Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Enterprise Support Services
Question 37: To ask the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation his plans to develop export programmes for small businesses; the facilities and assistance that currently exist for small companies wishing to export; if he will consider a State wide export programme for small and medium enterprises who do not have the ability to grow in the domestic market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5859/11]
I am discussing with Enterprise Ireland how its programmes could be better adapted to help small and medium enterprises to develop export opportunities. The programme for Government includes proposals to have a better system to allow foreign buyers easily source Irish products and to help companies now operating principally in the home market to launch into exporting.
There are a number of programmes offered by Enterprise Ireland and some small companies would be in a position to avail of them. The focus of the agency is very much on high potential start-ups, of which 80 were developed last year. At a lower level the county and city enterprise boards support micro-enterprises that operate on a smaller scale but which would still include exporting opportunities.
Enterprise Ireland offers a number of supports to assist companies explore new export opportunities such as the "going global fund" and "Graduates 4 International Growth" which places graduates in small companies with the opportunity to expand. It has an international selling programme and developed a series of workshops entitled, "Excel at Export Selling", which helps companies to break into markets for the first time. It also offers its overseas office network which is located in 31 cities throughout the world and is developing business mentors to work with companies that have the capacity to export.
There is scope to build on the initiatives already in place in order that a more coherent programme is developed to have a wider range of companies targeting the export market at a time of depressed domestic demand.
The Government has put many of its chips on the export market which, unfortunately, is heavily reliant on foreign direct investment. There are 250,000 small businesses in the State, yet we have only 80 high potential start-ups developed by Enterprise Ireland, an extremely limited number. Most small businesses engage at county enterprise board level, yet there is no county enterprise board export programme operating throughout the State. There is a small number of boards that are progressive enough to offer small businesses the opportunity to do so. There has been an historic view that one needs to master the local economy before one can begin to export, but obviously there is no local economy for many people. What plans does the Government have to create a focused, financed programme to help these small county enterprise board businesses?
We are proposing the creation of a €100 million micro-enterprise fund that will be aimed specifically at such companies. We hope it will be rolled out in what is a competitive area. It will not only be confined to county enterprise boards, although they could be a feature. There are other useful groups supporting new start-ups such as First Step which is predominantly based in Dublin city but which has now a national mandate. There are opportunities to look at other ways to support them, but we need to make supports more accessible to smaller companies. I want Enterprise Ireland to develop programmes that will be easier to roll out and can be promoted in a business to business support format. I very much admire the Plato Programme that allows existing companies, working in their own free time, to support smaller companies to develop. If we can pump prime that activity, we can add much value without having to commit huge funds that clearly are not available. I share the Deputy's eagerness to see development in this regard and we will be working to see how we can develop an effective package to help these companies.
Question 38: To ask the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation the way the cooperative model will be promoted; the way he will ensure a level playing field between cooperatives and the other legal options for structuring enterprise activities; when he will establish the constructive framework for the realisation of the potential of the sector as per the Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5873/11]
The co-operative model is one of a number of legal options available to those considering establishing themselves in business and the different models have their own distinct characteristics. It is, of course, up to each individual operation to choose the model that best suits the nature of the business and the desired ethos of the entity.
The Department issued a consultation paper on the legislation that governs the majority of co-operatives in Ireland, the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, inviting interested parties to submit proposals for the changes to the legislation that they considered necessary to address issues causing difficulty for the effective operation of the co-operative model. On foot of this consultation process, I intend to bring proposals to the Government shortly providing for a number of amendments to the current legislation which will address the immediate difficulties raised by the sector. I expect that these amendments will make the co-operative model more attractive for those wishing to use it.
The direct promotion of co-operatives is a matter for the co-operative movement. It is ably done by the three main umbrella groups for co-operatives, namely, the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society which developed predominantly in the dairy industry but has branched out to the wider food, agribusiness and rural sectors in Ireland, the National Association of Building Co-operatives which deals with housing co-operatives and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes which deals with group water schemes. In addition, I propose to engage with the co-operative sector on its plans to promote the particular benefits of the co-operative model to a wider audience, as it will come to the fore in 2012 which has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Co-operatives.