Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements
I have been speaking to Waterford businesses and chambers of commerce in the city and Dungarvan and I have been struck by the similarities in the Covid stories as well as the differences that have been related to us. There is great appreciation for the supports that were put in place for businesses during the pandemic. I have listened to stories of small and medium enterprises that have used online training vouchers, business continuity grants or restart grants to innovate, remain open or get back on their feet, and this is most welcome. However, a significant issue, which has already been raised with regard to the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, remains. While the new Covid business aid scheme, CBAS, is welcome, a number of businesses are still falling through the cracks, in particular those operating from non-rateable premises. This particular feature of the CRSS is hitting a specific sector of business which comprises small home-based entrepreneurs. These include therapists, caterers, interior designers, crafters and start-ups that operate from home. They are falling through the cracks in the CRSS, along with photographers, event organisers, consultants and trainers. They are missing out on this vital safety net available to others because they do not pay rates.
We need to keep in mind that one size does not fit all when it comes to business supports during this pandemic. Within retail, for example, and perhaps operating within stereotype, I hear from bike shops that are struggling to get bikes and spare parts due to a spike in demand, alongside production and distribution issues coming as a result of Brexit and Covid. Other retailers never raised cash flow to restock for 2021 because they still have seasonal stock from 2019 on their shelves.
Our entrepreneurs are facing challenges that are unexpected and unique to Covid. One Waterford business owner to whom I have been speaking sources one component of her product from China. She has seen courier charges on this product treble. This is having a serious impact on her margin. This increase in the courier charges is because of the reduction in freight capacity owing to the increase in shipping of personal protective equipment. This filters down the line to small and medium enterprises, resulting in cash flow issues and difficulties with projections and costings which, as the Tánaiste knows, are the basic foundations of running a business.
We need to recognise that one size does not fit all with businesses. Is it possible to make specific provision for businesses that operate from premises which do not qualify for rates so they are not further excluded by CRSS and left behind? Is it possible to look at an option for people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment to do some casual work without losing this payment? We have this already within the arts sector but we need to extend it. To give a specific example, if a business wants to cater for a wedding and wants to hire back its own well-trained staff for the day, it is difficult to do so because it impacts directly on the employees' pandemic unemployment payments. Is it possible to nurture home-based business and home-based entrepreneurs so they can weather this storm, reboot their businesses and rehire their staff as, it is hoped, we emerge from the pandemic?