I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 10 of Act of 2012
7. Section 10 of the Act of 2012 is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (2)—
“(2A) Monies loaned to microenterprises in accordance with a scheme under this section shall—
(a) be loaned interest free with zero repayments for the first 12 months of the loan,
(b) cap interest rates on such loans at 2 per cent, with interest only being applied to cover the overheads of administering the scheme, and
(c) be limited to loans issued before 1 January 2022.”.”.
The liquidity, the supports and the access to credit lines that will assist microbusinesses and SMEs in the coming months are very necessary. There is no disagreement on that; everybody is saying the same thing. SMEs need supports, grants and zero-interest loans, and they need the Government to be as imaginative as the Executive in the North. Indeed, to set the bar low, they need it to be as imaginative as the Tory Government, if that is not too outrageous to suggest.
Let us not forget that the businesses in question were closed because of a public health emergency, not because they could not trade or were not trading successfully. They are not start-ups. While the Minister of State referred to start-ups, and obviously some of them at some point were start-ups, most of them are established, viable businesses that were forced to close, not because there were no customers or business but because of a public health emergency. These are unprecedented times and the response needs to be unprecedented.
The amendment, therefore, seeks to ensure that money can be lent to microenterprises, interest free and with zero repayments for the first 12 months of the loan, and the interest rates on the loans will be capped at 2%. That figure will not be a target or a percentage that will have to be hit, but rather a cap so businesses can use that money to get themselves back up and running. We have included a timeframe and are mindful that this is unprecedented. In Britain, a similar scheme provides for no repayments for the first 12 months. That is what we are asking the Government to consider and the amendment seeks to ensure that businesses will have that breathing space. If we look across the water, we can see that more than 1 million bounce-back loans, worth a total of £30.9 billion, have been released to microenterprises. That is the kind of ambitious plan that will be needed to ensure that SMEs can not only access credit but also get it easily without too many barriers in the way and know that they will not just be piling up debt.
The Minister of State indicated that nobody will be making a profit out of this, but the loans are administered by commercial banks using the rules relating to commercial banking. These are unprecedented circumstances, however, and some imagination needs to be applied to the matter. What businesses do not need is more debt or postponed debt, deferred debt or debt piling up while they are trying to get out from underneath this and while they try to restart.
I reiterate what I said to An Tánaiste last night. This cannot just be about jobs, any jobs, whatever types of jobs. It has to be about decent work and paying workers properly. There has to be a quid pro quo, not just for the Government but also for SMEs. I ask that the Minister of State consider the amendment and that he consider taking the actions that Sinn Féin has outlined. I welcome his commitment to meeting us. I note what he said about primary legislation and there may be some disagreement with us about that, although I do not want to be the one who interferes with all the agreements that have broken out here this afternoon. Clearly, we are all of the one mind and we want to ensure we get the finances to SMEs.
Sinn Féin seeks to ensure that in allowing businesses to access those credit lines, we do not subsequently put them under so much pressure that the credit is ineffective. I echo the calls made by my colleagues and other Deputies in respect of grants. Grants will be very necessary and have to be considered, although perhaps that is a discussion for another day. Nevertheless, I reiterate that these were viable businesses that were closed because of a public health emergency, not because they were not viable. They are the businesses we are seeking to ensure can get back on their feet and start to re-employ people, with a focus on decent jobs.