I am sharing my time with Deputy John Paul Phelan.
Companies (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
The Deputies will have ten minutes each.
I welcome this Bill, in that it focuses on making a small number of immediate, targeted and necessary changes to company law. Its provisions will enable us to respond quickly to opportunities and challenges arising from constant changes in our operating environment. We in these Houses must do everything in our power to ensure that it is possible to do business properly and efficiently in Ireland. I am struck by the ideas that people have for business, the pride they have in their companies and the commitment they show day in, day out in this difficult business environment.
The Bill's overall objective, with its parent legislation, the Companies Act, is to achieve the policy goal of reducing red tape and administrative burdens without imposing substantial costs on the many different types of company. With its additions, alterations and repeals, company law has over many years become cumbersome and self-serving, with many professionals who are supposed to offer expertise unable to navigate its complexity. The inevitable consequence is that it costs more, both in time and money, to do business.
I wish to address some important sections of the Bill. Section 2 deals with the examinership process. Since its inception, the benefits of examinership have been widely recognised by private companies nationwide. Due to the high costs such a process entails under current legislation, though, only 1% of small to medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, are using the courts to enter into examinership to try to trade out of their difficulties.
Access to the commercial court, located in Dublin, also presents a barrier. Small businesses employ more than one third of all people working in Ireland today, with some 200,000 businesses employing 650,000 people The provision introducing the possibility for small private companies to apply directly to their local Circuit Courts for examinership is most welcome. It will reduce costs and travel time when a company and its people are perhaps at their most vulnerable.
There is no doubt that the process of examinership, which has now been in place for more than 20 years, has allowed many companies breathing space and an opportunity to begin again. This more affordable mechanism of examinership based in the Circuit Court can only be of benefit to smaller companies. It will also necessitate a more specific service and expertise at Circuit Court level. This fact should not be forgotten and I hope that the legislation has had and will continue to have an input from the Department of Justice and Equality.
Sections 3 and 4 on electronic filing are welcome. These provisions will facilitate the electronic filing of documents with the Companies Registration Office, CRO, as part of a company's annual return. Companies have not properly grasped the advantage presented by the electronic filing of annual returns. This is due to the requirement to file a copy of the accounts-related documents that has been certified as a true copy or a true written copy and must contain copies of the signatures of the two directors who signed those accounts. As it stands, if a company wants to use the electronic facility, it must manually scan in every single page of the hard copy. This cumbersome process has hindered and discouraged electronic filing.
Sections 3 and 4 will simplify the process of e-filing. These changes will deliver a more efficient electronic filing of accounts with the CRO by changing the relevant sections to provide that a copy can now include a document signed using typeset signatures rather than a copy of handwritten signatures of the two directors who signed the accounts. This welcome reform and change for SMEs will make the process of e-filing more streamlined, functional and easy to use.
Sections 6 and 7 deal with improving audit quality.
The provisions will strengthen oversight of the audit process and will allow for a levy on statutory auditors and audit firms that carry out the audit of public interest entities in order to defray the costs of the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority for carrying out the functions of external quality assurance in respect of these public interest entities. This will enable the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority to impose a levy on relevant statutory auditors and audit firms to defray the costs of carrying out the quality assurance function, which it is proposed will be transferred from the recognised accountancy bodies to the IAASA.
In broader business and economic terms, I welcome the confirmation this week by the Central Statistics Office that 58,000 jobs have been created in the private sector in the past 12 months. The Government's Action Plan for Jobs is creating the conditions whereby almost 5,000 jobs per month are now being created. This is hugely encouraging and illustrates that this Government's plans to get Ireland back to work are bearing fruit.
The pro-jobs budget for 2014 will further incentivise small and large business to create more jobs next year. Some 25 separate measures that support job creation as part of a €500 million package contained in the budget will help us to build on this excellent progress. The home renovation incentive scheme is a particularly positive initiative, which will allow home owners to claim back VAT on improvements carried out on their homes. This, in turn, will generate significant amounts of work for registered tradesmen and contractors. In the process, it will create jobs for people who were laid off when the construction industry collapsed.
The retention of the 9% VAT rate for the tourism sector and the scrapping of the air travel tax are welcome pro-business initiatives. As a direct result to the abolition of the travel tax, Ryanair is set to launch eight new routes next April in and out of Shannon Airport, thus creating 300 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs.
It is hugely important that there is an extra emphasis on job creation in the regions in the next action plan for jobs. While job announcements are commonplace in cities like Dublin, Cork and Galway, more attention should be given to the mid-west region, including County Clare.
I welcome the undoubted progress which has been made in coming from a situation whereby under the last Government 80,000 jobs per year were being lost in the private sector to a situation where 58,000 jobs were created this year alone. However, we need to see a concentration by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland on job creation within the regions. I am calling for specific action in this regard in the action plan for jobs 2014.
I welcome the Bill's explicit commitment to facilitate business in Ireland today.
Before calling Deputy John Paul Phelan, I call on the Tánaiste to move the financial resolution relating to the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2013.