IRELAND spends millions telling the world what we have to offer business. We’re regularly praised for punching above our weight when it comes to winning investment.
The IDA rightly boasts that we’re the 12th most competitive economy in the world, and that we were the fastest growing economy in the EU for four years from 2014 to 2017.
But there’s a catch. Word is spreading that Ireland now has a real accommodation problem. As things stand, I believe it’s only a matter of time before we lose out on foreign direct investment to places better able to house the talent they need to run their business.
Take Cork as an example. It has so much going for it as a potential business location. The cost of living is lower than in Dublin, even though salaries aren’t far off those in the capital. That adds up to a great deal for newcomers. A million square feet of office space is in the pipeline for the fastest growing city in the country. Cork has an existing high-value tech cluster across the Technology and Life Sciences sectors, including big names like Dell/EMC, McKesson and MSD. 5,000 more jobs are supposed to be coming down the track in the next few years.
That’s all fantastic, but where are these people going to live? What’s going to be done to make sure they can maximise the potential benefit for the local economy? Already, the housing stock is creaking under the pressure.
I’ve been recruiting people for new jobs for nearly 20 years, and I’m amazed that my colleagues and I are now having to provide unofficial real estate services.
We’re driving candidates around in the evenings to try and help find somewhere to live so they can take up the right position for them. We’re happy to serve our clients’ needs as much as we can, but it shouldn’t come to this.
Many workers find themselves having to live in towns outside the city, which isn’t where they want to be. Some are forced to take on short-term leases, which doesn’t give them or their families much stability. It certainly doesn’t encourage them to settle into a community.
That’s the small-scale picture for individual workers, but further up the line, these concerns are also being expressed by potential investors.
From our Cork headquarters, Berkley deals with clients across Ireland and globally. They want to know about the housing and rental crisis. The information they get back will inevitably be factored into their decision making. They want to plan a stable and expanding future for their investment.
And it’s clearly not just our clients. Bank of Ireland publishes a monthly ‘Economic Pulse’, assessing sentiment among the public and business. According to the bank’s Group Chief Economist, Dr Loretta O’Sullivan, September’s figures show that businesses in Dublin, the rest of Leinster and Munster cite housing infrastructure as ‘the priority area for investment to help strengthen local economies’.
Enterprise is spelling it out loud and clear for the government that accommodation needs to be sorted to keep businesses going in the future.
Ireland has spent a long time pushing its attractiveness in areas like talent and quality of life. Now we need to do something to reassure businesses that their future staff will have somewhere to live.
I’m not naive enough to think there’s a quick fix to this problem.
We’re all aware that this country’s housing crisis is complex and affects so many sectors of society.
But I do believe there are a couple of starting points for the government that would at least map out the right direction towards reassuring business.
First, we’ve got to make the most of what we’ve got. The rising number of disused buildings in our urban centres hasn’t gone unnoticed by many commentators. The owners of these should be required to do something with them. Every effort should be ordered to maximise their accommodation potential.
Second, we need to expand our vision for new business developments. When planning applications for large-scale projects are put forward, they must be required to take a more overall holistic approach to workers’ lives.
Suitable on-site apartment accommodation must be required by law in the plans. That should be paired with new shopping, leisure and public transport facilities. That’s what job candidates need to see when deciding whether to uproot their families from elsewhere in Ireland or abroad. It’s not just about them and the hours they spend in the office.
We should be encouraging communities to take root and grow around these business developments. They need to be attractive places to work and live for workers and their families, too.
It’s an element of the housing crisis that the government can’t afford to ignore. Businesses deal with enough uncertainty on a day to day basis and something as basic as accommodation for staff must be a priority.