Dáil debates

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

3:00 pm

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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Question 61: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation the steps he has taken to ensure that capital is available to medium and small industries to retain jobs and expand production when the opportunity arises; his views on whether there is a significant opportunity for the manufacturing industry to increase production to a number of different markets such as the UK, Germany and so on, if only they could get the working capital; the steps he is taking to rectify this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2542/11]

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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Access to bank credit for businesses, particularly SMEs, has been central to many Government initiatives in addressing the crisis in the banking sector. Both the 2009 and 2010 bank recapitalisation arrangements provided specific commitments from the recapitalised banks to assist SMEs.

Under the 2010 bank recapitalisation arrangement, AIB and Bank of Ireland have both committed to making available not less than €3 billion each for new or increased credit facilities to SMEs in both 2010 and 2011, including funds for working capital for businesses. As a Department, we have ongoing contact with the main banks in relation to their lending to businesses and will, together with our colleagues in the Department of Finance and John Trethowan of the Credit Review Office, continue to ensure that they meet their lending commitments.

In this regard, as part of his second quarterly report on SME lending published on 18 November 2010, John Trethowan indicated that each of the banks has shown a positive attitude to his review process and the banks' executives have been asked to ensure that this attitude is shared with their front-line lending staff. He also stated that the current market perceptions that banks are not lending to SMEs is based on experiences from six to nine months ago, and the current situation while still not entirely perfect, is now continually improving. In addition, our officials are working with their colleagues in the Department of Finance, the Credit Review Office, Enterprise Ireland and Forfás to address access to credit issues for viable SMEs.

The National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 contains a pillar to pursue appropriate sectoral policies to encourage export growth and recovery of domestic demand. The plan sets out a range of specific actions and supports designed to foster export growth and a recovery of domestic demand; provide investment of €2.2 billion in capital over the four years of the plan for the enterprise agencies, which will enable them to create jobs across the economy; support indigenous firms to increase exports; win new foreign investment; and target and supporting research, development and innovation in companies to boost productivity, exports, growth and jobs. To further assist cash flow for SMEs, the 15 day payment rule to suppliers will be extended beyond central Government Departments to the wider public sector.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The State development agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, and the county and city enterprise boards are continuing to drive and promote enterprise development, and consequently employment creation in our economy.

In September 2010, the Taoiseach launched the five-year integrated Government plan for trade, tourism and investment. This plan has set a number of ambitious targets to be achieved by 2015, including the generation of 300,000 jobs between direct and spin-off employment. The overall objective of the strategy and its action plan is to marshal and co-ordinate the resources of the State in a way that best supports firms, of all sizes, in all parts of the country, which are trying to trade and grow their business overseas. The strategy presents a suite of actions for building on existing strengths and driving trade relations in existing as well as new and emerging economies.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply but it is totally different from the reality. My reason for asking this question is simple. A number of small industries that are in a position to expand or retain staff are finding it impossible to get cash flow or working capital. This is true of ordinary small businesses that have a proud record in my own constituency of Cavan Monaghan.

The Minister must get down to business and ensure that people with a genuine demand can get money. When will structures be put in place to ensure that viable - and not fly-by-night - good businesses can continue? I spoke to someone who has been in business for 40 years. He told me he could employ another eight or ten people if he could get money from the bank.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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All Members share the Deputy's commitment to viable small businesses and this is the reason the review office is in place. Regardless of party politics, all Members should use it. I have used it and have found it to be helpful to me and to a number of constituents. As for direct interaction with the office, it takes it on and if the businesses are viable and if they have a future, it will assist them to secure funding from the recapitalised banks. Members should provide Mr. Trethowan with the cases to allow him to do his work.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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How many cases have been dealt with by the review body and how many have received money as a result?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Does the Minister of State have such a level of detail to hand?

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have it to hand but will provide it to the Deputy. However, unless Members provide the cases from their daily interactions with businesses, that figure will not improve.

Photo of Arthur MorganArthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I trust that each Member of the House is receiving the same representations as is Deputy Crawford and as I certainly am. Does the Minister of State accept there is a lack of faith in the Credit Review Office? I do not refer in particular to Mr. John Trethowan himself but to a lack of faith in the office. This is demonstrated by the low numbers of people who are contacting the office. Regardless of whether people succeed, fail or otherwise, they simply are not contacting the office because of such a lack of faith. People simply are blue in the face on foot of banks' refusals of loans to them at the point of contact on the high street. Even viable businesses are not getting loans.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I have to hand some figures. Since its establishment, the Credit Review Office has had slightly more than 4,000 users of its website, 467 calls from borrowers and a total of approximately 37 cases have been received. The Government is not happy with this and Deputy Morgan probably has hit on a point, in that we must do a lot more. While the Credit Review Office has advertised extensively and Mr. Trethowan has visited chambers of commerce nationwide, the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, and I certainly will meet him to ascertain what can be done. However, the Government is open to ideas from this House as to how it can allow him to make his services more public in a direct way. Each Member of this House has an equal role to play in so doing.

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister of State agree that the State-owned banks only comprise 60% of banking in Ireland? I refer to entities outside the State-capitalised banks, such as Ulster Bank and others, which may not be lending to the same extent. Is there a method to track funding from the banks? Is the Department in receipt of a monthly report on new business, by which I do not mean the recapitalisation of existing companies or the refinancing of existing loans but new business for job retention and creation, which is not happening at present.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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While I do not have that information to hand, I will provide it to the Deputy. It certainly is the kind of information this Department has been seeking through this process.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I agree it probably is easier to get money from Ulster Bank and the others in this context. However, I refer to the banks we virtually own and this is the point that ordinary punters and small, big or medium-sized business people cannot understand. These banks have robbed them blind and have taken their bloody money. However, now that they are taking more money, they will not even re-lend the money that has been given to them by the ordinary individuals of this State. Has the Minister summoned the chief executive officers, the chief financial officers and the credit officers of the aforementioned banks to meet him? One should forget about Mr. Trethowan, as he is a port of last resort. Has the Minister met them on a face-to-face basis to tell them of the Government's unhappiness? The banks are not doing what the Government has set out for them to do. Moreover, the Government only wishes banks to lend to viable business, as we have had enough madness in the past, but they should lend to real viable businesses. I agree with Deputy Perry's point. A smokescreen is being put up in that if a bank renegotiates a client's overdraft facility from €5,000 to €3,000, it will assert that this constitutes new business.

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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It will be counted as a new loan.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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It is nothing more then a gross distortion of the truth. The Department should get to the truth because people are not telling lies to Members.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I accept that and accept Deputy Penrose's concerns in this regard. As for meeting the banks or the bank management, the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, has led five different meetings with the banks since his appointment to the Department at the end of March 2010. The last report of the Credit Review Office states:

My view is that recapitalisation strategy for the two main banks is now achieving its objective of ensuring that a functioning banking system is in place to support economic activity.

Current market perceptions that banks are not lending to SMEs is based on experiences from six to nine months ago, and the current situation whilst still not entirely perfect, is now continually improving.

Certainly, the Government will continue to meet and pressurise the banks as it shares the concerns expressed by Deputies Perry and Penrose on the repackaging of facilities.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister of State agree there is a weakness in the review process? It has a limit of €250,000 and takes a "comply or explain" approach. Consequently, Mr. John Trethowan cannot compel the banks to lend. Furthermore, does the Minister of State agree there is a need for a bank guarantee scheme to complement the credit review process? For example, if a loan application was for €110,000 but the bank only felt comfortable with lending €90,000, the guarantee would be for €20,000 and simply would guarantee the excess.

I have heard from internal sources within the banks that at present, they are more concerned with shrinking their loan books and collecting money, and the SME sections within banks are not getting the attention they deserve. The Minister should propose to the banks that they should set up specific designated and firewalled SME sections. Instead, banks are more concerned at present with shrinking their balance sheets and sweating their assets and, consequently, the SME sector is falling out of the equation.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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Some changes such as those suggested by Deputy O'Donnell have been made. The Government has been forcing banks to improve their lending facilities to SMEs and the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, referred to increasing the number of staff. Moreover, the skills base of staff to lend to SMEs was depleted-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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Designated divisions.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Finance; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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-----and they now are engaged in partnership with Enterprise Ireland on this. In addition, the Government has found that the success rate of appeals within the banking system from regional to central level has improved in recent months. Moreover, the Government continues to force the banks to adopt a more vigorous internal appeals procedure, as well as that available through the Credit Review Office.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Ceist Uimh. 62-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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What of the guarantee?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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----- in ainm an Teachta O'Donnell féin.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the point regarding the guarantee to complement the credit review system is very important.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I have called the next question as we are three minutes over time.