Friday 20 September 2019

Johnny Fallon: A welcome jobs plan, but did we reallty need all this fuss and razzamatazz?

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore (left) and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton at the announcement by the Government of the Action Plan for Jobs
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore (left) and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton at the announcement by the Government of the Action Plan for Jobs

THE government launched its jobs plan yesterday, something very different, we are told, to the jobs budget the launched earlier. It might have made more sense to combine both your budget and your plan, but that’s not how it works in the world of politics.

Yesterday’s announcement contained many good and worthy measures including a micro financing package that will be welcomed by many small businesses as something long overdue. Access to capital was at the centre of the plan and was perhaps its strongest feature. The problem with it was that all of the best measures have been discussed for some time and all could have been implemented without all the razzamatazz and fuss.

Instead we were treated to a big launch to talk up the ideas and by putting them all out together the government will have hoped it was more impactful. Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect. The figures for the amount of jobs that will be created do not really have any scientific basis for calculation because they don’t know for sure; after all, outside of the public service governments do not create jobs. This plan is about facilitating an environment where, hopefully, others will create jobs.

What circumstances each of these companies will face, what world markets will be like for their products and how efficiently they grow and are run is completely out of the government’s control. Also outside of their control is how many of the firms may fail after a year or two, or how many jobs will be lost in other areas between now and 2020. All this means that the results of such plans are almost impossible to actually quantify in terms of impact.

One of our greatest problems as an economy is that we are procedure driven rather than results driven. The hours put in and the steps taken are of more importance than the actual result. The worker who arrives early and leaves late is valued more than the worker who spends less time at a desk but is far more productive and has better quality work. Government is no different. We rarely if ever see any government calling a press conference to mark the end of a plan and show us the results, no, all the fuss is created at the start, because the most important thing is to be seen to be doing something rather than getting on with the job and showing the results.

To be fair to the government that’s not entirely their fault, we demand action and big ideas and often expect them to work miracles even though we know there are no easy solutions to this crisis. Just as the government cannot actually create jobs they are also not directly responsible for every job that is lost. The problem is that successive governments have tried to paint themselves as the saviours and to grab the headlines whenever possible. The politicians come and go but the Departments remain, the agencies remain and the state bodies remain. All of these have long term plans in place and are working to their own agenda and merely facilitating a Minister by suggesting what they can add in terms of jobs but in all likelihood the figures are nothing new.

Less than 15 months ago the then government brought the agencies together and launched a 5 year jobs plan. That plan was aimed at creating 300,000 jobs by 2015. Opening new markets and assisting companies to export was central to it. Sound familiar? They set up a foreign trade council to oversee this work. Agency-assisted exports were to be increased by €4 billion. The smart economy and the tourism sector were also targeted. Now 15 months on we could be forgiven if we feel that the announcement had no effect, after all it’s not like we are see the dole queues reduce. Nonetheless all the agencies and departments were working towards these targets.

Now we are told of 100,000 jobs by 2016 and another 100,000 by 2020. There is no mention, however, of whether the previous 5 year plan has now been scrapped by the government or of what elements are retained. So in effect we do not know how many of these jobs were part of the supposed 300,000 the agencies were meant to be working towards or is the new plan going to bring in even further numbers of jobs?

In reality the last government brought together a series of ongoing initiatives and tried to reinvent it with some additions. Yesterday the government hauled together details of everything that was happening across the board and then adding some new and decent ideas it re-launched the whole shebang again. People could be forgiven for getting weary of such announcements. The country needs these initiatives to work. It needs a government that can facilitate business to create jobs.

Richard Bruton is a Minister who certainly has his heart in the right place on the issue but there is a danger in undermining our own confidence if we are not going to learn that the world is a very different place. If a plan works and the dole queues reduce then a minister is entirely justified in calling a press conference and detailing the successes and how the government tackled the problem. However, the days of promising first, of big bang announcements, and then letting the plan be quietly forgotten until it is relented and rejigged some years later should be a practice we leave behind.

No doubt next Decembers budget will also proclaim that it will contain measures for further job creation, more than likely they will be the same jobs yesterdays plan contained.

But the government should know this; they have no enemies on this subject. Nobody who cares a jot for those on the dole queues or for this country wishes them to fail in this task. One thing we can say for sure as a people since this crisis enveloped us is that when a government fails there really are no winners apart from a handful of new TDs in the Dail.

Johnny Fallon is a political consultant

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