Steadfast Determination to Deliver, the Hallmarks of 2021…Shannon Chamber

2021 can best be described as a year when companies displayed a steadfast determination to overcome the continuing challenges that the pandemic places upon their businesses.

Having striven to remain operational throughout the year, companies are, once again, forced to counteract the implications of staff absences linked to current Government protocols, particularly the requirement for close contacts to restrict their movements.

“This is the feedback we are receiving from our member companies, particularly those who require staff to be on-site. Many are already experiencing the massive impact of the current restrictions, with some companies reporting at least a twenty-five per cent absence in staff numbers and challenged to maintain turnaround. To ensure that staff remain safe and well and that businesses can remain operational, daily antigen testing is becoming the norm in some instances or administered on a need-for basis if staff are symptomatic.

“The general sentiment is that there is little alternative but to battle hard to remain operating to optimal levels. It is a situation that could not have been envisaged even six months ago and tribute must be paid to management teams for the efforts they are making to keep the wheels of commerce turning,” said Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes when reviewing the outcomes of 2021 and looking ahead to 2022.

“At the beginning of 2021, we referred to the glimmer of hope that the vaccine would offer. Since then, the booster vaccine has been introduced and its roll-out is well underway. We now hope that 2022 might be the year of the cure to this all invading and disruptive virus, which has impacted our lives in so many ways.”

Congratulating Mid-West companies for the fortitude they have displayed over the past year, Ms Downes said that this is due to the calibre of leaders at the helm of business in the region, and the great spirit of collaboration that exists in the Mid-West.

“Companies no longer operate in isolation. We see this through the many Forums we have set up in the Chamber. Companies avail of these many platforms to share experiences and ways of overcoming adversity. Collaboration is now well embedded in the psyche of our member companies and, as a Chamber, we are glad to be able to assist in driving this cooperative ethos to higher levels in 2022,” added Ms Downes.

2021: In Review

Lobbying on issues of concern to members

Shannon Chamber’s function, as a representative business organisation affiliated to Chambers Ireland, is to promote the economic and social development of Shannon and the wider community to make it a better place in which to live, work and do business. In representing the interests of its 300 plus member companies, Shannon Chamber lobbied Government on policy to create a better environment for business. Lobbying activity undertaken by the Chamber during 2021 included:

  • Request for a strategic approach to support airlines that were struggling to cope with the impact of COVID-19 and to advance the main objective of Project Ireland 2040 through the attachment of binding conditions for strategic route development into regional airports to address regional economic imbalances.
  • Request for aligning Regional Airports Programme with EU criteria to enable Shannon Airport to access capital funding.
  • Request to initiate the delivery of an alternative daily direct service from Rosslare to the port of Le Havre or Dieppe or Calais or Dunkirk or Zeebrugge to alleviate the potential lengthy delays at the ports on the English Channel for exports destined for European markets post Brexit.
  • Presentation of a Business Case for a Multi-Annual, Fully Funded Regional Air Access Recovery & Growth Action Plan, prepared by Shannon Chamber in conjunction with the Irish Hotels Federation and supported by Ennis, Limerick, and Galway Chambers.
  • Request to financially assist companies, forced to implement redundancies due to COVID-19, who cannot claim insolvency and who cannot afford to pay such redundancies.
  • Called for Government to work closely with Aer Lingus and stakeholders to set a clear pathway for resumption of meaningful levels of activity with absolute urgency, post Aer Lingus announcement to close its Shannon base.
  • Submission, in conjunction with Chambers Ireland, in advance of presentation of Budget 2022.
  • Multiple communications and meetings with Government Ministers and elected representatives throughout the year on the COVID Traffic Recovery Support Scheme (TRSS), business case and financial model for Shannon and regional airports prepared by Shannon Chamber and the Irish Hotels federation with the support of Ennis Limerick and Galway Chambers. A presentation was also made to the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications.
  • Call for a deferral of a decision to increase Co Clare commercial rates by 3.8% as the decision was very much at odds with other Government decisions and acceptance that businesses still need support to enable them to overcome the challenges they have faced since the onset of COVID-19. Shannon Chamber was extremely disappointed that the rates’ increase was sanctioned.

“The purpose of such interventions is to ensure that action is taken on the issues raised. We welcome confirmation by the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton T.D., of a €10.1 million allocation for Shannon Airport under both the Covid-19 Regional State Airports Programme 2021 – 2025 and the Covid-19 Supplementary Support Scheme,” Ms Downes said.

“The inclusion of the State -owned regional airports, Shannon and Cork, for CAPEX and OPEX funding (€5.5m for Shannon) is welcome and in line with the business case made by the joint chambers and IHF throughout the year. However, as previously highlighted by this grouping, this funding must be multi-annual as recovery will take until at least 2025.

“Policy needs to be updated to reflect current realities that it is going to take multiple, not single, years to recover to 2019 traffic levels. Shannon and Cork should be permanently included in a multi-annual regional airports programme which is in line with EU state aid rules which allows funding for airports with less than 3m passengers.

“The fact that Ryanair has announced that it is to temporarily reduce capacity at Shannon Airport reinforces the need for a reform in funding strategy, as highlighted in the TRSS, given that the recovery, restoration, and growth of regional air access will require a sustained period of multi-annual funding until at least 2024 and as late as 2029, depending on when traffic returns to 2019 levels. Restoring connectivity is a critical element of this recovery.

“This issue will remain centre stage in our lobbying activity for 2022 as will the attainment of funding to commence the delivery of the Shannon Town Centre Masterplan,” added Ms Downes.

Government and Local Authority Submissions

Submissions on behalf of the Chamber Board and member companies were made on the following:

  • Review of the National Development Plan (NDP) independently by Shannon Chamber and via contributing to a parallel submission by the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) Business Forum.
  • Significant contribution to the AEC Business Forum’s submission to the Government’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan public consultation. This presentation outlined how the AEC’s low carbon energy can contribute to Ireland’s sustainable recovery and resilience. The presentation outlined the context for the development of the AEC, investment required and the benefits accruing.
  • National Investment Framework for Transport in Ireland
  • Connected and Autonomous Mobility in Road Transport
  • N19 Shannon Airport Road Improvement Scheme – Preferred Option
  • Shannon Town Centre Masterplan

“We continuously engage on issues that will potentially shape the future of Shannon and the wider region,” stated Ms Downes.

“ For example, in our submission to the NDP, we stressed the importance of allocating capital investment to balanced regional development, building on what we have learned from Covid to create a balanced mix of sustainable economic activity across our regions.

“We stressed the requirement for broadband reach, resilience, and speed to enable people to work from anywhere. We called for investment in infrastructure for housing, culture, and leisure, as improving the living environment enhances the ability to attract mobile workers while at the same time maintaining the attractiveness of local and regional areas valued by the tourism sector and its international and domestic visitors.

“The development of Shannon Town is of key concern to our members, and in this regard, we brought key stakeholders together to input to the formulation of the draft Shannon Town Centre Masterplan. We also provided feedback on the final Plan and look forward to maintaining and building on the strong collaboration that has taken place to date with Clare County Council to ensure that the successful delivery of this long-overdue Masterplan for Shannon is achieved.

“In all our submissions, we reinforced our requirement for visible manifestation that this Plan, unlike previous Plans, would be delivered on, and rolled out in its entirety to definitive timelines, set down at the outset. We also requested the appointment of a dedicated and full-time project director, who would be charged with preparing and delivering on an implementation plan with key actions, timelines, and milestones.

“We look forward to the Shannon Town Centre Masterplan being submitted for and attaining successful consideration in the next Urban Regeneration Development Fund (URDF) funding call,” added Ms Downes.

Events and Training

Despite staff mainly working remotely, Shannon Chamber managed to proactively engage with its members at many levels.

  • 40 online events were delivered in 2021 on topics as diverse as the circular economy, kickstarting personal strategies, resilience, updates on Brexit, health and well-being, the evolving workplace, GDPR, employment law, logistics, and bringing innovation to life, held in association with a wide range of stakeholders including Adare HRM, EirGrid, GMIT, Holmes, Mazars, Grant Thornton, PwC, Irish Water, Local Enterprise Office Clare, and many more private and public sector organisations.
  • 6 workshops were delivered via the Mid-West Lean Network in addition to a year-end keynote event delivered by internationally renowned leadership coach, author, speaker and lean practitioner, Katie Anderson, which draw a large nationwide audience. This network is supported by Enterprise Ireland and chaired by Neil Enright, Senior Lean Manager IDEM division at Abbott Diagnostics Business.
  • 216 training programmes were delivered to 143 companies involving over 1,200 trainees via the Chamber’s Skillnet network.

Commenting on this level of activity, Chamber CEO Helen Downes said: “It has been a very busy year and I have to compliment the Chamber staff for their diligence and commitment to delivering value to our members.

“We delivered an unprecedented number of training programmes to new and existing companies across all sectors during 2021. Most of this training was delivered virtually, however, a number of training events were delivered on-site to meet the in-house requirements of some members, who strictly adhered to COVID-19 protocol in their training delivery.

“The free online training programmes offered via Skills Connect proved most valuable to job seekers looking for new jobs and careers. The feedback we received from participants is that this training has offered them the opportunity to develop new skills or reskill and build their confidence. With many companies in the region now taking on new hires, they felt this was the ideal time to consider this type of training to enhance their employment prospects.

 “Despite the many unanticipated challenges that COVID-19 continues to pose, with no alleviation in sight, we will remain focused on working for the betterment of our member companies and the progression of Shannon and the wider region at all economic levels in 2022,” Ms Downes concluded.