Rural and Community Development | Even spread of development, job locations and digital hubs to ensure the availability of an office setting
To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which she and her Department continue to strive for an even spread of development, job locations and digital hubs throughout the country, in such a way as to ensure the availability of an office setting in areas not previously sufficiently provided for through digital developments; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Our Rural Future (2021-2025), Ireland’s Rural Development Policy was launched in early 2021. The policy recognises the opportunity for rural rejuvenation that remote working presents and the potential of remote working hubs as key economic assets for our rural towns and villages.
My Department operates a number of funding schemes that focus on projects supporting remote working through the development of digital hubs, including the development of Public Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) as long-term, digitally-enabled community assets.
To date my Department has invested over €150 million in the development of remote working facilities through programmes such as the Town and Village Renewal Scheme and the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund. Successful projects are developed in collaboration with local authorities and communities with many projects seeing vacant and derelict buildings in rural towns and villages converted into remote working hubs. Approximately €14 million in funding has been allocated to almost 200 projects via the Connected Hubs fund enabling successful applicants add additional capacity to existing remote working infrastructure in digital hubs and BCPs throughout the country.
In May 2021 I launched the National Hub Network together with the connectedhubs.ie platform. The connectedhubs.ie platform offers a suite of booking, hub management and e-commerce applications to members of the Network. The Network includes a diverse range of remote working and coworking hubs and services, thus facilitating companies of different sizes. To date 298hubs have joined the National Hub Network with this number growing all the time, meaning we are well on track to meet our target of 400 remote working hubs nationwide by 2025. The attached table provides a breakdown of the 298 hubs by county (including hubs that have been mapped and identified to join the network).
In addition to the National Hub Network, my department is working closely with officials at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) and local authorities to establish the nationwide network of BCPs. BCPs are publicly accessible facilities, typically community centres and sports clubs, in predominantly rural and isolated areas. These facilities offer onsite internet access for a variety of community uses, including skills training and STEM activities for children and young people, eHealth services as well as remote working services. 290 of 300 BCP sites are now live, with the remainder scheduled for completion by the end of Quarter 1 next year.
To date my focus has been on establishing the National Hub Network, achieving this initial critical mass and on raising awareness of the Network to relevant stakeholders, including to SMEs/business owners and new hub users. Following strong progress on the establishment phase of the project, my focus has now shifted to the next stage of development. To this end, officials at my department and their colleagues across government departments will begin drafting of a National Hubs Strategy.
I am also pleased to say that the connectedhubs.ie team have for some time been developing a corporate service to engage with and support corporate clients interested in using our nationwide Network to accommodate their employees, but also to gain access to the vast pool of talent that Ireland has to offer, whether those talented people live in our cities, towns, villages or rural parishes. I believe that this work represents significant opportunities for employers of all sizes to leverage the National Hub Network directly.
I have always been clear that balanced regional development, sustainable and thriving communities, and indeed the wider national economy will all benefit from workers and employers embracing the remote working revolution. Hubs, whether enterprise or community focused, draw employers and employees to areas of innovation and opportunity, including rural communities.
I am committed to ensuring that the National Hub Network will continue to make a central contribution to the achievement of the Government’s vision for rural Ireland, as set out in Our Rural Future.
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