The government has revealed that it is working on a new SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy that is to be released in the Autumn.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, Deputy Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), were both in attendance at the SME & Entrepreneurship Strategy Conference at the Aviva Stadium where parts of the initiative were unveiled.
Plans include giving more power to government agencies, such as InterTrade Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, to provide SMEs with grants and discounts to help boost export numbers.
Heather Humphreys, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, also revealed that Local Enterprise Offices will be responsible for managing two new funds worth a combined €3 million. The funds, which will be available to relevant SMEs across Ireland, will be responsible for addressing productivity levels and encouraging innovation.
Speaking at the conference, Minister Humphreys said: “As we work to boost productivity levels in our enterprise base, these new funds, combined with existing supports, will ensure that we can reach even the smallest business in the most rural area. Supporting micro-businesses right across the country will be central to our success.”
The state also unveiled plans to overhaul R&D tax credits, making it easier for SMEs to apply for the credit by reducing paperwork and bringing it in-line with its UK counterpart. Staff upskilling will also be readily available via Skillnet’s Learning Network.
Finally, a new cross-department committee will also be set up to help to shape future SME policy. All these pledges will be unveiled in greater detail in a major report in the Autumn.
Business leaders and groups across the spectrum welcomed the proposed changes. They had long complained that government policy was too focussed on attracting multinationals and that Irish-owned SMEs had been left to fend for themselves.
With Brexit on the horizon and Irish SMEs still facing some of the highest charges for bank loans across Europe, the news couldn’t have come at a better time.
Sven Spollen-Behrens, Director of the Small Firms Association, said that the proposals heralded a “new start”.
An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, used his speech at the conference to touch upon the importance of SMEs to the Irish economy: “SMEs account for 99.8% of all businesses in our State and for 70% of all employment in Ireland.
“You are the backbone of our local communities, providing jobs and incomes to families around the country. You ensure balanced regional growth.
“Our goal is to help you grow even stronger, enhancing your productivity and increasing resilience. We want to nurture entrepreneurship across all groups in society, encouraging the involvement of more women, more young people and more people with disabilities.” He said.
A report released last year by OCED highlighted the growing productivity gap between SMEs and multinationals in Ireland. Their most recent report, which was published just last week, showed how fewer than seven per cent of Irish SMEs currently export their services or products.
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