Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2011: A flat year for Údarás na Gaeltachta

Údaras na Gaeltachta, that economic development agency of the Gaeltacht with the 20-member board and 96 staff published its year-end review for 2011 this week. Headline milestones were that 734 jobs were ‘created’. Despite the incidence of job creation’ the overall employment in their client companies stagnated at 104 fewer than the 7,074 that were employed at the end of 2010.

Last year was a difficult year because budgets were trimmed and the board of 20 expressed their ‘great disapproval’ when they realised this in December 2010. The capital budget was to be cut from €15 million to €6 million and a further €6.2 million was to be funded from the resources of An tÚdaras and that included a prospective €2 million to be generated from the sale of assets. It responded to this trauma by cutting its ‘job creation target’ from 600 to 300.

But, glory-be, by the end of 2011 guess what? 400 jobs were ‘approved’ in 2011 that they believe have an associated investment of €21 million. They ave not managed in the past decade to deliver more than 100 extra jobs. That was in 2008 when 8,193 were employed in their client companies.

The budget for 2012 was discussed in early December and is to be reduced by a further 4% compared to the 2011 budget. But the 20-member board, who pocketed over €2 million in fees and expenses since they were elected in 2006, conceded that despite the reduction they would construe the 2012 budget as ‘a vote of confidence in them’ in their enterprise functions.

A few weeks earlier the Minister in charge of them, Dinny McGinley, suggested that he could save €500,000 by deferring the election of a new board; that he would reduce the board to 12 members and explore the possibility of these being appointed by local councils.

As recently as 2008 they boasted that 65% of the Gaeltacht ‘some level of internet connectivity’, but that the quality of the service was deficient in some regions and there was no provision in others – this is the view of a agency that spent €315 million between 2006 and 2010.

It is interesting, for example, to see that Dell Computer is now operating a social media monitoring centre. This monitors more than 25,000 posts daily on Twitter that relate to Dell. The underlying philosophy is that a single customer complaint, from someone with influence, can have more reputational impact than other forms of marketing. Dell boasts a 99% resolution rate customer satisfaction. This approach to feedback and service recognises that in an age of smart internet-enabled consumers, being ‘customer focused’ is not enough. How is the Gaeltacht able to compete at that level?

An tÚdarás is very gung-ho about its role in the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language. This envisages that there will be 250,000 daily Irish speakers by 2030. Their contribution to this strategy in 2011 was to subsidise 70 preschools attended by 900 youngsters and 565 adults attended other Irish Language courses. This would mean that the Government target of 250,000 daily Irish speakers might be achieved in 170 years providing there is no duplication of attendees from year to year. But they want a 'central role' as an implementing agency of this Strategy and being the midwife of a 'new era of history'. That national role is also a 'vote of confidence in the organisation', according to themselves.

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