Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage


1:20 pm

Photo of Pat O'NeillPat O'Neill (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, for bringing this very important Bill before the House. The county enterprise boards, as we know them, have served the country extremely well. However, everything must change and we must move on. The boards will be replaced by the local enterprise offices, LEOs, and this well be of assistance in creating more jobs in this country.

When it came to power, the major issue for the Government was jobs. As the Minister of State pointed out, it is amazing that 98.5% of all firms are small and that they employ in excess of 650,000 people. We have all seen headlines about big companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, etc. which employ large numbers of people. The majority of people are employed by small businesses, however. The changes the Minister of State is bringing forward in respect of the enterprise boards is very welcome. Enterprise Ireland could not deal with local businesses in the past because it was more geared towards attracting international companies. I welcome the fact that it is now going to have a say in this regard. Previously, county and city enterprise boards could not deal with companies which employed more than ten people. That was a silly rule, particularly as all companies need to grow. Even while it is growing, a small company may still need the assistance of a local enterprise office or board.

Members opposite have stated that replacing the county and city enterprise boards with the local employment offices will not work. I am of the view that it will work. As previous speakers indicated, businesses rely on those with entrepreneurial ideas in order to thrive because it is from small acorns that mighty oaks grow. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple all came into existence as a result of one to two people coming up with particular ideas. Consider how those companies have developed in the interim. Those who have ideas must be encouraged at every stage and the requisite supports must be put in place, particularly in light of the statistics relating to the number of businesses which fail within the first two years. We must ensure supports continue to be provided because one never knows how big a business might become. It does not matter how big they might become, however; it is the fact they are prepared to pursue their ideas to serve the country and employ people.

The number of people on the live register dropped again by 2,000 this month. This is the seventh or eighth month in a row that there has been such a drop. At present, the Government is creating more than 700 jobs per week. Those jobs are badly needed. Senator Barrett referred to young graduates leaving the country, and we do not want to see that happening. An amazing statistic emerged last week to the effect that while more than 100,000 young people have emigrated, more than 60% of them left full-time jobs to do so. These individuals may have made a conscious decision in this regard and they might have been of the view that they would be better off financially elsewhere. They might also have been of the opinion that they could gain experience in a foreign country while they are young and return to work here in the future.

Will the Minister of State clarify whether the new local enterprise offices will be able to make decisions in respect of grants, supports, etc.? Senator Barrett indicated that he does not like the word "stakeholder". Will the new local enterprise offices include involvement from local chambers of commerce, unions, county councillors, county managers and so on? What will be the make-up of the boards relating to these new offices?

The digest relating to the Bill indicates that there are 35 separate websites for the various county and city enterprise boards. When the legislation is enacted, there will only be one website. The same supports will be available in every county and people will be able to see that by going onto the website. When establishing a business, someone with an entrepreneurial idea may not know what he or she needs. There are issues relating to planning, water, wastewater, roads, and so on that must be dealt with. County councils have the expertise to assist people in this regard. A person who requires assistance will be able to go to his or her local enterprise office and the director of services or a member of his or her staff will be contacted to discover what supports can be provided.

The Bill before the House is just one piece in a larger jigsaw. In that context, the Minister of State's Department should be involved in discussions with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Justice and Equality in respect of an ongoing issue which has often been raised in this House, namely, commercial rates. Perhaps we could use the legislation to provide a helping hand to start-up businesses in the context of getting their operations up and running. As stated earlier, for financial and other reasons, many businesses fail within the first two years. What we are engaged in here is a streamlining exercise. In other words, we are bringing all the expertise together. The staff of the county enterprise boards are not going to be displaced. They will be brought within their local authorities and will work for them. The expertise will, therefore, move with them to those authorities, which is extremely important.

I commend the Minister of State on bringing forward this vital Bill. As stated, in the past the enterprise boards could not deal with companies which employed more than ten people. The legislation is going to help improve the lot of many people. The digest relating to the Bill states that it will encourage more women to become involved in business. Many of the most successful business people in this country are women. I compliment Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and Senator White on the success of the companies they established and on the number of people they employ. Both Senators proceeded into business on the basis of their entrepreneurial ideas. I presume they receive support from Enterprise Ireland and other State agencies in setting up their businesses. The Senators' businesses have progressed in the interim.

It is important that the Bill should be supported by Members on all sides of the House. The digest refers to the commitment in the programme for Government to the effect that:

We will merge local enterprise and job support functions of local, regional and national agencies into a single business and enterprise unit within Local Authorities. This will allow streamlining of local job creation and support functions, increased shared knowledge capability and resources while saving on administration costs.
In the context of the cuts we have been obliged to make under the troika programme, we have been obliged to reduce administration costs. Administration costs are a major factor for local authorities, enterprise boards, Leader companies, etc.

If those costs were streamlined more money would be available to assist start-up companies. It is important to be aware of what is happening in the real world. The enterprise boards should be under the remit of the local authorities, as this area is part of what constitutes local authority reform. Legislation on such reform, including the removal of town councils, was passed in this House. Bringing more power back to the local elected members is part of this legislation. I compliment the Minister of State on bringing this Bill to the House and I will be supporting it.


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