Thursday, 10 July 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Local Enterprise Offices Establishment
5. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the educational processes that have been put in place to ensure local authority staff are qualified to deal with clients of the new local enterprise offices, LEOs; and the training that has been put in place to ensure seamless delivery between the LEOs and Enterprise Ireland. [29882/14]
Bhí an-áthas orm fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Perry, go dtí An Uaimh Dé Máirt seo caite. I am sure the Minister of State is busy going around the country launching the local enterprise offices, LEOs, in each county and city. One of the major worries for us and enterprise organisations at the start of the process was that the LEOs would not sit well within the local authorities and the appropriate culture would not exist. This question pertains to the training provided to allow for proper integration with local authorities.
I was delighted to see the Deputy on Monday in Navan. Anybody who met the county chief executive, Ms Jackie Maguire, and Mr. Hugh Reilly, the LEO chief operating officer, would know they do not need much training. I was very impressed with the efficiency with which the launch was made and the team working in the LEO office. It is a fantastic facility in Navan, including an incubation unit with business supports. If Meath is an example of the service that will be seen around the country, I will be very happy. Coming from Meath and seeing what he did on Monday, the Deputy should have no concern about the operation or capability of the staff in Meath.
A comprehensive programme of training for all LEO staff has been put in place. This includes training in the area of entrepreneurship and enterprise, agency and local authority services at local level, revenue supports and change management. Ongoing training throughout 2014 is also planned across a range of service level issues. The new LEOs operating with local authorities are the first-stop shop through which all information on State supports for small and micro-businesses can initially be accessed, and this represents a significant and ambitious transformation of the support structure for enterprises across every county. The LEO staff cohort is composed of both former county enterprise board staff and local authority staff to ensure a totality in the service provided to LEO clients.
The service level agreement between Enterprise Ireland, whose representatives were in Navan on Monday, and the local authorities provides for Enterprise Ireland to support the developmental needs of LEO staff. In his first question the Deputy asked about us depending too much on foreign direct investment. We now have the tools to support indigenous small companies. Enterprise Ireland has a very clear mandate in promoting high-potential start-up companies and emerging and indigenous Irish companies.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In this regard, Enterprise Ireland has already begun, in collaboration with the local authorities, to deliver training to all LEO staff. A training and development plan for LEO staff was scoped in advance of the establishment of the LEOs, and all local authority staff designated to join the LEO were invited to attend a one-day information day, which was attended by staff and senior personnel from the new LEOs and other stakeholders. Topics included entrepreneurship, enterprise at local level and delivering excellence in customer service. In addition, presenters covered general areas such as the role of Enterprise Ireland and the centre of excellence, LEO brand management and communication protocols, enterprise support services and local authority business development services, as well as partnership with other agencies such as the Revenue Commissioners and Microfinance Ireland, where new protocols have recently been developed. As a follow-up, the Revenue Commissioners provided a one-day tailored programme for LEO staff.
The training programme is continuing, with two change management programmes about to commence for LEO staff of all levels to ensure they are equipped to meet new challenges. In addition, a customer engagement and services training day has been scheduled to commence in September. This will be an interactive one-day workshop for all staff. The aim of this programme is to develop both core customer service skills and behaviours within the LEO that are conducive to achieving the LEO mission and purpose.
I have no doubt the Minister of State is correct and that the two officials, Mr. Hugh Reilly and Ms Jackie Maguire, will do a tremendous job. My concern is with the whole of the State, which has seen a transition period. From what I hear, that has not been completely smooth, with LEOs not being able to communicate and engage with entrepreneurs and citizens for a number of weeks as they tried to access the service. My major concern is not necessarily about the staff of the LEOs but rather the staff of local authorities where the LEOs are located. The local authorities will now perform a pivotal role with regard to enterprise development. Everything from the planning process to financing to county plans will be taken in, so it is really important for the Government to do a job of work in training the staff of the local authorities in enterprise matters so they can better serve and work with LEOs in future.
Both I and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, as well as the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, have been all over the country visiting local authorities, and I have no doubt about what we have seen. They are totally committed to promoting entrepreneurship and self-help, and the LEOs are now a first-stop shop for those beginning a new business. The Deputy must remember that there has been a transformation in local authorities, with the executive officer taking over the role of county manager. They will deal with combined direct grants, mentoring and training, utilising local business expertise to evaluate projects, enhanced advice on signposting services, direct referral of clients to Enterprise Ireland, which is very important, and referral to supports from the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social Protection, Microfinance Ireland, the Credit Review Office, Skillnets and education and training boards. Direct advice and guidance on local authority rates, procurement and regulation effects on business are also relevant. There will continue to be three types of grant available from LEOs, including priming and business expansion grants. The criteria for receipt of those grants will remain the same as county board criteria.
I have seen commitment from the local authorities in how they can they can help establish businesses. I have no doubt this process will be a big success story. There is a level of participation by local authority staff, and the locations of offices will help. They are not upstairs or in a back room but at the front of house in order to deal with clients, as the Deputy saw in Navan.
I want the Minister of State to focus on the key question. What educational process will be put in place to ensure that the staff of a local authority are at one with the LEOs in an enterprise culture? This should be seen as a major opportunity to orient the entire local authority. For years, many would have been of the view that some local authorities around the country had a culture of going against enterprise. When businesses engaged with such authorities about rates, charges or planning, they would have experienced very negative feelings. The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association and the Small Firms Association, which are representative of small businesses, have indicated that they feel the culture of the LEO would be swamped by the culture of the local authority. Does the Minister of State see this as an opportunity to orient local authorities on an enterprise basis?
Yes; there will be reorientation of staff and a customer service charter. There will be training for all staff, with a focus on enterprise, job creation and recognition of an enterprise culture. One must remember that the job of the elected councillors - some of whom we saw the other day in Meath - concerns business in the county. In the motions at council meetings, there must be value to the county in how jobs are created in villages and towns in places such as Meath.
That is the focus of training. The new system will also incorporate an evaluation committee and community based enterprises.
This change gives autonomy to every chief executive officer to create an enterprise culture. The best example of this is in County Meath where the chief executive of Meath County Council, Ms Jackie Maguire, will work with the head of the local enterprise office, Mr. Hugh Reilly. This position is replicated elsewhere in the country. The local enterprise offices are an extraordinary vehicle involving training, an evaluation board and community and social enterprise. The 40 elected members of Meath County Council have a major responsibility in this regard as they now have a mandate to drive business in the county. The Government cannot create jobs. It is, therefore, a matter for every elected representative and official to promote enterprise in their respective counties. If they produce enterprise ideas, they will receive State support.