Call for more regional hubs connected with fast broadband

Remote working has the potential to open up an array of economic and environmental opportunities for all our regions but more co-working hubs are needed.

More than one-in-four private sector workers are capable of operating remotely, analysis from the three Regional Assemblies of Ireland shows. But crucially, the development of co-working hubs with high speed broadband has the potential to open up an array of economic and environmental opportunities and stimulate inclusive recovery in our regions, the report recommends.

The comprehensive Regional Co-working Analysis compiled by the country’s three Regional Assemblies provides critical data that will assist in developing the potential of remote working in our regions, a pattern which has become the norm since the Covid-19 outbreak began.

“With remote working very much becoming part of normal working patterns in certain sectors it is clear that such changes have the potential to open up an array of economic and environmental opportunities for all of our regions”

Of the 387,000 or 27.4pc of private sector workers capable of operating remotely in the analysis carried out earlier this year:

  • 65.5pc or 253,600 were based in the Eastern & Midland region
  • 23.6pc or 91,300 were based in the Southern region
  • 10.9pc or 42,100 were based in the Northern & Western region

As a share of total employment across the public and private sectors in the Eastern and Midland region, private sector workers that were living in the region and capable of operating remotely accounted for 22.3pc of all workers within the region, with the corresponding ratios for the Southern region and the Northern and Western region being 12.8 and 11.3pc respectively.

Private sector workers capable of operating remotely, as a share of total employment

Private sector workers capable of operating remotely, as a share of total employment. Source: Regional Assemblies of Ireland

The Local Authorities with the highest number of private sector workers capable of operating remotely were likely to be in Dublin City (84,702 remote workable private sector workers), Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (39,982), Fingal (34,178), Cork County (29,074), South Dublin (27,614), Kildare (18,475), Meath (14,659), Wicklow (12,887), Limerick City and County (10,555) and Cork City (10,333). 

The Local Authorities that are likely to have the next highest number of private sector workers capable of remote working included Galway County (9,739), Louth (8,478), Donegal (8,001), Wexford (7,163), Kerry (6,775), Galway City (6,620), Tipperary (6,396), Clare (6,350), Kilkenny (6,061), Waterford City and County (5,761) and Mayo (5,043).

Considerations for policymakers

Man with dark hair and beard.
Economist John Daly

Among its eight considerations for policymakers are the safeguarding of funding for the National Broadband Plan to allow for the delivery of up to 300 “Broadband Connection Points” across Ireland, providing remote working opportunities in rural communities. It also proposes exploring the potential of providing employers with a tax credit for every employee that is allowed to operate outside of its own head office in Ireland

The 34 page report from the three Assemblies charged with regional planning establishes an evidence-based approach to growing remote working and provides eight areas of consideration in all. These findings will inform policy makers of the next steps needed to deliver additional co-working hubs, in line with their spatial and economic objectives.

Economist with the three Regional Assemblies of Ireland, John Daly, said the outbreak of COVID-19 has had a profound impact on all our working environments.

“With remote working very much becoming part of normal working patterns in certain sectors it is clear that such changes have the potential to open up an array of economic and environmental opportunities for all of our regions.

“By supporting remote working, policy makers could help provide a wider range of options for workers and open opportunities for business solutions. This includes allowing some workers to live and work in geographical areas of their own choice, reducing business costs associated with commercial properties, staff retention and wellbeing benefits, access to greater pool of applicants and talent, increasing productivity, reducing traffic congestion, enhancing quality of life and family time and reducing the level of greenhouse gas emissions from car usage.

“From a strategic perspective the ability of policy makers to utilise the potential benefits of remote working will also be a key factor in ensuring the vision and objectives of each Assembly’s Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) can be implemented, allowing for effective economic development to be achieved across Ireland.

The eight areas of consideration for policymakers include detailed consultation with private firms in sectors that are capable of operating remotely, seeking their views on factors that need to be addressed to allow employees to work remotely from co-working hubs on a permanent basis. It also suggests a nationwide survey be carried out on the current capacity of co-working hubs – both privately and publicly owned – in consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Enterprise Ireland, the Regional Assemblies of Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices.

The Regional co-working Analysis proposes a nationwide survey that identifies the ideal work location of private sector workers whose jobs are considered to be remote workable, while simultaneously identifying the up-to-date habits of commuters who have remote workable jobs.

The joint analysis suggests exploring the possibility of providing employers with a tax credit for every employee that is allowed to operate outside of its own head office in Ireland, as a means of encouraging private firms to let employees work in geographical locations of their own choice.

The analysis also urges policymakers to enhance the level of funding provided to the Regional Enterprise Development Fund and explore a range of match funding opportunities to deliver more co-working hubs within or close to Designated Regional Growth Centres and Key Towns as defined by each Assembly’s Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy and prominent rural communities. Resources from the European Regional Development Fund for such works should also be considered.

The final recommendation is that we safeguard funding for the National Broadband Plan to allow for the delivery of up to three hundred “Broadband Connection Points” across Ireland, providing remote working opportunities in rural communities.

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 23 October, 2020