Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements
As vaccines start to take effect and we begin to see improvement in our figures, we need a credible pathway for reopening our economy. It must be made clear that it will not be a return to what had been there previously. We are now entering a period of dramatic, transformative change. That must be at the heart of it.
As I said earlier, that will need the Government to sign up to some imaginative flagship projects, such as offshore energy projects and others which we could go through if we had the time.
We need a credible restart package and it must involve some expectations on very important players who are not directly in the control of Government, including banks, insurance companies, landlords and Revenue in its role of tax warehousing. All four of those players have a huge interest in our getting it right in terms of recovery and they must play a constructive role in that regard. The State should be giving some indication of the sort of role they ought to play. If, as will inevitably be the case, restructuring is necessary in some businesses, people need to have some certainty as to how, for example, the crystallising of redundancy obligations will occur and how that will interact with the insolvency fund at a time when many companies will be very short on cash.
In terms of transformative change, we need to roll out very rapidly what is described in the programme for Government as the town centre first initiative. We must recognise that the retail high street is dramatically changing. We need an integrated drive to use the many tools that are available to give our town and city centres a chance to revive. We also need to be anticipating that companies will have to put themselves on a pathway to low-carbon competitiveness. That has to be an integral part of any recovery plan that is articulated because the later that change is left, the less effective it will be.
I welcome the Government's commitment to a speedy rescue process. It is important that it be at the directors' initiative that they commence the process, without having to go to the court, that it will apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees and that the rescue plan must be approved by 50% plus of creditors, not the higher thresholds that apply elsewhere. I wonder, however, where the equity will come from. Is the Government looking at how effective the ISIF model of providing equity to companies coming out of difficulty but with a strong viable future has been? Is it considering other vehicles for getting new equity into viable companies?
Finally, I welcome the Tánaiste's response to the changing nature of work and his adoption of what I would describe as a new social contract in regard to the expectations from enterprise and its obligations to workers. We must see that expanded into other areas, particularly skills, where we need to see embedded in Irish enterprise apprenticeships and a commitment to lifelong learning. I hope that issue will be expanded in the Tánaiste's thinking.