Thursday, 16 October 2014
Enterprise Support Services Provision
8. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he will provide an update on plans to streamline the process of setting up new businesses here; if a one stop shop is part of those plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39076/14]
This question came about through a meeting I had with Bray Chamber of Commerce before the budget. One member said he had recently set up his own business and enterprise in Wicklow and had a good deal of hassle doing it. He found it very complicated and there was not one office or website he could go to where he could find out what he needed in terms of getting an accountant, a lawyer, complete forms and so forth. The ease of doing business ranking, which we referred to earlier, specifically on starting a new business, indicates we have fallen from ninth place last year to 12th place this year. Starting a new business is something entrepreneurs in Wicklow are saying is difficult and complicated, and the World Bank is saying we have fell down the rankings in the past year. What are the Minister's plans to do something about that and, specifically for the entrepreneurs, can a well-functioning one stop shop be set up to help them?
I am disappointed because Wicklow has one of the very good local enterprise offices, which I visited recently. It is the one stop shop we have established, one of 31 across the country. That would be their first port of call. It is exceptionally well run and managed and would help the individual within the Bray Chamber of Commerce.
At national level, all three of us are involved in the taking care of business initiative to support access, and one of those events is taking place today in Dublin. The local enterprise office is the first port of call. It is a first stop shop where people can get access to all of that information.
We have developed and put in place protocols with the Revenue Commissioners, the Company Registration Office, and the Department of Social Protection if people are accessing the back-to-work allowance.
There are two websites also - the local enterprise office one which has all the supports that are available; and one of my Department's websites named businessregulation.ie. Those two websites give easy access to the relevant information but the local enterprise office is the first port of call.
The Deputy also asked about the process of setting up an operating company, which is being streamlined by the new Companies Bill which is at an advanced stage in its passage through the Oireachtas. It will greatly simplify matters by providing for a single founding statement, single director companies, lower audit thresholds and it will dispense with the need for a physical AGM.
The Companies Registration Office has reduced the time for registering a company from 15 to seven days. It is thus delivering an improved service.
We are also introducing an integrated licensing application service, so companies requiring licences can go to one portal. That system will be up and running in the course of the coming year.
My ambition is to make the process of starting a business as simple and clear as possible. The first-stop-shop is the high street location but behind that we are also making a lot of changes to adjust the system and make it more business-friendly, putting us in the position as one of the best places in Europe, or indeed the World, in which to start and grow a business.
I thank the Minister for his reply and I welcome the changes that are coming in through primary legislation. There is a gap between aspiration and reality concerning the one-stop-shop. I had a feeling the Minister would say the LEOs are very good and that he would advise people to go there. Therefore I rang somebody this morning and asked him to try to start up a business today to see how he would get on. He rang the Companies Registration Office first and found a range of forms for fees, which was not very useful. He then contacted the LEO website which mainly contained links to the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection. It was not very good, so he rang them saying: "I want to start a new business, can you help me?" They referred him to a different site called nubie.com. Ironically enough, that site was set up in 2008 by two brothers who could not find a one-stop-shop.
While I absolutely accept the Minister's aspiration for this system to work, a simple test this morning suggests that it clearly is not yet working. The people in the local enterprise office referred the person I had asked to test the system on to nubie.comand not their own site. What is the Minister's reaction to that?
If the individual concerned wants to send me that information I will have it fully investigated. However, in the last 12 months we have put in place protocols between the local enterprise office and each and every one of the agencies. Whether it is the Revenue Commissioners or the Companies Registration Office, therefore, there is a protocol in place whereby a named individual in those bodies who will deal with people who are coming in. In some cases, depending on what is required, they will refer people on. One does not expect detailed Revenue advice if, for example, one wants to avail of the seed capital scheme. One has to get the detailed back-up but forms, the scheme's broad threshold, and a contact person will be available in local enterprise offices.
A system is in place but I will examine the experience of the Deputy's constituent. I will also talk to the Wicklow enterprise office to see if people are having a poor experience. That was certainly not my experience when I visited them, however. There was great enthusiasm there. Many businesses are doing exciting things and they have had a good throughput in dealing with inquiries. Every system can be improved upon, however, and we will seek to improve that one.
To be clear, I do not know if it was the Wicklow local enterprise office that the person called. I asked the person to ring an LEO as a test to see how he would get on. The message I got back was that it was not working. At least, in some places it is not working but it is a great initiative. Maybe people should be hired to do a quick outside-in, like a mystery shopper, to report back to the Minister. In that way we could see whether it is working, as well as who is doing well or not.
The Minister might consider commissioning a consultation with local businesses, which would be useful. I am hearing repeatedly from local businesses in Wicklow - and I imagine that many other Deputies are hearing it in their own constituencies - that interactions with local authorities could be improved. For example, when a local authority shuts down the water supply in a town, it does not forewarn businesses using that water. The same applies to major road works because the council does not tell local businesses in advance.
In some areas, it seems that LEOs could be better. Will the Minister consider undertaking an analysis of interaction between local authorities and local businesses, from the latter's perspective? In that way, we could see what is working and what could be shared.
At the heart of the local enterprise offices' initiative is the fact that they have built strong consultative relationships with business communities, including local chambers of commerce. The Minister of State, Deputy Nash, chairs the high-level group on business regulation and more recently has established more formal connections with chambers of commerce. He has thus undertaken a detailed level of understanding what local businesses need from a national perspective.
At both levels, therefore, we are putting in place those networks. In some cases they need continual revival. The Minister of State, Deputy Nash, has revised the membership of some LEOs in order to bring in fresh blood to challenge how we are performing. Our ambition is, like the Deputy's, to deliver a high quality service which is rolling out successfully. I have attended many of the launches, as have other Ministers. Since the bridge has been built with local authorities, there is a real enthusiasm to do something special for businesses and offer them a turnkey service as can best be delivered from those offices.