Tuesday, 29 March 2011
County Enterprise Boards
Question 33: To ask the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation his plans regarding the future of county enterprise boards; the way the merger of local enterprise and job support functions of local, regional and national agencies into a single business and enterprise unit within local authorities will be achieved; if the amalgamation of county enterprise boards will be part of this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6032/11]
As Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation one of my main priorities is to ensure that the manner in which State support for enterprise activity, entrepreneurship stimulation and job creation is delivered, properly targeted, effective and coherent. I want to ensure it is cost effective and that the resources available to the State are used to maximise business activity and sustainability across all sectors to drive economic recovery.
The county and city enterprise boards, CEBs, have been the principal deliverers of State support to the micro-enterprise sector since their establishment in 1993. The role of CEBs is to support micro-enterprises employing up to ten people in the start-up and expansion phases and to stimulate and promote economic activity and entrepreneurship at local level. The CEBs deliver a series of programmes to underpin this role and can provide financial and non-financial assistance to an eligible micro-enterprise. This sector is a key component of the indigenous small business sector. It was to the forefront of Ireland's past economic success and will be key to our economic recovery.
Parallel to the work of the CEBs is the work of Enterprise Ireland. Its remit includes the support of start-ups that have the potential to employ more than ten people and achieve €1 million in turnover. These are start-ups that are typically highly innovative and are in a position to sell globally from their earliest stage. Apart from these enterprise development agencies who report directly to my Department, there are other State bodies and organisations working with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, providing a range of enterprise type supports which serve other niche elements of the community.
Each of these organisations has a distinct client base. The programme for Government recognises that there is a multiplicity of enterprise and job support functions being carried out by local, regional and national agencies. The programme also recognises the need to streamline such functions and increase shared knowledge capability and resources while saving on administration costs.
A critical focus in achieving any such streamlining is to ensure that we do not compromise on service delivery to the end user. While unnecessary overlap or duplication between these agencies and organisations must be eliminated, as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, it is my priority to ensure that above all else there is a coherent and cohesive delivery of State support to the indigenous business sector based on clear enterprise policy principles laid down by my Department.
In regard to CEBs, their current structure is in need of review and reform for several reasons including the fact that they currently comprise 35 separate legal entities, significantly increasing the administrative overhead of the service. Nevertheless, I reiterate that any changes to the CEB structure must not compromise the State's engagement with and support for important micro companies. I am engaging with my officials and other Government colleagues to determine the best way forward and will shortly bring my proposals to Government on the CEB structure. I thank the Minister for his comments.
The CEBs operate as the engine for small business development throughout the State. They operate locally and therefore have a fantastic knowledge of enterprise locally. They also ensure that small businesses around the State can engage easily with expertise, funds and advice. Therefore, they are a very important part of the enterprise development area. We have a situation whereby Fianna Fáil, in the previous Administration, significantly reduced the amount of funding county enterprise boards received at a time when their job was important and jobs were important to the economy.
I am not sure I got an answer to my question. My question concerned the future of CEBs because in recent years the previous Minister created an air of confusion and uncertainty with regard to them. People are fearful that the knowledge that has been built up will be dissipated. Will the county enterprise boards exist or will they be subsumed into the local authorities? If they are subsumed into the local authorities, will they become part of what people see as the layers of bureaucracy that may exist in some local authorities?
What are the plans for the funding? Will the cuts by Fianna Fáil in the county enterprise board sector be reversed by the new Administration? If they go to local authorities, will it be the case that councillors may have influence over where grant funding can be allocated? This, if it arose, would be negative.
Importantly, it is our intention to have a one-stop-shop solution for enterprise in every county. On the current duplication of providers, it is important that we would have facilitation, involving not only county enterprise boards but partnership and FÁS. Streamlining is needed. It is our intention to bring forward a plan in the next 100 days that will set the possibilities of getting value for money. Critically important is the administrative costs of county enterprise boards. Given there are 35 of them in the State, there is duplication that we want to eliminate.
The backbone of the economy is small indigenous companies based in the community. I would agree with the Deputy that the boards have been successful in the past. It is critical that the work ongoing with enterprise boards, in mentoring and support to companies, is continued. Having said that the system needs major refocussing. We need to ensure that there is a one-stop-shop solution in every county or region that will offer support to small companies.
On the future role of enterprise boards, there are many providers of job initiatives in counties at present. It is our intention to bring them all together in a one-stop-shop facility that will be clear in its message, will cut down on the cost and will give the end-user - the business person with the ideas - the critical support, and to ensure that the funding is available to them.
We will get additional value for money from the funding already allocated. It is important that we maximise the value from the funding being allocated.
While taking Deputy Tóibín's point on job retention and job creation, great things can be achieved by small companies. I believe in the supports given. We are 20 days in the job. I can assure the Deputy that top of my priorities is to ensure that local small companies get every support and every job will be retained where possible. We are actively engaging with the enterprise boards in the job they are doing on a daily basis.