Remarks by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore TD15 May 2014
“National Enterprise Week” is organised by Bank of Ireland.Bank of Ireland, National Enterprise Week “Economics and Enterprise” Breakfast - House of Lords, College Green, 15 May 2014.
Thank you, Gabriel, for the kind introduction and thanks to everyone involved in the organisation of this, the tenth National Enterprise Week. I’m here with you this morning to discuss the most pressing issue facing our country: that of translating economic recovery into more and better jobs, and, ultimately, a higher standard of living for our people.
So much of that work begins with small and medium sized businesses – and many of you are here today, rightly recognised as the engine of the economy, because you are creating two thirds of all new jobs. Your success has helped unemployment to drop for 22 months in a row to its lowest level in five years.
The theme of this week’s events, “Enabling Enterprise”, is particularly apt. Government cannot create the jobs of the future. But what it can do is create the best possible conditions for businesses to succeed, and that is where we are focusing our energies across all of government.
I know that Dr. O’Sullivan will give us a more macro view on the outlook for the economy shortly, so I don’t propose to go into great detail on that except to recognise the huge strides that have been made over the last number of years to restore stability to the Irish economy. It is clear that confidence is returning and that the recovery is strengthening. Our task now is to apply the same determination which we brought to addressing the crisis, to ensuring a full and sustainable recovery for all of our people. “Enabling Enterprise” is a cornerstone of that effort.
We have been working, through the Action Plan for Jobs, to analyse all aspects of the interaction between government and business, with one key consideration in mind: How can we make it easier to do business in Ireland? This work has produced initiatives such as the Microenterprise Loan Fund and Credit Guarantee Schemes that have helped businesses to work their way through the recession.
Equally, we have taken a practical, labour market-focussed approach to what jobseekers need in order to shorten their journey back to work. One example is the JobsPlus scheme which has helped over 2,000 people who were long-term unemployed to return to work since its introduction last July.
Our ambition is that Ireland should be among the most entrepreneurial nations in the world and acknowledged as a world-class environment in which to start and grow a business. We are putting a particular focus on entrepreneurship, by increasing the level of supports and funding available to entrepreneurs.
There is now a full suite of government-supported schemes available to assist micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in Ireland to access the finance they need to grow. These include the Microenterprise Loan Fund, the Credit Guarantee Scheme, which I mentioned earlier, along with the Seed and Venture Capital Scheme, the Seed Capital Scheme, the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme, the National Pension Reserve Fund “SME Funds” and the Credit Review Office.
However, there is no point in increasing the number of support schemes available to business if business cannot easily identify which scheme is best suited to their needs. Budget 2014 highlighted that the level of awareness amongst SMEs and entrepreneurs of developmental business supports remains low, and we have to recognise that small businesses often don’t have the resources to navigate the array of agencies which have been operating in this space.
That is why, at the end of last month, the Taoiseach and I, announced the dissolution of 35 independent State agencies which previously provided supports in this area, and the establishment instead of a network of Local Enterprise Offices based in Local Authorities. This represents a significant transformation of the support structure for enterprises across every county, and will lead to savings and a reduction in bureaucracy. The Local Enterprise Offices are a ‘One-Stop-Shop’ through which all information on State supports for small and micro-businesses can be accessed and where companies with clear high-growth potential can be fast-tracked to the next level of support by way of progression to Enterprise Ireland.
Crucially, these offices are based in Local Authorities, making local government a key ally of small business by providing direct advice and guidance on Local Authority rates, procurement, regulations and other matters affecting business in the area.
- They will provide grants, mentoring and training.
- They will provide an enhanced advice and guidance service, embracing local and national supports by utilising agreed protocols with other national and regional service providers such as Revenue, the Department of Social Protection and Microfinance Ireland to ease access for micro and small business clients.
- And they will provide direct referral of clients to Enterprise Ireland and to Microfinance Ireland and Loan Guarantee Schemes.
These new offices will put local micro and small business at the heart of national enterprise policy.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I am also keenly aware that Government supports for Irish business extend far beyond our borders. Many of you will be familiar with the vital role Embassies play, in close collaboration with relevant Departments and the State agencies, in opening doors for Irish businesses and supporting their expansion into new markets. In each of our priority markets, our Ambassador chairs a local market team consisting of Embassy and State agency staff on the ground, to coordinate that work.
I am pleased to say that, this year, we are expanding our network of Embassies and Consulates overseas, opening eight new missions to cover new and emerging markets such as Indonesia, as well as deepening our relationships in the US by opening a consulate in Austin, Texas. Enterprise Ireland and the IDA are also now expanding their presence overseas after several years of staffing and budget cuts.
The Review of the Government Tourism, Trade and Investment Strategy, which I launched earlier this year, will help to ensure that those resources – both the Embassy network and State agencies – are positioned to deliver maximum overall benefit for the economy, meaning good jobs for our people at home.
I would like to encourage each of you, when doing business abroad, to engage with our Embassy network and with the State agencies. They can provide advice on local market conditions or assist with regulatory issues. They can also provide introductions and networking opportunities with potential partners. Our strength on the international stage is based on the connections and networks which we enjoy and I encourage you all to be part of that network.
As well as reacting to the needs of individual companies, our teams in overseas markets are working constantly to ensure the best possible conditions exist for Irish companies to succeed overseas and to secure new contracts. This includes:
- media and promotional work to raise awareness of Ireland and enhance our reputation – this is particularly vital in many emerging markets;
- establishing and supporting Irish business networks;
- negotiating double taxation agreements and
- negotiating air service agreements to increase our air access to international markets.
Our teams abroad also monitor the implementation of free trade agreements and report on trade barriers. Where free trade agreements don’t exist, they are aggressive in negotiating access for Irish products. Last year, for example, the Embassy network, in close coordination with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Bord Bia, secured access for Irish products to nine international markets with a combined population of 1.5 billion people. This included negotiating the lifting of a ban on beef exports to Japan, opening up a market potentially worth €15 million and opening up access for sheep meat exports to Canada and pig meat to Australia.
As I said earlier, Government does not directly create jobs. Instead, our role is to make it easier to start businesses and to grow them, creating good jobs in the process.
It is very challenging work, but I am confident that we now have a solid base, both at home and abroad, upon which we can further build our recovery so that it is experienced throughout society and by all of our people.
Thank you for your attention.