Written answers

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation

County Enterprise Boards

9:00 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Question 65: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation the current position on the future of microfinance from county enterprise boards. [2551/11]

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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The role of the County and City Enterprise Boards is to support the micro-enterprise sector in the start-up and expansion phases, to develop indigenous micro-enterprise potential and to stimulate entrepreneurship at local level. The CEBs provide both financial and non-financial assistance to eligible micro-enterprises in pursuit of this role and they are the primary initial contact point for business start-ups in Ireland.

The CEBs are delivering a range of practical targeted supports to the micro-enterprise sector with the aim of enabling businesses in that sector to not alone survive the economic downturn but to grow and to create sustainable employment within their local area. In 2009 a detailed review of the suite of financial supports available from the CEBs was undertaken as there had been no change to the types of financial assistance on offer since the establishment of the CEBs in 1993.

As a result of the review a significant broadening of the financial supports that the CEBs could offer their clients came into effect in early 2010. The effect of these changes was to broaden the scope of the start up and development costs to businesses that would be eligible for support from the CEBs, to allow greater flexibility in how the CEBs support start-up and small growing enterprises and to align the CEB supports more closely with those of the other enterprise support agencies and to ensure a greater consistency in approach. I am satisfied, therefore, that the current suite of financial supports available from the CEBs to the micro-enterprise sector is properly tailored to meet the needs of that sector and I have no plans at present to change these supports or to introduce any other form of microfinance to be delivered by the CEBs.

However, I would stress that it is a clear and absolute priority of this Government to ensure that the broader issue of the availability of credit to the small business sector is being addressed. To this end this Government has, of course, already secured a commitment from the main lenders, AIB and Bank of Ireland, to make available not less than €12 billion in total for new or increased credit facilities to SMEs over 2010 and 2011, including funds for working capital. I would also add that the budget allocation, which has been made available to the CEBs in 2011 for the delivery of supports to the micro-enterprise sector, has not been reduced from 2010 levels notwithstanding the obvious pressures on the public finances. This is a clear indication of this Government's commitment to ensuring that the State continues to play its part in supporting micro-enterprise survival and growth.

In addition to the supports available from the CEBs Enterprise Ireland, also, of course, provide a comprehensive range of supports to indigenous enterprises. Enterprise Ireland's remit covers the stimulation and development of start-ups that have the potential to employ more than 10 people and to achieve €1 million in exports. Such start-ups are typically highly innovative and are in a position to sell globally from their earliest stage. Some of these companies start off as clients of the CEBs in their initial start-up and development phases and then transfer to EI as they develop further into high potential and exporting businesses.

The complementary remit and activities of both Enterprise Ireland and the CEBs ensure that as broad a suite as possible of State financial supports are available to the micro-enterprise and small business sectors. My belief is that the supports offered by the CEBs and Enterprise Ireland should be as seamless as possible and should facilitate further the transition from an innovative micro start-up to a high-potential exporting SME. I am examining ways in which this might best be achieved and I intend to bring proposals to Government in this regard.

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