Tuesday, 10 December 2019
OECD Report on SME and Entrepreneurship Policy in Ireland: Statements
I thank all the Deputies who spoke, particularly those who had very constructive contributions. To respond to Deputy Brendan Smith, I fully understand, as he does, the difficulties Border businesses face in the context of Brexit. We have been working very hard in the Border region to provide all the supports and information we can. We have had a number of meetings in the Border counties specifically to inform businesses in the region of the challenges Brexit presents. Deputy Smith mentioned an all-Ireland trade policy. He and I both hope the Northern Ireland Executive will get up and running as quickly as possible. When it does, I do not see any reason why we should not look at trade on an all-island basis. He is absolutely right: jobs created in Armagh and Fermanagh benefit people in Cavan and Monaghan and, vice versa, jobs in Dundalk, such as the ones we announced in WuXi only a couple of weeks ago, another 200 jobs on top of 400, will benefit people in Northern Ireland. There is an all-island approach to this and it is something we can pursue when the Northern Ireland Executive is back again.
I have been listening to SMEs since I took up this job. I regularly meet them. I engage with all the representative bodies regularly. I also chair the retail consultation forum and have held Brexit meetings with businesses right across the country.
Deputy Troy specialises in cheap political shots as opposed to solutions. Any right-minded person will agree that SMEs are in a better place now than they were in 2010, when many were forced to close. The issue of access to credit was raised. We have the future growth loan scheme and it is flying out the door. Some €101 million was sanctioned and it was only lodged in April. A third of it is gone already. That is a good source of finance for people who want to look at the future growth loan scheme as a possible option to obtain finance. We also have the credit guarantee scheme and Microfinance Ireland, which provides finance.
The current model of LEOs is working very well. I have already said that I want to expand the role and remit of the LEOs. Last year, I increased their budget by a further €5 million, or in excess of 20%. I want to continue to support the LEOs. They do a really good job. One of the issues that the OECD raised was that we should expand the remit of the LEOs and I absolutely agree.
I am also working closely with Enterprise Ireland to encourage more women entrepreneurs, which I think is important. I am well aware of the issues affecting the Border region. Only yesterday, I turned the sod on a new IDA Ireland advanced technology building in Monaghan. That is part of the IDA Ireland property programme. There are also factories for Sligo and Dundalk. Foreign direct investment is very important too. It helps to create jobs in the local economy. For example, 2,000 people will be employed by WuXi during the construction stage in Dundalk. A lot of people and local providers will be involved, which is very important in the surrounding counties. It is not about foreign direct investment versus indigenous business but how we can maximise the benefits of both. Last Friday, I published a comprehensive report on remote working that was compiled by my Department. That is a matter of funding digital hubs and co-working facilities under the regional enterprise development fund. There is a particularly good one in Cavan and it is working extremely well.
Deputies Jan O'Sullivan and Broughan raised the issue of clustering, which is very important. It develops the links between institutes of technology and SMEs. Last Friday, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, and I launched a fund of €4.8 million. It is called the regional clustering fund and it is to encourage SMEs to engage with the local institutes of technology and to help them to work closely together to benefit SME strategy. I intend to publish the new strategy on SMEs and entrepreneurship by the end of January or in early February.