Other Questions

Advance Price Quotations

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

6. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the progress that has been made in negotiations with the professional bodies in relation to the provision of advance price quotations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9081/13]

Michael Moynihan

Question:

22. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he will provide an update on any discussions with the professional bodies on the provision of advance price quotations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9095/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 22 together.

The Action Plan for Jobs 2012 included a specific objective of increasing price transparency by encouraging all professionals - accounting, taxation, legal, etc. - supplying the business sector and consumers to provide price quotations in advance. In pursuance of this objective, the National Consumer Agency was tasked with "conducting market research and liaising with business representative groups to compile and prioritise a list of professions where sourcing of fees is currently an issue" and "commencing work with representative bodies with a goal to make standard fee lists available for routine services to both consumers and small businesses".

The agency commissioned independent market research to identify professional services where sourcing quotations was an issue for consumers and small businesses. The research also aimed to identify any other issues or difficulties associated with obtaining quotations. One of the main findings of the research was that a significant number of small businesses do not seek quotes in advance when dealing with professions or, indeed, experience difficulties in obtaining quotes when seeking services from providers in certain professions. Among the professions identified as posing difficulties for small business in obtaining quotations were solicitors, banking, accountants and insurance. Arising from its research, the agency apprised the relevant representative business groups of the research findings and, in particular, the finding that a large number of small businesses do not seek quotes in advance when dealing with professions.

Given its remit, the agency has also been involved in a number of price display initiatives with the objective of increasing price transparency and awareness in key sectors for consumers. In particular, the agency has initiated projects to improve price transparency to consumers in relation to dentists, GPs, solicitors and so forth. As of February 2013, the agency has agreed price display initiatives with the Dental Council, the Irish Medical Organisation and Early Childhood Ireland. In addition, the agency is currently in discussions in relation to greater price transparency with the Law Society and the Health and Social Care Professionals Council. The agency intends to target price transparency in other professional services as part of its 2013 work programme.

Aside from the foregoing initiatives of the National Consumer Agency, it is also essential that both consumers and businesses actively seek to achieve the best value for money through, for example, seeking quotations from service providers.

In June 2011, Forfás issued a report, The Cost of Doing Business, which said there was a danger that if structural barriers preventing costs from adjusting are not removed, once an economic recovery kicks in, recent competitiveness gains will be rapidly eroded. The danger is particularly acute on the legal side of things. Various troika reviews have also pointed this out.

The Minister for Justice and Equality came into the House last December 12 months in a blaze of publicity, as is his wont, with the Legal Services Regulation Bill. This time last year, he parked the Bill and we have not seen it since. His boast was that the Bill would reduce legal costs, which are seriously out of kilter in Ireland.

The Minister, Deputy Bruton, spoke about the National Consumer Agency, NCA, engaging with the Law Society of Ireland. I understand the NCA wrote to the Law Society seeking an engagement on initiatives to improve transparency for SMEs. Has the NCA got a response and how stands that initiative?

What is the Minister's Department's view on the Legal Services Regulation Bill? Is it a priority in the 2013 jobs action plan that we get some sort of resolution on lowering costs, as well as providing information? There is no point providing information when costs are out of kilter with international competitors.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. There is no doubt that professional fees have been a problem area. Neither is there any doubt that the arrival of the troika has seen change, which had languished over many years. Recommendations of the Competition Authority were not implemented, for example. These have, by and large, been implemented or incorporated in the Legal Services Regulation Bill. There is significant change in access and in the competitive structure of the sector. It is, clearly, an ambition of Government to implement that legislation.

The National Consumer Agency has, indeed, been in touch with the Law Society of Ireland. The agency requested that indicative quotes for standard services be made available to consumers via websites and so on. It was suggested that the Law Society and the agency could draw up standard templates for a range of routine services which consumers could use to detail their requirements for particular services.

The Consumer Agency did an interesting survey of fees charged for various legal services. Its survey on conveyancing, for example, showed that quotes for a standard conveyancing ranged from €750 for the cheapest to €4,000 for the most expensive. There is, clearly, huge scope for more competitive delivery to business and consumers by shopping around.

The National Consumer Agency is, obviously, doing its best to make sure there is more price display, but the message is clear from the survey, which goes through conveyancing, making a will, probate and so on. There are huge savings to be made by shopping around. We are working with small business associations to get that message out to small businesses.

First, it is all very well to tell people to shop around. Figures from the Central Statistics Office to the third quarter of 2012 show a 2% increase in service producer prices. There is no sense in shopping around when the price curve is going up.

Second, there is no Legal Services Regulation Bill. The Minister for Justice and Equality parked it, as though he could not afford to drive it on. He said he is completely rewriting the Bill, so we cannot assess or judge the impact this, as it were, makey-up Bill in the Minister's mind will have on legal services. In what will come out tomorrow for 2013, is getting the Bill through the Oireachtas and enacting it a priority?

I do not agree with the Deputy. I am aware of the figures he points to that show legal services costs have gone up by 2% while the costs of all professional services have come down significantly. By contrast, taking the example of conveyancing, one could get one quote that is 400% cheaper than another by shopping around. While the average fee level may be going up, there is opportunity for people to get better value. We are trying to get that message out, through the National Consumer Agency and the business associations. We are also pressing for greater price display in professional organisations.

The Minister for Justice and Equality is committed to reform in this area. He has embraced the reforms outlined by the Competition Authority as needed to bring about a more competitive environment. We look forward to the implementation of that legislation.

Construction Sector Strategy

Willie O'Dea

Question:

7. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the measures he has taken or proposes to take in the wake of the Forfás report on the construction industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9100/13]

Seán Fleming

Question:

20. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the action he is taking to protect the future of the Irish construction sector on foot of the strategy submitted to him by Forfás; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9084/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 20 together.

In response to the requirement set out in Action Plan for Jobs 2012, Forfás prepared a draft strategy for the construction sector to 2015 following consultations with industry and other key stakeholders. The draft strategy sets out actions aimed at placing the sector on a sustainable footing for future growth.

The issues facing the sector are broad ranging and cross several Departments and their agencies, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in respect of housing policy, planning and development issues and building regulations; the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform and other relevant Departments in terms of the Government’s public capital programme; the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in respect of energy efficiency issues; and the Departments of Education and Skills and Social Protection in terms of training and education, skills development, retraining issues and employment support services. With regard to my own Department, a key focus for Enterprise Ireland, EI, is the internationalisation of construction services, and EI continues to work intensively with the sector in this regard.

Historically, the construction sector has been a significant contributor to the Irish economy and it remains important, albeit on a more sustainable scale. As we all know, the sector grew to unsustainable levels on the back of a property bubble, resulting in very significant job losses when the market turned and the recession took full hold. A key concern across Government is the scale of those job losses and the need to rebuild the sector along an innovative and sustainable growth path for the future, thereby contributing to the economic and social development of the country.

The report on construction was approved by the Forfás board last week and has just been presented to the Department. It identifies key areas for potential initiatives such as improving actions in the domestic market, driving further internationalisation, embedding competitiveness and innovation in the sector and ensuring the sector is skilled to deliver in emerging areas of opportunity. These recommendations will now be considered by the Department and in due course by Government. The report incorporates 30 actions.

Who will be in charge of delivering on those 30 actions? Will it be the Department alone or will it be the usual troika of the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Education and Skills and Social Protection? How will we measure those actions?

We all know the decline that has taken place in the sector. The Minister for Social Protection has confirmed to me in reply to a parliamentary question that one in four of those on the live register - 109,000 people - formerly worked in construction. Of those, 53,000 had previously worked in a trade, so they had some element of skill. It might be a skill that needs to be updated for use in a new industry so we should focus on them. Plant and machinery operatives made up 10,000 of that number, with 1,500 working as architects, town planners or surveyors. These are high level qualifications and with some creativity they could be used in other sectors of the economy. Construction has fallen to an enormous extent, although there has been some job growth in the sector in the first months of this year, but these are still skilled people. There will be an upturn and there is no sense in our arriving back in the situation we had in the last upturn, where because of skills shortages, labour costs went through the roof.

How many of the 30 actions address re-skilling and updating skills and how many address growth in employment? Will the 30 actions serve to address the background of the cuts in the capital budget that directly impact on the sector?

There is a dedicated unit in Enterprise Ireland, the potential exporter division, that has responsibility for responding to the development or needs of companies promoting the export agenda and proactively promoting a range of services.

The survey acknowledges the sector has made a rapid and dramatic transition from unsustainable boom to bust and it is currently operating at a sub-optimal level. The sector employs 101,000 people directly, which is 5.5% of local employment, with an output of 6.4% of GNP. At the peak of the bubble in 2006, over 200,000 were employed in the sector, accounting for 12% of the workforce. There is a big difference between developers and construction companies. We are fortunate that we have some fine construction companies and while Britain continues to be key export market for construction sector clients, Enterprise Ireland is focusing on a number of key areas, target markets and regions for further growth.

Finally, the 30 actions will go to Government and no doubt a number of Departments will be involved in their delivery. Enterprise Ireland is doing a great job with the construction companies building all over the world and employing Irish people. This sector went through meltdown but it still accounts for 6% of GNP and we want to get it back on its feet. Currently, it employs 101,000.

Is there a timeframe for the publication of the action plan? Will the Minister of State give a commitment that he or another Minister or Minister of State will be accountable for the delivery of those plans.? There is no sense in dividing them across three Departments, because they will not be delivered; they will fall between the cracks.

This brings me back to a common theme of mine. The enterprise agenda is so dependent on skills that we need far greater integration between Departments. Can we have a commitment that someone will be responsible for the delivery of the 30 actions? The export side of the economy is strong and we support investment in it but the domestic economy also needs attention. There are some construction companies that will never leave their own county, never mind go abroad. They also deserve attention.

There might not have been any joined up thinking in the last Government but there is in this Government when it comes to job creation. The Taoiseach is driving the action plan for jobs. This report will not sit on a shelf; it will be driven forward.

By the Government. This is an all-inclusive Government that will deliver on jobs, as we have already discussed today. I have no doubt the action plan will provide evidence of integrated, joined up thinking. Delivering on the 30 recommendations will be discussed in the Dáil and it will be clear that the Government is acting to offer every support to a critical sector of the economy. I am confident the success of Enterprise Ireland with those successful construction companies, not with the developers who brought the country to its knees, will continue. Those companies are doing a great job outside Ireland, building in every region of the world. Those are the companies we want to attract back into the country to grow employment.

Grocery Industry Competition

Seamus Kirk

Question:

8. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his views on the recent assessment of the Consumer Association of Ireland that there is not genuine competition in the supermarket sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9090/13]

Niall Collins

Question:

35. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his views on the apparent lack of competition in the supermarket sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9076/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 35 together.

The CAI survey showed that comparing 16 items across four different multiples found less than 2% price differential between them. This has also been a feature in surveys by the National Consumer Agency. The CAI suggests that special offers appear to be available rather than price differences to win new customers.

It should be said that price matching in itself is not a breach of competition law. The Competition Authority of Ireland has conducted a number of studies of competition in the grocery sector. The long-term trend has seen a decline in the number of independent retailers and growth in the number of multiples. The authority has found relatively weak competition at the wholesale and retail levels of the Irish grocery supply chain. Frequently, competition has been by way of special offers rather than by price. The Irish distribution system has been found to be inefficient compared to Britain. That said, there has been quite an amount of change in the distribution channels that have brought savings but these savings have not been uniform across the sector. The key recommendations made by the Competition Authority of Ireland were to relax the planning guidelines to make it easier for new retailers to contest the market. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has introduced new retail guidelines which are designed to reduce barriers to entry.

The entry of discount retailers has undoubtedly introduced greater competition into the market. These stores do not typically carry the branded products surveyed by the CAI and were not included in its survey.

As regards food prices, figures published by the Central Statistics Office show that food prices in Ireland increased by over 2.5% over the 20 month period coinciding with the CAI survey which showed that the price of 19 branded grocery items in four major multiples had increased by over 12%. The CSO harmonised indices of consumer prices, which is the accepted measure for comparing price trends across the EU, shows that food prices in Ireland increased by 1.6% in the 12 months to December 2012 as compared with an increase of 3.4% in the EU and 3% for the euro area for the same period. The harmonised indices also show that food prices in Britain increased by 3.8% in that period.

The Consumer Association of Ireland and the CSO figures have brought the spotlight back on to the supermarket sector. The Minister mentioned relatively weak competition and the difficulty here is that relatively weak competition is impacting on people's day to day existence. Everyone has suffered severe income cuts and they are cutting expenditure to the bone. When we see even a 2.5% price increase in staple food products in a year, even if we disregard the 12% increase, it is 2.5% too much at a time when many input costs have been reduced.

Are there any plans in the Department to review the operation of the supermarket industry with a view to benchmarking it against Britain or other European competitors to see what we could do to encourage competition? Is the Minister happy with the supply arrangements that are in place and that there is proper behaviour between supermarkets and their suppliers? Is any work being done in the Department on that? There will be no new entrants to the market in its current state but what are we doing to support independent retailers in the market?

I agree this sector has serious knock-on impacts. Over the past number of years the Irish food sector has become more competitive relative to the EU and there are improvements occurring against international trends. There have been significant new entrants and it is evident that some of them are building significant market share at keen prices.

I am conscious that this sector needs to be kept under review. It has been studied on a number of occasions previously. It remains one that is of interest in the work of my Department and its agencies. These surveys are a useful way of keeping a consciousness of the opportunities.

As regards the supply chains, later in the year I will be introducing competition legislation which will include powers to ensure there are fair relationships in the supply chain. This has been an issue of concern.

On the wider issue of supporting the retail sector, there are opportunities for the retail sector, even in a difficult climate, to evolve. Obviously, going online is an area of potential. The Minister of State, Deputy Perry, has been spearheading our review of all licences for the retail sector to ensure we remove the blockages in it that add compliance costs to small business.

Another issue on which the Minister may not have a briefing is that of alcohol sales within the retail sector. Is the Government any closer to publishing its strategy on that area which will impact on the overall sector?

I am afraid I do not have briefing on the time of that.

Skills Shortages

Catherine Murphy

Question:

9. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if in relation to his stated aim of attempting to fill the skills gap that exists in the technology industry, he intends to advance proposals that will ensure the bulk of jobs available will go to domestic workers rather than recruiting directly from abroad; if he will identify similar skills gaps that exist in other sectors, if any; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9034/13]

A large number of companies in Ireland seek graduates with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This is not confined to the technology sector. Such skills are increasingly needed in every sector.

Ireland's education and training institutions are currently providing a wide range of courses which qualify graduates to meet these skill needs and to match employment opportunities as they arise. These include technology programmes in computer science, software engineering and computer applications and support.

Overall, Ireland is ranked No. 1 in the world for skills availability, with almost 48% of those aged between 25 and 34 having benefited from third level education. Over half of the students in Ireland graduate with a degree in engineering, science or business.

Nonetheless, skills gaps have emerged, particularly ICT skills, and given global demand, this is not an issue that is unique to Ireland. Demand for the necessary high-level ICT skills is exceeding supply. In response to this problem, last year my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, and I launched the joint Government-industry ICT Action Plan: Meeting the High Level ICT Skills Needs of Enterprise in Ireland.

Crucial elements of the ICT skills action plan are the up-skilling and conversion programmes. The conversion programme, in particular, recognises the impacts of the economic recession on the numbers of talented graduates from non-computing disciplines who are unemployed. A key element of these programmes has been the commitment by the industry to provide work experience during the programmes and opportunities for placement on completion. These initiatives are designed to ensure that the maximum possible numbers of jobs are filled domestically. Overall the programme plans to double the number of graduates available in these sectors.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, in its recent review of ICT skills demand in Ireland, found that these skills are vital to the successful transformation of many sectors to become innovative and respond to market opportunities. The mix of experience and skill from outside Ireland is essential to build diverse and dynamic clusters in these important areas.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It is well known that every new job in an exporting business generates at least one other job in the domestic economy. However, in the case of certain high-skilled and creative employees that return has been estimated at 0.5 to one. We must therefore ensure that our employment permits system is geared towards attracting the skills we need in a managed system which complements the initiatives underway in the training and education sectors.

Only a few weeks ago an article in the media stated that we may well be losing out on foreign direct investment due to concern about some of the gaps here in this sector. Essentially, the ICT plan is in place. What are the timelines to bring through the kind of numbers so as not to send out such a signal that we may be open for business but there is an inadequate supply of such skills because that has the potential of reducing the number of companies that will set up here? I do not have a big difficulty with employing persons from abroad where the Minister is bringing in new skills but it would be ideal if those skills were made available here through the education system.

Is the Minister, Deputy Bruton, talking to the Minister for Education and Skills about the impediments to returning to education? For example, the cost of part-time education can be prohibitive, particularly for those who are on welfare.

There is a question to follow.

As Deputy Catherine Murphy stated, there is a problem here. These are creative persons and there are estimates in other countries that one such person has a knock-on impact of approximately five jobs in the rest of the economy because such persons transform the ability of key sectors to perform to a much higher level. We cannot afford to be without these skills.

While we plan to double the graduate number, that will take a four-year cycle to achieve. In the meantime, we are putting through approximately 700 persons on the Springboard conversion courses in the ICT area and those courses are free to those participating.

There are also approximately 1,200 persons coming in on work permits with these sort of particular skills. Such permits will always be needed. There will always be a need to provide balance with persons of international experience because we need to form strong clusters in these sectors so that they become magnets for skill and enterprise development. It is an area where the balance in being open to bringing in outside skills and developing our internal ones is key. I assure the Deputy that the Minister, Deputy Quinn, is alert to the opportunities in this sector.

A proposal for a high-tech visa for those who bring very specific skills has been with the Minister for some time. It is the one forwarded by Open Ireland. Has the Department advanced that proposal?

What has the Minister done and what consultation has he had with the Minister, Deputy Quinn, on the language deficit, particularly to up-skill persons to the proficiency of a native speaker?

We are working on a significant overhaul of the work permit system. We will make it much more accessible and much easier to deal with. We will broaden the ranges of skills, particularly where ICT staff at present are only regarded as an automatic category if they are working in the ICT sector. We recognise that approximately 75% of them work outside the ICT sector. Therefore, there will be a broader and easier system. We also will introduce trusted partner concepts so that persons can have confidence that they will get permits, although we are not going down the route where anyone can walk in with a visa that is not related to a job opportunity. However, it will be a dramatic change.

Language deficits continue to be a problem. It is not as simple as putting on a few more courses. As Deputy Calleary stated, this refers to ability close to that of a native speaker. It will be a longer-term project. There are concepts such as international marketing and languages which can be of real benefit to indigenous companies seeking to trade overseas, but the gap of those able to speak a language as a native would be a harder gap to fill in the short term.

I call Deputy Catherine Murphy because she asked the question.

On the link between education and availability, for example, the increase in the pupil-teacher ratio at PLCs, which is an important entry route for some into third level, will reduce the number of courses. Although I do not know whether it will impact on the ICT area, would the Minister have had a discussion with the Minister for Education and Skills about that type of issue because there is no point in finding out about it after the problem has manifested itself; it is a matter of anticipating it?

What is exciting about what the Minister, Deputy Quinn, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, are doing is that they are providing not only the courses, but the connections to employers. For instance, the Momentum initiative is a really good initiative. That provides 6,500 places for persons who will have a placement in an education setting but also a matching placement period in a workplace. That is the sort of new thinking that is coming now from the Department of Education and Skills which will join the dots bringing enterprise and the education system closer together. We have learned from countries such as Germany that it is only when those links are forged that one will get quality skill that really is of benefit to people.

Exports Growth

Martin Ferris

Question:

10. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the efforts that have been made by the Industrial Development Agency Ireland and Enterprise Ireland to create jobs deriving from exports to the USA. [9067/13]

The USA is Ireland’s biggest trading partner and our largest merchandise export market. In 2011, the total exports of goods and services from Ireland to the USA amounted to €27.4 billion. Goods and services imported to Ireland from the USA in the same year amounted to €30.8 billion. The USA is the second largest export market for Irish-owned companies. There are currently approximately 900 such companies exporting to the USA, with approximately 320 having some form of presence in the market, ranging from a single-person sales office to manufacturing operations with thousands of employees. The exports of these companies are crucial in maintaining and growing jobs in every county of Ireland.

Enterprise Ireland has three offices in the United States, in New York, Boston and Silicon Valley. These offices provide a number of support services to Irish exporting companies, including helping them to understand distribution channels and supply chain dynamics and troubleshooting on operational and logistical issues where necessary. The personnel in these offices also facilitate introductions to relevant buyers, provide access to expert advice from mentors and advisory boards, many of whom are drawn from the Irish diaspora, and facilitate the visit of key US procurement and buying personnel to Ireland. Enterprise Ireland's international selling programme, its potential exporters support programme and its leadership4growth programme prepare clients to operate in the US market as well as raising awareness of Irish CEOs of business culture and practices in the USA.

During 2012, Enterprise Ireland provided individual customised services to 645 companies, which resulted in contracts being won with 155 new customers and assisted 58 Irish companies to establish a presence in the USA. In 2012, also, over 450 Irish exporting companies participated in 16 Enterprise Ireland organised trade fares targeted at US buyers, while 122 US buyers visited Ireland at the invitation of Enterprise Ireland to meet Irish clients.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

With regard to IDA Ireland-supported companies, it must be borne in mind that US companies establish a presence in Ireland to enable them to grow their international markets. Consequently, over 77% of exports from such companies go to non-US markets, principally Europe and Asia, with 23% going to North America.

To attract inward investment and develop and expand Ireland’s exports across a wide range of sectors, I have led seven Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland trade missions to the US since March 2011. These missions raise Ireland’s profile as a world class supplier of goods and services and contribute to the generation of quality employment.

The advancement of a free trade agreement between the US and the EU is one of Ireland’s priorities during the Irish Presidency of the EU. I intend to focus my efforts on facilitating the advancement of the EU-US trade agenda as a priority item and, to this end, I will be hosting a trade ministerial conference, informal council, dedicated to this agenda in Dublin in April.

I thank the Minister for his answer. We are agreed that it is a very important market. I understand it is the largest single export market and accounts for 20% of our exports. The concern is that the value of the exports has reduced by €3.4 billion in the period from 2011 to 2012. What is the Minister's understanding of what is happening with these exports and the knock-on drop in value? What steps is the Government taking to promote Irish products in the USA? How will it go about regaining the lost value of exports?

The drop in value is largely due to a certain number of patented products coming off protection, which has led to a significant reduction in the value of certain pharmaceutical products. Having said that, we have sustained employment in the pharmaceutical sector, so IDA Ireland has been successful in repositioning our overall portfolio within the pharmaceutical sector to maintain and increase overall employment, despite certain products coming off patent.

The Enterprise Ireland figures are very positive. There was an additional €300 million of exports from Enterprise Ireland companies, which represented a 30% growth for Enterprise Ireland - Irish-owned - company sales. I have led seven Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland missions to the US. It is a fruitful market for us in foreign direct investment, most of which still comes from the USA, and increasingly Irish companies have the quality products and services to penetrate that market and are doing so successfully. The prospective EU-US free-trade agreement is a priority for us during the Presidency. That could also open additional opportunities by bringing down barriers in the market.

I welcome the use of the Presidency and extra exposure to promote Irish products.

Local Enterprise Offices Remit

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

11. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he is willing to revisit the proposals to establish LEOs in view of the opposition of the small business sector. [9046/13]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

27. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his views that the primacy for local small business development should rest within the agencies responsible to his Department. [9058/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 27 together.

The prepared reply is very similar to the one earlier delivered by the Minister of State, Deputy Perry. Let me paraphrase it rather than reading it again.

The old ones are good and never bad.

One can never get too much of a good thing.

We are absolutely committed to the provision of a much better environment for small business and we believe that by integrating the capacity of the local authority with the enterprise boards, we can develop a quality service. As the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, pointed out, one element of that is a first-stop shop. There will be a place for people to go where they can get easy access to State supports across an entire range, including Revenue Commissioners for the seed capital scheme, the Department of Social Protection for back to enterprise and the Credit Review Office. They will have a seamless access at that first-stop shop. They will bring local authority support services to business into one location so there will be both local authority and others. We are building a network that will have service level agreements with Enterprise Ireland and, more importantly, there will be a centre of excellence within Enterprise Ireland designed to drive high quality interventions.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, has already said and it was acknowledged by Deputy Calleary, we have introduced the new credit guarantee and microfinance. We want to make that information available through the local authorities within local authorities. As the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, said, I accept there is criticism. Some people claim these should not be located in local authorities. However, I believe this is a great opportunity for local authorities to demonstrate their commitment to small business in their region because focusing on small business will allow them rebuild their rate base and rebuild the prosperity of their area. We are absolutely committed to deliver this and deliver a quality service. We will go on the road to promote it, as the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, has done, in order to get the optimum service to business.

I am delighted that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, are espousing Sinn Féin policy. We proposed having local enterprise one-stop shops in a jobs plan we announced four years ago. It is good that it is happening. It does not matter who introduces it. ISME and the Small Firms Association have been very forthright in expressing concerns about this. Our party believes it is a good idea, but the views of ISME and the Small Firms Association need to be considered and the Government needs to sell the idea to them.

I accept we have to sell this. We must ensure there is an enterprise culture in these local enterprise offices - that is absolutely clear. Part of the fear is that there will not be an enterprise culture. In the Deputy's earlier supplementary questions to the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, he asked if this would be politicised. These decisions will not be politicised. The decision making on grants will be done by an independent evaluation committee. Local business people will be on that committee to ensure its professional expertise is brought to bear on the projects.

The county and city managers have 2,000 initiatives that they have mined from different local authorities as positive things they have been doing for business. We want to see that sort of best practice being mainstreamed in our local authorities so that not only are they housing this excellent service, but also bringing considerable added value to it. That is the concept. I accept we need to sell it and persuade small business, but I believe we will demonstrate that it will deliver a good service.

I thank Deputy Stanley. I do not care where ideas come from so long as they work.

We do not mind.

I thank the Deputies for their questions, and the Minister and Minister of State for their replies.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
The Dáil adjourned at 6.40 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 26 February 2013.