Thursday, 3 October 2013
County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)
In that context I cannot see the reason for the rush to dissolve the CEBs and subsume them into the local authority structure. It seems to smack of reform for the sake of reform. It is comparable to the proposals for the Seanad and for Dáil reform. That is what they will remain. It is a great pity that the wool is being pulled over the eyes of the people in that regard. This is another example of it.
The CEBs have proven themselves to be one of the most effective supports provided to small local business. Already many CEBs share IT and payroll functions with the local authority. The savings to be made from this change are likely to be negligible. The local authority providing matching funds to the funds allocated by central government to the new enterprise office is a matter of major concern. To date, the enterprise boards were funded entirely from government, with part from the Exchequer, and in part from the regional development fund through the regional assemblies, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which all came under the national development plan. It is a major cause of concern as to how they will be funded. The new proposals will require county councils to provide matching funding. All councils are already hard pressed given the demands on services and dwindling resources. We know the local authority's budgets have been reduced significantly in the past number of years and now they must take on a new role and subsume an effective organisation, without funding coming from Europe because of the changed nature of our economic situation. Where will the money come from?
Recent independent evaluation undertaken by Fitzpatrick Associates, on behalf of Forfás, Ireland's national policy and advisory board for enterprise, trade, science, technology and innovation, highlighted the central role the county and city enterprise boards have played in the development of local economies through enterprise. The case for the retention of these bodies is very strong. I am not suggesting that local authorities should not have an expanded role. We have been crying about local authorities having an expanded role. Is this a case of reform for the sake of reform? There seems to be no logical reason that the existing structure will be subsumed into the local authority. The added question mark hanging over the future funding of county and city enterprise boards certainly raises very serious issues and for that reason our party could not support this Bill.