Public Policy Bulletin, 22 January 2021

Jan 22, 2021


In this week’s Public Policy news, read about how real-time financial and economic indicators are showing cautious market optimism; recommendations in a report published by the SME Growth Taskforce; updates regarding Ireland’s new Pensions Commission; and a finding that dramatic changes are required in Northern Ireland’s energy efficiency policy and funding to enable the UK meet its net-zero carbon emissions targets.

Real-time financial and economic indicators show cautious market optimism

Real-time financial and international economic indicators published this week by the Department of Finance show continued cautious market optimism, as the expectations of a vaccine-driven recovery in 2021 outweigh the global surge in Covid-19 cases and associated lockdowns.

The data indicates a more muted international impact of the second lockdown, with more resilience in the manufacturing sector, in particular. The higher optimism reflected in the economic sentiment indicator suggests that the second wave of the pandemic has not been as detrimental to the global economy as the initial one, and that world trade has rebounded relatively quickly when compared to the global financial crisis.

The latest set of economic forecasts from the Central Bank of Ireland, published this week, also indicate expansion in the Irish economy last year, with Irish output as measured by GDP growing by an estimated 2.5 percent in 2020, driven by a 4 percent increase in exports led by strong performance in the pharmaceuticals, technology and business services sectors. Irish modified domestic demand, however, decreased by 7 percent in 2020, and is likely to remain subdued in the early part of 2021, and a high rate of unemployment is expected.

SME Growth Taskforce report sets out recommendations for Irish Government

A report published this week by the Irish Government-appointed SME Growth Taskforce sets out a wide range of recommendations for the Government with long-term strategic relevance for SMEs and entrepreneurs. The report, entitled ‘SME and Entrepreneurship Growth Plan’, includes recommendations around scaling up, enhanced digitalisation, increased export activity, regulation and education, which will be reviewed by an SME and Entrepreneurship Implementation Group in early 2021, and will input into the development of the Government’s forthcoming National Economic Plan.

The SME Growth Taskforce was set up in September 2020, and comprises entrepreneurs, business leaders and other individuals as established under a commitment in the Programme for Government – ‘Our Shared Future’. Its work draws upon an OECD Review of SME Entrepreneurship Policy in Ireland published in October 2019, which contained recommendations on how Ireland should respond to the long-term challenges faced by SMEs. It aims to map out an ambitious long-term growth plan for SMEs and entrepreneurs COVID-19. 

Read more about the SME Growth Taskforce here.

Pensions Commission website launches

The website of the Pensions Commission was launched this week, providing links to the Commission’s Terms of Reference and full membership details, as well as agendas, minutes, presentations, and links to external reports. The Commission's membership represent workers, employers, civil society, academics and those with technical and policy expertise, and it has been tasked with examining sustainability and eligibility issues in respect of State Pension arrangements and with developing options for the Government to address issues such as qualifying age, contribution rates, total contributions and eligibility requirements.

The Commission has met four times since 25 November 2020 (and will meet every two weeks in 2021), where it considered, among other things, the implications of the ageing population trends; the performance of the Social Insurance Fund through which the State Pension Contributory is paid; and trends in relation to the ageing workforce and the issue of retirement ages in employment contracts.

‘Dramatic change’ recommended for Northern Ireland’s Energy Efficiency Policy

A report published this week that researches the future of Northern Ireland’s Energy Efficiency Policy finds that a dramatic change in policy extent and funding levels is required to enable Northern Ireland’s building energy performance to meet the UK’s net-zero carbon emissions targets. The report was commissioned by Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy to inform the development of a new Energy Strategy for Northern Ireland.

The report found that SMEs, which make up 99.6% of businesses in Northern Ireland, face barriers that deter them from adopting energy efficiency measures, including a lack of the time and resources to explore energy efficiency options, and the required skills, resources, and ability to provide the goods and services required to deliver energy efficiency. The report’s recommendations include:

  • the establishment of minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES), financial incentives and the delivery of a retrofit programme in all existing building tenures;
  • market research with consumers and building users to determine the preferred funding mechanism for the delivery of building upgrades; and
  • a national ‘one-stop shop’ (OSS) designed to promote collaboration of national, regional, and community stakeholders.

Read all our updates on our Public Policy web centre