Wednesday, 2 October 2013
County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage
Cuirim fíor fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit chun éisteacht leis an díospóireacht tábhachtach seo. Cuirim fíor fáilte roimh an scoil go Teach Laighean freisin agus chuig an obair tábhachtach atá ar siúl anseo inniu. I reiterate my welcome for the Minister of State and the representatives of the school who are present for this important debate on the dissolution of the county and city enterprise boards. As the Minister of State noted, they are to be replaced by local enterprise offices, LEOs. Speaking of LEOs, I note the word "leo" comes from the Latin word for lion, which is the strongest animal. I look forward to seeing the LEOs or lions being the strongest element of local governance and local work with small and medium enterprises and that the local authorities, local elected representatives and communities will be involved in doing what they can to ensure small and medium enterprises are enhanced and helped at every opportunity.
The Minister of State stated that a new website would be developed for the local enterprise offices, or LEOs. It is important that they carve out their own identity in the community. Local authorities have logos. I looked up the logo for the LEOs - the lion - which is a simple one showing a circle with an extension reaching out, as the local enterprise offices are doing, reaching out into the community. It is an apt symbol and very simple. Designers look for simplicity in symbols. The identity of the LEOs is to be part of but not lost in the local authorities so it is important to give them their own identify as a first-stop shop for entrepreneurs at local level. They will provide an integrated system of working with Enterprise Ireland.
The Bill conforms to the standard model of legislation for dissolution of State bodies and consequent transfer of staff, property and liabilities, as the Minister of State noted. It is part of a programme of reform that will bring together in one place the micro and small business supports that are currently provided by the county and city enterprise boards, Enterprise Ireland and the local authorities, allowing them to be the first-stop shop that everybody can get to know. The Bill will also remove anomalies in the current system and ensure that all micro and small businesses can access supports. It will establish a centre of excellence in every county and city in the country, in conjunction with the local authorities and Enterprise Ireland. These will have responsibility for setting policy and monitoring delivery. This last is most important, as another speaker noted - ensuring delivery of a world-class support for micro and small businesses in a consistent manner. Consistency is important because very often the county and city enterprise boards had the same idea but took different routes, some of which worked better than others.
Enterprise Ireland is an expert body with many years of experience in dealing with companies and budding entrepreneurs. Its priority is to deal with national and larger companies but the connection at local authority level is important. As the Minister of State noted, small and medium enterprises are the most important businesses in this country. They create jobs and therefore must be nurtured and supported. Enterprise Ireland has many different programmes for high-potential start-up companies with capacity and capability to sell into the export market, manufacturing internationally and traded services.
The county and city enterprise boards, CEBs, receive an Exchequer capital allocation each year towards the provision of grants and soft supports, and individual capital allocations are made within this. The Minister has set in place a way of doing this and it will be interesting to compare and contrast, seeing where money is spent, how it is spent and ensuring it gives value for money. We can compare and contrast this work with how the CEBs work now, how they worked in the past and how they will work into the future. Senator Mary White, who has a good entrepreneurial head, pointed out some issues in this regard.
I emphasise the importance of the voluntary boards of the local enterprise boards. The people who volunteer are not praised often enough. This voluntary capacity is one aspect of the current boards and I am delighted it has been put on the clár today by the Minister of State that it will remain. I served on an enterprise board when I was a member of South Dublin County Council. The business, political and community inputs of the board gel and work together to enhance the work and ensure that if one person does not come up with something, another person will. Everybody brings their own expertise and this aspect will not be lost.
The last speaker mentioned that local authority staff are not entrepreneurs. I spent 20 years on a local authority where I saw the advancement local authorities have brought about, bringing on local business development units within those authorities. I can only speak for South Dublin County Council where we developed lots of industrial units that worked with the local communities, providing buildings and facilities. That was not all - they also aided computer software development and that type of thing with the local business development units. In this way the local authorities have a great deal of expertise to bring and, most important, they bring in the actual facility which is situated in a place people can get to know as a business development unit. What is more important? Developing roads is important; developing protection of the environment is most important, but developing jobs in the local community is what local authorities should also be doing. Every local authority in Europe is known for doing that - why should we be so different by doing it nationally? We are always talking about devolving power to local authorities - this initiative will do that to some authorities. It will not take the power but will work in co-operation with the LEOs, establishing businesses in and with the local community and its groups. It will also bring accountability through the system of locally elected representatives. Devolution of function to local authorities is one way to achieve this but it is also important to ensure that local development business units in that authority can act alone as stand-alone business units and become known for doing so. It is important for them to carve out their own identity, using symbols and logos.
These measures are designed to increase the number of start-ups and to ensure they survive. We have seen many start up but not all of them survive five years. To get them past that five-year pitch by giving a leg-up must be one of the major goals of the new LEOs. Every entrepreneur is not looking for a hand-out - all they need is to have a hand held and to be got onto the road. The local offices must ensure there are no obstacles put in the way of start-ups, ensure they have fewer forms to fill, give out whatever grants are available, and make all of this easier and more accessible.
I am also delighted to see support for and an increase in the number of start-ups by women; an increase in exports from microbusiness and small business, respectively; and an increase in the record of job creation and innovation in the sector. Female entrepreneurs, one of whom is Senator Mary White, must be supported in every sphere. A quota system has been brought in for the political arena and the EU is recommending a quota system for women on boards. Ireland has fallen down in this regard. This Bill has nothing to do with putting women on boards but the Minister of State must keep an eye open in respect of local authorities and boards of enterprise to ensure this outcome. I do not advance the case of women over men but putting women alongside men is important. Everybody brings their own expertise and everybody has a left and a right side of the brain which sometimes act differently. It is important to ensure that all genders are represented in all spheres of life.
It appears from the Minister of State's speech that the centre of excellence and Enterprise Ireland will lead, develop and manage the enhancement of a support service which is designed to increase employment and exports and ultimately create more jobs in the Irish economy. Governments do not create jobs but they show the way and help. One such way is that at local level local authorities will be involved in doing this on a statutory basis. It is not that they have not been involved before now but it will now be put on a more statutory footing. This service will in the first instance be handled by the LEOs. In turn, the centre of excellence will develop benchmarks, monitor progress and promote good practice. I look forward to reports on that which will go also to the local authorities.
Micro and small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy. As the Minister of State observed, they employ more than 650,000 people. I know a little about small businesses because I have three children, all of whom have their own business. Money is not the only support businesses look for; they seek that things be made easier, with less bureaucracy and form-filling required. The Minister of State has done much on this issue along with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, since we came to Government. The reforms are about delivering improved support to more businesses in better and local locations, ultimately creating more jobs.
When I was a local councillor I do not know how many times I was asked where was the county enterprise board. People did not know even though there was a sign over the door. It would be better if one could direct a person to the local authority and let it be known it is a business hub and ensure that world class services are delivered locally and uniformly across the country.