Subscribers to the Financial Times may have read the article published in that newspaper earlier this week, analysing Ireland’s plan to redress the urban-rural divide through the newly-unveiled remote working plan (you can read the article in full here). It is critically important for State initiatives such as this to be well received outside of Ireland, as our ongoing construction industry lockdown has been quite heavily criticised, which is damaging from an FDI perspective. Domestically, the Irish Government is right to hone in on pandemic-era employment patterns and leverage these to shift the economic balance in a way that will benefit the regions broadly, without compromising the potential of our cities.
In recent weeks we have contemplated the re-use of commercial properties in town and village centres right across the country, particularly in the context of retail banks closing that once occupied prominent town and village centre buildings. It was only half-joking to suggest that most of these will invariably transition to co-working spaces or innovation hubs. But it appears this may not be necessary as the Government releases a plan to turn rural pubs into working hubs! The Government’s plan for rural Ireland’s development over the next five years, ‘Our Rural Future: Rural Development Policy 2021-2025′, was launched earlier this week. The purpose of the plan is to reinvigorate rural Ireland and bring derelict buildings back to life. One specific part of the plan is a pilot scheme to turn rural pubs into remote working hubs. There will also be the provision of public sector hubs in regional towns for public servants to work in their local areas. The plan foresees an integrated network of 400 remote working hubs incorporating back-room services throughout Ireland and aims for 20 percent of public sector workers working remotely by the end of 2021. Minister for Social Protection and Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys has called this “the most ambitious and transformational policy for rural Ireland in decades”. The cynical amongst us might point to the near-total failure of Government decentralisation two decades ago and draw some parallels, however, much has changed over these past two decades. There is a very real opportunity to get this right, by attracting the right investment and supporting the right companies that can provide quality jobs across the regions. This is the only way to stimulate quality housing development and local retail/hospitality opportunities locally. The quality of life argument has moved on to the point that the rural-urban divide can no longer be a divide of education levels and/or income levels. In fact, the rural plan commits to ensuring people living in rural areas have access to good quality public services, including high-speed broadband and the development of a subsidised Local Area Hackney Scheme in parts of rural Ireland where taxi and hackneys cannot survive commercially.
There is no doubt that remote working is a game changer. It will be interesting to track the decisions that people make when they are no longer tied to a geographic location or subject to a commute. How long will it take before private developers and home builders trust this enough to invest resources locally?
Lotus Investment Group