Could we breathe new life into rural Ireland, by learning from the Finnish?
At first glance, rural Ireland and Finland might not seem to have a huge amount in common. But when it comes to facilitating Smart Working, it turns out that the Nordic country has a lot it could teach us.
Like Ireland, Finland is a spread-out country. It has a population of around five and a half million people, a number of regional cities and around 1.4 million people live in or around the capital of Helsinki. In these ways, it’s not so different from Ireland and its population spread.
However unlike Ireland, Finland has been at the forefront of smart working for decades. It formally incorporated the idea of Smart Working into national legislation in 1996 and as a result it now leads the world in facilitating its citizens working arrangements. It embraces a culture of remote, flexible working, allowing employees to adjust their typical working hours by starting or finishing three hours earlier.
Like Ireland, Finland is a tech hub of Europe. The internet is considered to be such an important resource here that in 2010, the country became the first in the world to pass laws stating that it is a legal right for every citizen to have a broadband connection.
A significant amount of public spending on infrastructure goes into ensuring that access to the net is prioritised in libraries and public buildings and the widespread adoption of technology has made it possible for employees to work remotely.
This allows Finnish employees to enjoy the benefits of a better work-life balance, shorter commutes and financial savings while employers have access to a wider talent pool and greater levels of staff retention and productivity.
Simultaneous to introducing these measures, Finland has seen its economic fortunes improve. It was voted the third most prosperous country globally in the 2018 Legatum Prosperity Index and many observers have commented on the potential for Ireland to learn from and adopt some of these practices.
In fact, the success of remote working and flexible practices seen in Finland could serve as a blueprint for what rural Ireland has the potential to become. Co- working hubs and home working have the ability to rejuvenate regions by bringing high quality, high-value roles to the region, breathing new life into the local economy.
Certainly, something has to change in Ireland to bring things back into balance. House prices and rents here have soared in recent years and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for many people to live and work not just in Dublin but in any of Ireland’s major cities.
The Dublin Economic Monitor said in August 2019 that rents in Dublin City alone had increased to an average of €1,650 while outside the greater Dublin area, residential rents are reported to average at €850. In 2018, childcare costs in the same area were reported at an average cost of €1,047, €300 above the national average. The result of these factors is that many people are being priced out of living and working in the areas that the jobs they want are located.
Looking at anonymised data from its customers, Vodafone has been able to able to show that more than 22,000 people travel to and from Dublin each day from Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford. A further 43,000 commute into Cork City each day.
The result is a widening gap between Ireland’s cities and its regions. For many people, the ideal solution would be to earn a city centre wage while enjoying a regional or even rural standard of living with all the reduced costs that go with it.
It is with that in mind that in 2017, Vodafone and SIRO – a joint venture with the ESB – started to set up the first of the 15 Gigabit Hubs that are now located around the country. The idea was to provide world class connectivity outside the cities, making it available to start-ups, entrepreneurs and companies dedicated to providing employment in less well served areas of the country.
The Vodafone – SIRO Gigabit Hubs Initiative is a positive step in rebuilding rural Ireland and reducing the divide between Ireland’s urban and rural economies.