Thursday, 3 October 2013
County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)
In my contribution yesterday, I outlined the importance of the county enterprise board structure, the model, the work the boards have done since their establishment in 1993 and the opportunity that could be lost. Akin to what is happening in respect of this House, we should be looking at reforming, re-invigorating and re-energising the county enterprise board structure instead of abolishing it. The model has been proved to have worked and it is a mistake to go the down the road of abolishing the county enterprise boards.
I outlined yesterday that board members come from a wide array of bodies, including local authorities, trade unions, employer organisations, State agencies and local businesses. They gave their time on a voluntary basis and that will now be lost as a result of this Bill. It is also an attack on the competence and professionalism of the county enterprise boards staff around the country who have been unfairly treated in this process. I will return to this point when we come to section 12. It is undermining the competence of people who have a proven track record and ability. Many county enterprise boards share IT and payroll functions with local authorities and savings can be made through that process if it is a question of savings.
As I mentioned yesterday, the county manager in Donegal had been chairperson of the Donegal county enterprise board since its establishment in 1993. There is a new county manager there now and that person is chairperson of the board.
A major area of concern is that the plans envisage the local authority providing matching funding to any funds allocated by central government to the new local enterprise office, LEO. We are all aware of the financial constraints of local authorities. If they are expected to part-fund the functions of the LEO, it will place a further financial strain on them, given that the county enterprise board model has been funded exclusively to date since 1993 from central government funds. How will this difficulty be addressed? What discussions have taken place with local authorities or with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government? From where will the shortfall in funding come? Some local authorities are not merely struggling but approaching bankruptcy. The idea that the local property tax would replace such funding is a non-runner because the model has an 80% return based on what is collected. That will not fill this gap, as I am aware from having discussed the matter with the staff in County Donegal that money has already been budgeted for by directors of service and country managers. That is a grave mistake and it will have drastic consequences. I hope there is an explanation for that.
As I mentioned the staff of the county enterprise boards have been dealt with quite inappropriately. Section 12 provides for Forfás, Enterprise Ireland or a local authority to accept staff into their employment that were previously employed by a county enterprise board. What discussions have taken place with county enterprise board staff to date?
We are talking about business and creating jobs and many things need to be done to sustain our employment base in country, particularly the domestic employment base. We need a system where grants can be made available by the Government through agencies because the banks are lending. Zero-interest loans should be made available to those who create employment in our economy. It is the only way forward, the pathway towards the recovery. Leaving lending to the banks amounts to negligence because that will not work and it has been proven not to work up to now. Despite the falsified figures banks are providing, they are simply not lending.
Another issue is commercial rates, which needs to addressed. If local authorities are expected, on the one hand, to collect commercial rates from prospective employers and, on the other, to be seen to be funding business, there is a conflict of interest there, and I believe that is a wrong move.