Seanad debates

Thursday, 3 October 2013

County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)


1:30 pm

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I join in welcoming the Minister this afternoon. I acknowledge that nobody understands the difficulties that small business are experiencing right now than he does. I compliment him on his work since taking office.

I record my appreciation of the great work done by the county and city enterprise boards during the past 20 years. I acknowledge that many of the very successful businesses in County Galway today got a start from the assistance of the county and city enterprise board. I had the pleasure of serving on the board for a period. I appreciate and wish to record my thanks to the very many successful business people who gave of their time and talents together with the elected representatives to ensure that worthy projects were awarded funding for a successful start.

I am surprised that our colleagues on the other side of the Chamber have so little faith in the local authority structure and are opposing the Bill on this occasion. This new development will give the system a shake-up and provide a one-stop advice centre for start-up businesses.

The Bill is designed to create a centre of excellence in Enterprise Ireland and develop new thinking and best practices for supports provided for small and micro businesses. Local enterprise offices will provide a one-stop-shop service for small and micro businesses and be very responsive to the needs of start-up businesses.

Yesterday the Minister mentioned that the measures are designed to help new start-ups survive the first five years and to increase the number of start-ups by women. We all encourage those goals. We all know many successful women entrepreneurs in our counties. We have quite a number of very successful women entrepreneurs in the House but there are far too few in the country.

We must improve the record of job creation and innovation in the small business sector. We all know that job creation is the greatest challenge facing the Government. We came to office with record numbers of unemployed and the number has escalated at an alarming rate. To date, unemployment has increased by more than 34,000 per annum. Job creation is not fast enough because, as previous speakers have said, there are still more than 400,000 people unemployed. The Government's job creation policies are heading in the right direction but we must do everything possible to increase the level of activity. Every Department has been challenged to play a job creation role. The Taoiseach clearly set out that aim two years ago when Action Plan for Jobs was launched. I look forward to having a further debate and discussion with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in the House when we review the plan's progress. I am sure every Senator will want to have an input into how we can escalate the pace of job creation.

Yesterday, some Members expressed concern, during their contributions, about the culture of enterprise in county councils. I think the new style of management in local authorities is more enterprise and cost-oriented. I have every confidence in the new system of replacing county enterprise boards. I am sure it will be effective and have the desired effect.

We all know that the creation of employment in small numbers and in small enterprises will help breathe life back into the rural areas. However, the IDA's commitment to smaller towns is not what we would like to see. Major job creation projects go to the larger cities of Dublin, Cork and Galway. My town of Ballinasloe lost 1,000 industrial jobs over the past decade. Smaller towns are finding it very difficult to attract the sort of job replacement numbers that are required. All small businesses in small towns and villages are under severe pressure. The centre of Ballinasloe is under pressure due to out of town developments. We need to review planning and address the existing imbalance. The lifeblood is being sucked out of the town centres which have paid parking. In contrast, large multinationals have their profits repatriated outside of the country and provide customers with free parking and facilities. As a result, the multinationals enjoy a greater footfall. Local authorities need to examine ways to address the imbalance. The multinationals should pay for their out of town facilities.

Yesterday, Senator Quinn mentioned that job creation projects could be funded by releasing funds from pension schemes and welcomed the fact that 30% of an AVC can now be released. I would like the scheme further expanded because it will stimulate the economy by encouraging people to spend their money and put badly needed cash in circulation.

I encourage the Minister to ensure the new structure is effective and closely monitored. Expertise will be transferred from the county development boards but I want it supplemented by additional resources and funding from local authorities. We need to create jobs at a much faster pace to overcome our economic difficulties. I worked in industry for many years and would like to see a greater concentration of investment in manufacturing, particularly small enterprises. We must encourage young people with skills to get involved in manufacturing. We must create many more apprenticeships in the trades which will be of great benefit in the future. Those skills are in scarce supply and skilled personnel are necessary to boost the manufacturing industry.

I wish the Minister of State well and thank him for being here today. I hope the new structures will be effective. I look forward to his return in 12 months time to debate progress made under the new structures.


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