Your Country, Your Money

Five finalists have been announced for the Your Country, Your Call competition which, you may recall from the large advertising campaign earlier this year had the modest ambition of finding “two major proposals that, when implemented, will transform our economy – or significant elements of it – by creating jobs and opportunity.”

Competing ideas include installing solar panels on wind farm sites, creating “an Irish Content Industry Association which would then drive the development of a cultural and creative quarter. A media park would be established to attract global content industries” and, my favourite, “Building a world-beating entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem around digital services aimed at positioning Ireland at the forefront of its associated spin-off industries.”

Two winners will be selected. They will be awarded €100,000 and then be given a development fund of, em, up to €500,000 each to implement the ideas. (Isn’t it great how these transformative ideas are so cheap?)

Obviously, it’s easy to poke fun at this competition. However, there is a serious question. The Times reports

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation said yesterday it had not provided money to fund the competition but a spokeswoman said formal arrangements were being put in place to allow a payment to be made. Earlier this year, Your Country, Your Call asked the department for €300,000 in funding for the initiative.

The question is whether public money should be used to support this idea. Just to be clear, my answer would be no.

36 thoughts on “Your Country, Your Money”

  1. Actually, prizes are a cheap and effective way to stimulate innovation. Technology prizes outperform tax breaks on R&D.

    That said, the competition should be done right. A public competition for something broad and vague will not deliver much beyond entertainment — as indeed suggested by a look at the five short-listed ideas.

  2. I guess two plans such as sorting the banks and the structural deficit would never get through…although they might well be useful ways to transform the economy.

  3. Are there any more details on the five remaining proposals? I can’t see anything on the YC^2 site apart from the brief descriptions.

    bjg

  4. It’s interesting that 4 of the 5 finalists are in respect of concepts rather than specific products or services.

    Of course, the maker of a world-beating mousetrap wouldn’t launch it via a competition.

    A “world-beating entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem” and “positioning Ireland centrally in the knowledge economy” are noble goals but there are others already in this space.

    Given that the president’s consort was the genesis of this scheme, it would have been too much to expect the winning idea as the fixing of a failed governance system that has brought economic ruin to the nation, twice in a generation.

    Putting the cart before the horse will leave many other potentially worthwhile ideas as just aspirations.

    There are no simple routes to finding a sustainable jobs engine and this competition confirms that.

  5. I’d like to 2nd Mike Hennigan there.

    It may also reflect a poverty of potential that through such theatrics are engaged and in fairness to all the finalists that I have read, each looks like it only has a chance with massive government funding.

    I would be interested in who profits in all this.
    There was an interesting article in the times a few months ago
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0423/1224268953371.html

    Further, any funds must be dependant on deliverables being achieved other than spending the 300k on developing another Govt funding application. But to some Pols 300k is an acceptable price for a photo oppurtunity

    Dark times indeed

  6. I’ve had the solar panels on wind farms idea myself. It’s important that grid connections be utilised to the fullest. Hardly rocket science though is it? The rest… well I’d hate to see what didn’t make the cut.

  7. I’ll defer to SEAI regarding solar PV (from “Renewable Energy in Ireland 2010 Update)”:

    “There are not many photovoltaic installations in Ireland, as it is an expensive way of producing electricity here relative to other renewable energy sources. There were 15 micro-generation sites connected at the end of November 2009, with a total installed capacity of 33.9 kW. Photovoltaic energy is not supported under the Government REFIT scheme or the Greener Homes Scheme administered by SEAI…”

    The IEA’s “Projected costs of Generating Electricity 2010” has data for a German 0.5MW PV plant with a capacity factor of 11%, similar to what can be expected in Ireland. The levelised cost is listed as $300/MWh at a 5% discount rate. The module makes up half the cost of solar PV, with labour, land, module mounting, shipping, taxes, overhead, profit, inverter and grid connection making up the other half. If you’re generous, you could allow a 10% discount based on synergies with wind to arrive at $270/MWh.

    Contrastingly, the median European wind farm at 5% discount rate comes in at $110/MWh, with CCGTs at $90/MWh.

    With the €500,000 prize equal to $650,000, the PV project could acquire 2,400MWh of solar energy (650,000/270). Last year, Ireland consumed approximately 27,000,000 MWh of electricity. So the project could supply one 11,000th of our annual electricity demand (2,400/27,000,000). Or, based on a 15 year lifetime of a solar project, one 170,000th of our annual demand for 15 years.

    Perhaps somebody can clarify how this will “transform our economy – or significant elements of it – by creating jobs and opportunity.”

  8. While I hope not to denigrate any of the ideas or the proposers, many of the ideas do seem like “motherhood and apple pie” concepts rather than actual concrete ideas – at least as represented in public so far. I hope I’m wrong.

    However, there are also practical questions that come to mind.

    (i) If an Irish food superbrand made sense, aren’t there major industrial scale players in the Irish food market who could do this? Also, might govt involvement in any such scheme count as illegal state aid, and might there be problems with competitors collaborating?
    (ii) While the idea of an Irish media and content hub sounds nice, aren’t there well established media parks in a bunch of places? Why would people come to Ireland? For the broadband? For the low taxes? Didn’t U2 just move their content IP to Holland for the taxes and isn’t there a major – and very well equipped – media park in Hilversum, with a centre of skills and expertise….Endemol etc?
    (iii) I frankly don’t understand the proposal for the IP exchange in Dublin, but I suspect Ireland isn’t the world capital of financial services IP, or of IP services, and is unlikely to become it.
    (iv) On the solar proposal, firstly I doubt that Ireland is a good place for solar power at all, and secondly that the the best location in Ireland for solar is the same as the best location for wind. Just saying..
    (v) Finally, while I’d love to see Ireland with a “world-beating entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem around digital services aimed at positioning Ireland at the forefront of its associated spin-off industries”, I see many many hazards on the road from here to there.

    Crikey, I’m coming across all negative, but I gotta confess I remain skeptical…..particularly if govt money starts going into these schemes.

  9. @ Karl

    In relation to the cost of the competition my understanding is that its an off Balance Sheet item so wont affect the budget deficit.

    The 5 ideas will be split into Good/Bad ideas and wound down after 20 years with a total cost of 60m.

  10. @ BJG

    Yes there are.
    But they need to be identified and removed from the bad ones.
    We need a National Ideas Management Agency.

  11. @Eamon Keane

    thanks. arithmetic and green energy are often unhappy bedfellows.

    in any case, surely it would be better cover the gas turbine plant which backs up the wind farm in solar panels instead? after all, the gas plant has a good grid connection too, and is not up the mountain in some bog.

  12. I’m disappointed not to be shortlisted for my design for IOUs to be paid to public sector workers after sovereign default and resulting government inability to borrow money to run the country.

  13. I recommend major investment in re-educating our entire population in the meaning of ethics. Forget Eamon Ryan’s vacuous Smart Economy slogan. Let’s have the Honest Economy.

  14. @Hugh Sheehy

    Additionally to your points:

    ii) A media park to attract global content industries? Like for example Ardmore Studios? The decades-long attempt to establish Ardmore doesn’t bode very well for another, similar try.

    iii) The deja vu here is even more striking. How many times in the past 20 years (at least) has the government launched a campaign to push a generic brand identity for Irish food in world markets? No doubt there are many reasons why the previous ones have failed, but surely one of them is that when it comes to food – as to so many other things – foreigners aren’t as enthralled by the idea of Brand Ireland as the Irish themselves are.

    iii) Like other kinds of recent financial innovation, the continuing rise of Eye-Pee shysterism draws in rents and churns up professional fees but is a pox on the world economy as a whole. Software patents, in particular, are a locust plague. We might be net beneficiaries of this wealth-destroying activity if we could somehow grab enough of it for ourselves, but if we’re willing to do that then we should also be considering a world-renowned red light district or a program to develop piracy – good old-fashioned hardware piracy, knocking off Atlantic container ships.

  15. Realistically, was there ever going to be a cracking idea that would be implementable for €500k; hardly. Even still I am disappointed with some of the finalists. €500k is small change for an international marketing campaign. The marketing budget for “The Last Airbender” is $130million.
    Anyway I think we should get the product up to scratch first before we start marketing it.

    @ anonym :
    The problem with Ardmore is that is it is too small. It just doesnt have a soundstage big enough to attract the big productions.

  16. @anonym

    I can’t comment on the 4 finalists that I know nothing about. I can say that the IP exchange feasibility study proposal is neither nebulous nor wealth-destroying. Nor is significant state investment either required or implied. Patent trading is a fast growing industry which requires specialist technology, bibliographic and financial engineering skills as well as close links to inventive industries. It does not require the industrial heritage our state has never had and fits very well with the strongly innovating medical device industry based in Ireland. There is no generally-accepted focus for IP trading yet – but there soon will be! As with the IFSC, why not bring that activity to Dublin?
    While patenting has its problem areas e.g. claims to ownership of algorithms, the structure of naturally-occurring therapeutic substances, trolling, costs etc. on the whole the benefits outweigh the costs and harm. Unlike the farce that is SSTI, a Dublin-based privately-managed IP exchange will attract professional IP origination companies, search specialists, valuation consultants, and genuine innovators. Thus creating space for the state to retreat out of tech-led innovation – a domain in which over ten years it has done little good and significant harm, at considerable cost.

  17. I think public funds should be used to fund this competition. Martin McAleese, the President’s husband has backed this project and that alone is sufficient to warrant use of public funds. Why, if Mrs. Cowan ate cheese before bed one night and dreamed Ireland could become a centre of excellance for clothes peg production if only we spent 24 billion on it I’d say go for it!

  18. @Kevin O’Brien

    I’m sure you’re right about the size of Ardmore. But the relevant thing isn’t Ardmore itself, it’s the decades of industrial policy and directed public investment, going back to Finance Minister Lemass, that gave rise to Ardmore among other things. It may or may not have been a mistake not to expand Ardmore, but realistically it surely was far from the only reason the government’s film initiatives failed to reach their objectives.

  19. @Kevin O’Brien

    […continued, sorry for the two-part post]

    So I think it would be very optimistic to conclude (I’m not assuming that you’re saying this) that a second run at the “Ardmore strategy” will have dramatically better results if only we build a bigger soundstage next time.

  20. yeah I know what you mean. all I am saying is that Ardmore is a different kettle of fish from the YCYC idea. We could have had a cracking film industry centred around a world class studio if we played our cards right. Good ideas are not the only part of the equation. They needed to be met with good implementation.

    As for expanding Ardmore now, there would be too much of a catch-up needed on the likes of Barrandov (Prague) for it to be a likely contender. We missed that boat and that is that.

    (We can discuss the Irish film industry more on a cultural economy thread sometime. National campaign for the arts have their day of action coming up, highlighting the role of the arts in the economy – Sept 17 . I am going to suggest they make a guest contribution here)

  21. Well, my more tangible idea of creating 4 ‘super museums’ (e.g. a motor museum that would make Beaulieu look like a kiddie-collection. a space museum that would make Toulouse look like a fireworks party, the world’s biggest Celtic/European history museum, etc.), one in each province, didn’t get anywhere there.

    Not noble or ‘smart economy’ enough I guess. All it would do is attract thousands of tourists, breathe life into all regions equally, create jobs and cost a lot less than €35bn (I am using Brian Lucey’s figure for Anglo as I believe he’s nearer the mark).

  22. @ Karl Whelan,

    There are a lot of professionals out there, working day-by-day, who never visit the Irish Economy blog site, who don’t know about it and probably don’t even care. But I can assure you of this – they are very highly trained professionals and possibly as sophisticated as an economist contributor to this blog. However, here is the thing. Brian Lucey in his various comments, articles, media interviews etc has repeatedly brought up the important point about the business model for economics as a profession. Outside of the tenured position in Ireland’s few academic centres, where are the opportunities for economists to engage in independent work, which may be of benefit to society and its development?

    In other words there is a strong desire amongst the economics professionals to enhance the experience and livelihood of the many. But there is a difficulty in figuring out how the economics profession as a whole, aught to plug into the system in order to make the most worthwhile contribution. Of course the tenured professor makes one of the most valuable contributions of all, in that they help to mould the brains of the upcoming generations. But you look at a profession such as architecture, the one I am most familiar with. They too believe strongly in their capacity to assist society to order and structure itself for the optimal social good, through design of new buildings, facilities and spaces. But there again, you do find enormous difficulties with the business model. How to plug into the system and deliver on the promise.

    In general, the architectural professional (as with the economist), reaches a point where to put bread on the table they license their skills out to the highest bidder. Which is normally a bank or a borrower from a bank – often called a developer. The spending of money on the part of the architectural profession, and also that of engineering, during the Celtic Tiger period in Ireland was extravagant to say the least. During a period of a boom, this notion of a profession plying its trade for the greater good of society, becomes a complete falsehood I believe. It becomes a dangerous method of concealment to hide away all kinds of economic crimes, which involve the spending of precious funds in some terrible ways. But it is hard to criticise this, because the professionals (architects, economists, engineers etc) always seem to hold the high moral ground – and can argue, their only motivation is plying their trade for the greater good. I guess it is like the clergy in the old days. As soon as you put on that stiff collar, your motivations could not be questions thereafter. We constantly end up in that dangerous situation in Ireland, where one small group is allowed to take a high moral position.

    On the one hand, I believe you are making a useful point in your original post. But on the other hand, Mr. Whelan, you do have to be extremely careful, that you are not simply encouraging other young economics professionals to use the high moral ground. I.e. That you know best and that everyone who weared an economics ‘stiff collar’, must know better. I am not saying, you are doing it in this instance – but you can certainly create the wrong incentive for younger economists to fall into that trap – and you should resist the urge to take the high moral ground with such frequency. It is too well worn at this stage. Particularly given the fact, that many young economists will be forced through lack of other choices, to go and work for banks etc, in the future, where motivations might not align in any way, with a social good. BOH.

  23. @Brian O’Hanlon
    Funny how different people read the same thing and come to different views.
    All I saw in Karl’s piece was that he was against spending public money on this “competition”.

    What have I missed?

  24. @ Donal,

    I take your point. I am not disagreeing with Karl on this, but one should be careful in taking the high moral ground too often. If I could remember every €500k of our money that was spent needlessly by other professions ‘claiming to be working for social good’ during the Celtic Tiger, the list would be very long indeed. It seems to me, that this program run by the president’s spouse is reasonably well supervised, and has a lot of good mentors on board. That alone is something of value, because there are a lot of people learning to work together and coordinate on important ideas.

    I watched a Top Gear episode the other day, where the launched a Reliant Robin, into the atmosphere and it failed to detach itself from the propulsioin unit and crashed back into a bog. One might ask, well what was the purpose of that exercise, which warranted ‘X’ no. of minutes of TV time on Top Gear. But you could at least gather from watching the footage, that many people did collaborate and become emotionally invested in the project, which ultimately failed. It was surprising really, how quickly the team was able to wire up a device such as this and make it half-work.

    If the Your Country, your money, project achieves as much as that even, it will have achieved a lot more than some of the projects that I witnessed built by many professionals in Ireland with public monies over the course of the Celtic Tiger. Many of them rubber stamped by economists, architects and all kinds of other professionals. If we want to pick a target to aim the high moral plasma rocket at, we could find much larger ones that this Your country example. BOH.

  25. @ Donal,

    Actually, I believe that Geremy Clarkson would be the ideal sort of mentor to have involved in this project, Your Country. Lets face it, there is nothing seriously going to come out of the project. But the process is what is important, and how one goes about the management of it. A good movie reference would be The Bridge on the River Kwai.

    Colonel Nicholson: We can teach these barbarians a lesson in Western methods and efficiency that will put them to shame. We’ll show them what the British soldier is capable of doing.

    I guess the barbarian captors in our situation are the bondholders of the Irish banks. But we can still teach them a lesson about Irish efficiency. BOH.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050212/quotes

  26. I freely admit that I was very active in this competition> I submitted several (admittedly hairbrained) ideas and read hundreds of the entries.
    http://proposals.yourcountryyourcall.com/ct/ct_profile.bix?user_member_id=73EE2860-23A2-4FFE-BDB7-F2F5B19C38BC&c=D284E307-BEF9-4396-AF6E-14009EAB8647

    I am a little deflated by the final shortlist as they seem to be very bland. Not really new ideas, rather than a pitch for investment to do something that already exists elsewhere. I notice that the finalists are all of “the right type”.

    There was also a parallel competition for iconic moments of irishness, with lesser prizes -this likewise produced a bunch of mediocre finalists from the Pale.

    I feel the whole, massive project has not lived up to its own potential, being crippled by snobbery in the final phases. It has in fact done exactly what it was not intended to do, by committing to sink its capital into ideas from people who were previously already well placed to carry out their ideas independently of help from YCYC.

    While 95% of all the entries were bilge, there were still dozens of very worthwhile ideas which I would have liked to see do well. But I guess they will be for another day.

  27. Can anyone explain how we “position ourselves in the knowledge economy” and be a digital media hub when, after three years of Eamon Ryan in office as Minster for Communications, we still have the slowest broadband in the entire OECD bar Mexico, a country in the grip of a vicious narco-war?

    P.

  28. @ Ger, thanks for the contribution.

    I notice that the finalists are all of “the right type”.

    If you had attended as many years of design school as I have done, you get accustomed to the constant parade of the right stuff, who seem to clean up nearly every prize that is going. I had a kind of be-grudging respect for one of my old mentors in Bolton Street architectural school a couple of years back, who basically came out and stated what had been an unspoken truth for many years hence. She was a head of the fifth year thesis class at the time, and she told them we one do one basic kind of thesis in this faculty – so basically, you can explore beyond those boundaries only at your own peril. Don’t expect to get any kudos for trying to extend the envelope.

    What it boiled down to in that case was a limitation on funding for tutorial staff, mentors and advisers etc, that students would have at their disposal throughout the thesis period. What is always interesting to note, is that from all of the many fine thesis projects submitted down through the years, that conformed to the conventional parameters set out – how few of those kinds of schemes have ever made it into reality on the sites chosen. I visited a few sites I had become acquainted with in my student days in architecture at Dublin Insitute of Technology. I knew it was a fair bet that some of the sites would be built on during the Celtic Tiger, as there was a building boom. I was shocked in many cases, at how short some of the development came, compared to the concepts presented by thesis students for those same sites. But then again, I suppose a student does not have a challenge of making the numbers work either. An architectural thesis is quite unique actually, in that it requires the student to become both client and designer. To make the proposal and to design it. In real life, that seldom is the case. In fact, that is never the case.

    So bear in mind with YCYC, there is a similar air of un-reality to it, just like the architectural thesis project. You would need a lot more than €500k to execute an architectural thesis project – but I believe the funds would go far enough to develop the project to a high level, with the inclusion of services from the relevant consultants. One would still only have a set of blueprints effectively – but the truth is, those blueprints would be ready to have some real finance advanced towards them. As opposed to being mere outline sketches. I take your point though – that an entrant who aimed a little bit lower – might stand a better chance of being chosen. BOH.

  29. http://proposals.yourcountryyourcall.com/ct/ct_a_view_idea.bix?c=D284E307-BEF9-4396-AF6E-14009EAB8647&idea_id=8870C72F-2127-4280-87DD-ED1E49D20794

    I felt sure this guy would make it through to the final,as this is a genuinely new area of business that hasn’t really taken off in the developed countries yet. It clearly has significant potential.

    But sadly, the entrant is not from the Dublin La-La land, so was overlooked. Galway is quaint, but they’re not the right sort for receiving soft-money.

    It’s quite remarkable how God, in his wisdom, dispersed all the brains and intelligence of Ireland into a few postal districts in the East of Dublin, leaving the rest of the country with nothing of value to offer. It’s equally remarkable, how well these blessed people disguise their wealth of intelligence behind a convincing facade of mediocrity.

  30. @ Ger,

    I have lived, studied and worked amongst the couple of postal districts in the east of Dublin you refer to. Altogether they are not as bad as I would have initially thought, and I would entertain the thought of returning there to work amongst them again. I will admit they can become complacent inside the small little world of theirs’. But that is only to their own disadvantage, not to their advantage – as I have observed from my own experience. So I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

    If you can find the time to look into what the Futures Academy are doing at DIT, I think you would enjoy it. That paper by Skehan and company, Twice the Size, is always worth a study if you haven’t heard of it before. In the paper, it is suggested that Ireland cannot afford to develop as an entire island. The investment will simply fall too thin on the ground. In the paper, they present an alternative solution to the de-centralisation idea, which involves water-ing down of the paint to spread all over the geographic area of the island. Instead we would end up with an eastern and a western corridor. It sounds quite sensible, and it is a marked departure from the de-centralisation strategy as rolled out by Mr. McCreevy.

    If you look at the way things operate already, the private sector tends to operate in that way already, and all the paper suggested was a public policy which might reinforce and build on what already is the case. If you think about it, Dublin is no longer a simple, contained entity. But, it is more like an extended region which stretches from Louth down to Wexford. I guess what I am saying is, the west needs to find resources for its own counter-balancing project to complement the YCYC initiative. But we shouldn’t take away from what YCYC at least tried to do. BOH.

    http://www.thefuturesacademy.ie/

Comments are closed.