Thursday, 24 June 2010
County Enterprise Boards
Áine Brady (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
The 35 county and city enterprise boards have a clearly defined role as the principal deliverers of State support to the micro-enterprise sector in Ireland. This sector is a key component of the indigenous small business sector and has been to the forefront of Ireland's economic success. As a result of their strong regional and cumulatively national presence, the network of county and city enterprise boards is providing a seamless availability of business support, funding and mentoring for the micro-enterprise sector, thereby facilitating the growth of this sector in the past 15 years. In addition, the micro-enterprises supported by the enterprise boards have played a key role in providing the supply and support services that are essential in attracting foreign direct investment into the county.
The enterprise board network has an excellent track record in tapping into local entrepreneurial potential. The focus has increasingly been on the development of sustainable growth orientated local enterprises which can deliver high quality job creation without displacement or deadweight. The current parameters within which the enterprise boards operate enable them to deliver valuable assistance to business start-ups with good growth and employment potential. Through the provision of financial and non-financial support the boards have assisted many micro-enterprises in developing their growth and export potential, as well as bringing them to a stage where they have sufficient mass to access the services of Enterprise Ireland.
Since 1993 to the end of 2009 the county and city enterprise boards nationally have issued grant payments to the total value of €211,524,539. Since their establishment in 1993 a total 21,916 projects have been approved for financial assistance. More than 30,726 net jobs were created in enterprise board assisted enterprises from 1993 to end 2009.
The enterprise boards have, in particular, deepened their role in promoting a culture of entrepreneurship in their localities. They have provided management capability training, direct mentoring and networking opportunities within their areas to promote and sustain entrepreneurial activity. More than 191,647 people have participated on the various management development programmes and mentoring programmes available from the enterprise boards since 1993. This represents a significant financial investment by the State in the micro-enterprise sector for the past 16 years and an investment in the future development of this sector. All of this activity contributes to job creation by boosting the survival rate amongst small businesses and facilitating future growth and employment potential.
The Government has provided significant resources for the county and city enterprise boards since their establishment. Total funding of €28.3 million was secured by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation for the boards as part of the Estimates process in 2010. Of this total figure, €14.994 million has been allocated for capital expenditure to directly support micro-enterprises. This allocation represents a strong State investment in and ongoing commitment to the micro-enterprise sector, notwithstanding the significant pressure on public finances. The enterprise boards will continue to deliver on their primary role of assisting and supporting the micro-enterprise sector through the provision of direct grant aid and soft support measures and ensuring available funds are targeted to maximise entrepreneurial development. While the current climate surrounding public finances cannot be ignored, I am of the view that the enterprise boards are able to use their available funding in a judicious and effective manner to support business growth and development and to encourage further employment creation opportunities.
Exchequer funding is allocated to individual county and city enterprise boards by their central co-ordination unit based in Enterprise Ireland via a systematic approach designed to ensure the maximum degree of objectivity and equity of treatment. This approach involves the provision of available funding on the basis of a standard allocation for each enterprise board, as well as an extra allocation that is determined mainly by population but which also takes account of issues such as local unemployment trends, capacity to spend, existing commitments and regional spread.
It is a matter for individual county and city enterprise boards to determine how they will use allocated funds in the most effective manner possible, subject to meeting appropriate eligibility criteria. It is a basic expectation of the boards that they will manage the delivery of their support programmes on the basis of their allocation over the year as a whole and, as with all State funded assistance, they are expected to prioritise and manage available funding in a targeted and effective manner. It is vital that enterprise development continues to be supported but owing to the finite nature of the public finances, it is not always possible for an individual board to provide financial assistance for every eligible project that presents.
Should it arise that some county and city enterprise boards are not in a position to spend all of their annual capital allocation and surplus funding becomes available, these moneys will be reallocated by the CEB central co-ordination unit to boards which are in a position to spend additional funds, subject to an assessment of the rationale and the justification for the level of funding being requested. A review of anticipated expenditure and demand is being completed.
The House will be aware that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation has announced that he is reflecting on the institutional arrangements which might best deliver the necessary supports to micro-enterprises. In the context of the recommendations of the McCarthy report and continuing pressures on the public finances and staffing resources, the Minister intends to evaluate the appropriateness of the current structures of the 35 county and city enterprise boards. In this context, it is imperative that we strive to exploit fully the potential for reducing administration and overhead costs while maximising the provision of financial and other services for clients. The Minister intends to bring proposals to the Government on this issue before the summer break. I assure the Seanad that funding will be closely monitored by the CEB central co-ordination unit and the Department in the coming months in conjunction with the individual county and city enterprise boards.
I take the opportunity to express my high regard for county and city enterprise boards and my appreciation for their ongoing efforts to provide an effective level of support and service for the increasing number of potential entrepreneurs seeking assistance.
I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive response. I agree that the enterprise board network has an excellent track record and I am heartened to learn that €211 million has been allocated to it. County and city enterprise boards were established because small businesses needed one-on-one care and it was believed that support provided on a centralised basis was not as effective as providing it on the ground. I am concerned that if this support is consolidated within the Department or other State agencies, business start-ups will not have local points of contact. I sat on my county enterprise board just after the McCarthy report was published. Members of the board were concerned that their functions would be consolidated within the Department. Too much consolidation would defeat the purpose of the county and city enterprise board network.
The Seanad adjourned at 2.10 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 29 June 2010.