Westport is feeling the recession like the rest of Ireland but an article in last Friday's Irish Independent drew “an inaccurately dire picture of Westport's economic status” said Labour's Keith Martin, who is also a member of Westport’s Job Creation Taskforce.
According to the article Westport town has a 20 per cent rate of unemployment — more than double the national average, following an increase in the Live Register of 94 per cent from 627 to 1,154. However, Cllr Martin has dismissed this figure as a misinterpretation of the figures which he said “paints a doom and gloom picture of our town”.
Cllr Martin added: “It is true that Westport is facing difficult times but things are not as bleak as the article presumes. The Irish Independent has made the mistake of thinking that the figure of 1,154 people on the live register refers to Westport town alone when, according to the Department of Social Welfare, the office deals with Westport and over 30 outlying townlands with a combined population of over 20,000 people.
“It is from this that the figure of 1,154 people on the register is drawn. So while it is shocking that we have had a 94 per cent increase in the figures it is nowhere near the rate of one-in-five unemployed in Westport town or anywhere in the area as reported in the Irish Independent,” explained Cllr Martin
“Also worth noting is that according to the Central Statistics Office the Live Register is not designed to measure unemployment as it also includes part-time workers and seasonal and casual workers, so it is, at best, only a rough indicator of the situation here in Westport.
“It is true that we have seen a decline in retail and tourism industries and that businesses are finding things tight but that is the situation nationally and it is important to note what steps have been taken to assist businesses in Westport.
“For a start Westport Town Council bit the bullet and froze commercial rates on the town's businesses, which is effectively a reduction when inflation is taken into account. The council's Multi Agency Taskforce, on which I serve, is also pushing very strongly for improved transport infrastructure such as better rail links, an early bird train service, and a new N5 to link us to Dublin and the rest of the country. We are also pushing for a fibre optic cable which would allow us to offer broadband at Silicon Valley speeds to businesses and draw new investment and employment into our town.
“Yes there is bad news as an increase of 94 per cent in the Live Register is not good news, yes the Government are failing us and we are in a tight spot, but we need to highlight what we have going right for ourselves and not allow our town to be run down at a national level by misleading statistics.
“Westport Town Council has taken the first step and, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and the IDA, we are marketing the town at an international level to investors and it is also up to us to shop local and support local businesses and companies.
“Ultimately it is now time for Brian Cowen's Government to invest in Westport. It is true that we received a €500,000 grant to build a new enterprise centre in the IDA park but we have to match the €500,000 locally in order to build the centre. The government needs to do better than just giving us half the money we need and expect us to raise the rest ourselves in these economic times. We need direct government investment in vital infrastructure such as a new N5 road and high speed broadband. In the meantime we must keep positive, keep fighting our corner, and remember that things can only get better.”