Wednesday, 2 October 2013
County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I respect the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, because he comes from a small business background and he understands the difficulties such businesses are facing. It is fair to say we are living in extremely difficult times. At a time when small business owners are experiencing significant difficulties, I find it somewhat ironic that we are deciding to shrink the State services available to support enterprise. We should be expanding them, or at least holding what we have. In theory, this Bill is all about shrinking the services that are currently available.
The county enterprise board structure has served this country well since it was established in 1993. It has supported some 33,000 jobs and provided various training, mentoring and other supports. Under the structure that has been in place since 1993, IDA Ireland looks after companies interested in foreign direct investment and Enterprise Ireland supports companies with between ten and 100 employees. The enterprise boards operate throughout the country on a county basis. Shannon Development and Údarás na Gaeltachta have defined roles in specific areas. The county enterprise boards have served the country well. Until now, they have had the autonomy and the scope to be able to make decisions at local level. The links between the enterprise boards and local authorities have never been stronger. That is certainly the case in my own county, and I assume it applies in every other county, because elected councillors have always sat on those boards. I know that since 1993, the chairman of the Donegal county enterprise board has always been the Donegal county manager at local authority level. The connection could not have been stronger.
I would like to make a number of points about this proposal. I feel it is the wrong way to go for a number of reasons. Under the new structure that is being put in place, local enterprise offices will be established and the county enterprise boards will be discontinued. There is no defined plan for how all of this will work. There is no plan for how the changes will be implemented. We are moving from a proven track record-based system to a system that has not been proven at all. While I agree there is a need to re-energise and reinvigorate the county enterprise board system, that does not mean the system should be discontinued or the option of reforming it should not be considered. The county enterprise boards have been self-managed. Decisions have been made on a local basis. We are moving the functions of the county enterprise boards to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Enterprise Ireland, which have no managerial experience in dealing with county enterprise boards. Enterprise Ireland has traditionally been dealing with projects with ten or more employees. Under this plan, it will try to provide support to small organisations and employment projects as well. I cannot see how it will be able to streamline itself to work efficiently and effectively, particularly in the early years. The county enterprise board structure was democratic in the sense that the board comprised local authority members and representatives of the trade union movement, employer organisations, other State agencies and local businesses. All of them gave their time on a voluntary basis to ensure the county enterprise boards could fulfil their roles in the best way possible.