Yet it appeared to prompt him to act, and he promised that the job-creation agency's understaffing problem would be resolved this week.
"We have been interacting with the IDA over the summer months," Mr O'Keeffe said.
"We know exactly what their needs are now to have the manpower to meet their targets.
"I think they will be quite satisfied when I advise them this week of the actual out-turn. I think they will be quite happy."
He denied he was hanging the agency out to dry and claimed the situation had "evolved" since June when he assured Mr O'Mahony the matter was being dealt with as a matter of urgency.
However, his spokesman confirmed yesterday that the staffing issue was still not resolved, but promised it would be "dealt with asap".
"It will be dealt with in the next few days. It may be tomorrow or the weekend," he said.
He was not able to indicate whether the department would give the agency back the 50 jobs it has lost since 2008, which reduced its workforce to 258.
Like other public sector bodies, the IDA has not been able to replace the lost staff due to the Government's ban on hiring.
Mr O'Mahony pleaded for new workers and said the reduction in staff as a percentage of the workforce was significantly greater at the IDA than other public bodies.
He said the "impasse" with the department would "almost certainly" lose foreign direct investment for Ireland and would mean the agency could not adequately implement its Horizon 2020 strategy -- the government plan to create 105,000 jobs by 2014.
He said job-creation initiatives in Sligo and Limerick would have to be put on hold and it would be enormously difficult to run overseas offices.
The IDA said it would not comment last night.
Meanwhile, Energy Minister Eamon Ryan yesterday denied claims that a rise in electricity prices would cost jobs.
Mr Ryan said business costs had been reduced as electricity prices dropped by 30pc in recent years.
Director of the Small Firms Association, Avine McNally, said a new public service obligation levy that applies from next month will be another cost for struggling firms, who will face an extra €100 bill each year.
She said electricity charges for small firms were the third-most expensive in Europe.