Public Policy Bulletin, 26 February 2021

Feb 26, 2021


In this week’s Public Policy news, read about: Ireland’s upcoming Local Enterprise Week and extensions to expiry dates of driving licences; Labour Market Statistics in Northern Ireland and extension of free access to the SME skills programme; and the publication of the EU Commission’s 'open, sustainable and assertive' trade policy.

‘Making it Happen’ – Local Enterprise Week, March 1 - 5

The full programme of events for the 2021 Local Enterprise Week has been launched by An Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar TD. More than 200 virtual events are planned between 1 March and 5 March under the theme ‘Making it Happen’. Events include training workshops, information webinars and masterclasses on topics from starting a new business, resilience and recovery, the green economy, and the new trading relationship with the UK.

For the first time, Local Enterprise Week will also include ‘Spotlight’ events, open to every business across the country. The first spotlight event is Benefits of Green for your Business –Launching Green for Micro and will focuses on how to make business practices more sustainable and what new supports are now available. More details for Local Enterprise Week are available here.

Further extensions to driving licence expiry dates

This week Ireland’s Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton, TD, published details of a further extension to the expiry dates of driving licences in Ireland. The move comes as the EU and national Governments take steps in response to the disruption caused by COVID-19 to driver-licensing services across the EU. The extension will apply to different groups of licence holders, including those who benefited from extensions in 2020. Details of the changes, as well as further information on extension of driving licences, can be found on the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) website or the Road Safety Authority (RSA) website

Northern Ireland labour market statistics published 

Labour market statistics published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) reveal that the number of proposed collective redundancies (10,640) in the 12 months to the end of January was more than double the number in the previous 12 months; the 190 confirmed redundancies in January take the overall figure to 5150, the highest since 2004. Employment levels remain below pre-COVID-19 levels, while measures of unemployment remain above these levels, with HMRC payroll data showing that while the number of paid employees increased in December and January, the number of employees in January remains 1.1 percent below the March 2020 total.

SMEs in Northern Ireland access to free training extended to March 2022

Northern Ireland’s Economy Minister Diane Dodds this week announced that the Skills Focus scheme – the scheme enabling small and medium enterprises SMEs, including social enterprises, to upskill and reskill staff – will remain free for businesses until the end of March 2022.

The Skills Focus scheme provides businesses with access to tailored teaching in accredited and industry-standard qualifications in a range of areas and levels from further education colleges. Businesses usually pay 25 percent of this costs for the scheme, but in May 2020 this requirement was waived until 31 March 2021. The second extension of this waiver is to further support businesses through the pandemic.

EU Commission sets ‘open, sustainable and assertive’ trade policy

The European Commission has put sustainability at the heart of its new trade strategy, which  focuses on delivering stronger global trading rules and contributing to the EU’s economic recovery. The strategy is informed more than 400 submissions in a public consultation, and close engagement with the European Parliament, EU governments, businesses, civil society and the public.

The new strategy aims to support the EU’s transformation to a climate-neutral economy, through strengthening trade’s capacity to support the digital and climate transitions, and, where necessary, to take a more assertive stance in defending its interests and values.

Speaking about the new strategy, Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “The challenges we face require a new strategy for EU trade policy. We need open, rules-based trade to help restore growth and job creation post-COVID-19. Equally, trade policy must fully support the green and digital transformations of our economy and lead global efforts to reform the WTO. It should also give us the tools to defend ourselves when we face unfair trade practices. We are pursuing a course that is open, strategic and assertive, emphasising the EU's ability to make its own choices and shape the world around it through leadership and engagement, reflecting our strategic interests and values.”


Read all our updates on our Public Policy web centre