I welcome the opportunity to speak on the economy. Most of the points I will raise concern the budget and, like the previous speaker, I like to think in a positive way going forward. The strange thing is that when the negativity comes out, it initially comes from the media, which have this terrible habit of starting off by giving a piece of good news and at the end of that good news, the word “but” comes in, and it suddenly expands into what they want to put out, which is a negative message. The negative message is then permeated through the Opposition. We very rarely hear anything positive coming from the Opposition and this is a real opportunity for it to come forward with positive ideas on the economy and the budget.
I will speak on two issues, one on the jobs issue and the other on the housing and construction sector. With regard to jobs, while we have a high unemployment rate of some 15%, we actually have the fastest growing workforce in Europe. Each year there is an increase in workforce numbers of 1.1% and, as a result, we have to generate 23,000 jobs per annum just to maintain the live register number as it is. For us to reduce the numbers on the live register, we must increase by more than 23,000 net jobs each year.
The announcements of recent weeks have been very welcome, particularly in my own constituency with regard to the Kerry Group moving into the Millennium Park in Naas. What we need to do now is take advantage of the situation created by a large indigenous company such as the Kerry Group generating 800 jobs and look at the potential to generate associated jobs, which is huge. It is vital that bodies such as Enterprise Ireland work closely with the Kerry Group and see exactly what it needs in regard to spin-off companies that might potentially start up as a result.
A group of transition year students from Naas CBS visited Leinster House earlier and we had a brief discussion. They have an opportunity to decide where they want to see their future going with regard to the subjects they will choose for leaving certificate next year. Obviously, given the fact companies like Kerry Group and other indigenous companies on the high tech side are setting up in the Kildare area, I mentioned that they should focus on the STEM subjects. They said they would do their best to consider the science subjects and the jobs that might come up in the IT sector, but they made the point that not all of them would be involved in these areas and that, for example, some would go back farming or would potentially become young entrepreneurs. When I looked at the Macra na Feirme website later, it dawned on me that we have so many schemes available through the budget for young farmers yet we have nothing for young entrepreneurs. One of the points I raised when the microenterprise loan fund legislation was going through the Dáil was that we would ring-fence funding within that, in particular for people under 24 years of age. Unemployed young people aged between 18 and 24 would need an opportunity to access seed funding for ideas they may have. I hope the Minister will include some measure in the budget that would ring-fence funding for young entrepreneurs.
My second point concerns housing and construction. The Minister introduced a scheme last year to allow mortgage relief for first-time buyers and I would like him to extend this for another year. The advantages are clear. We have a depressed housing sector at present and only approximately 8,000 new houses will be built this year, which is well short of what is needed, with the result that a shortage will arise. I ask that the Minister would extend this scheme for another year.
The Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have a difficult job ahead of them with regard to the budget and I wish them all the best. I would encourage them to listen to the points I have raised and to try to introduce them into the budget.