An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar today announced that the Government is developing a major new policy on SMEs and entrepreneurship under Future Jobs Ireland.
He made the announcement as the Government hosted a conference to discuss a draft roadmap for SME and entrepreneurship policy, which was prepared by the OECD for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
The review, which will be published in October, will provide comprehensive analysis and recommendations to the Government to inform the development of the new policy. It will include comparisons with international best practice.
The conference brought together SMEs, policy makers, programme providers and international experts to look at a range of policy interventions in the area. Minister Humphreys also took the opportunity to announce two new funds worth a combined €3 million. Both funds will be operated through the network of Local Enterprise Offices.
The first is the €2.5m Competitive Fund. The LEOs will compete for this on behalf of their clients, whether individually or through collaborating with other LEOs. Projects should focus on the priority areas identified in Future Jobs Ireland, and the Regional Enterprise Plans. For example, they could look at themes like innovation, Brexit readiness or market diversification.
The second is the Productivity Challenge Fund worth €500,000. This is for businesses who are not currently LEO clients. The funding will be used to address productivity gaps, including through the adoption of lean business practices. It will also incorporate business opportunities in the green economy.
Some of the emerging OECD recommendations include:
• Draft an SME and entrepreneurship strategy document, which will take in entrepreneurship, start-ups and SMEs.
• Scale up current initiatives to support SME exports, such as Trading Online Vouchers, Enterprise Ireland’s Exporter Development Department and InterTrade Ireland’s grants and funding Advisory Service.
• Scale-up the policy focus of Local Enterprise Offices to include SMEs and incentivise them to reach out to local SMEs in their activities;
• Establish an interdepartmental committee on SMEs and entrepreneurship;
• Simplify the process for applying for Research and Development tax credits, to reduce the uncertainty and encourage more take-up by SMEs;
• Encourage a wider take-up of Skillnet Ireland programmes to develop management capabilities in Irish SMEs, with a particular focus on technology skills;
• Implement a simple online diagnostic assessment tool for micro and small enterprises by the LEOs to better match the enterprise with advisory and mentoring services;
• Promote the role of standards to drive enterprise competitiveness. Standards development and use can enhance productivity in SMEs, facilitate supply chain linkages and international collaborations, and enhance spill-overs from multinationals to SMEs.
Speaking today, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said, "Employment is now at its highest ever level; with 2.3 million people at work and the lowest unemployment rate in 14 years. Through Future Jobs, we are focussing on the quality of those jobs, to ensure we all have better living standards. I want Ireland to be a country that works to live, not lives to work."
Minister Humphreys added, "Ultimately we want to increase the living standards and quality of life of our people and increasing productivity levels is necessary to achieve this goal. Typically, our foreign-owned firms are highly productive, however, in recent years we have seen a decline in productivity in indigenous SMEs. We want to close this gap and our new SME policy will help us to do that."