I thank the Senator Marie for raising this important issue. It has come up a lot at meetings of the SME task force set up by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, last year and it also comes up during our visits to various local authorities, LEOs and development agencies, both voluntary and community, around the country. As the Senator mentioned, we spent a day in Limerick recently, which was beneficial in getting feedback from businesses and from all of those involved in supporting businesses. Great work is being done on job creation and economic activity in Limerick and I compliment all involved. The combined efforts of the local authority and the LEO, as well as the engagement of LEDP and others, is impressive. I compliment everyone on what was a good visit. I met some enterprising individuals who have a lot of drive and potential to create jobs, but as the Senator pointed out correctly, the system has to be adjusted to suit them and to help them to follow through. Companies are concerned that when they reach ten or more employees, they could lose their connection with the LEO. They might be moved on to Enterprise Ireland or get caught in the middle and miss out. We are trying to deal with that and it is an issue I am determined to address. All of those involved in this area want us to address it too and Senator Maria Byrne is correct to raise it.
The House will recall that the programme for Government commits to examining the role of the LEOs and their interface with Enterprise Ireland and other local stakeholders in supporting local and regional job creation so that ambitious and high-performing companies, regardless of size, are supported in scaling up and achieving their full potential, whether in the export or domestic market. The Senator referred to companies in that situation who have to make a judgment call on whether to scale up. Some say that they are reluctant to do so because they are afraid they might lose the support of their LEO. It is our job in the Department, in conjunction with the LEOs, local authorities and Enterprise Ireland, to address this issue. In that regard, it is vital that our SMEs have a clear roadmap of progression and that the appropriate structures are in place to assist companies on that journey. Approximately 92% of the 250,000 SMEs are microenterprises with fewer than ten employees and are, therefore, eligible to engage with their LEOs. Companies with between ten and 29 employees represent approximately 7% of the total cohort.
Approximately 92%, over 250,000 SMEs, are micro enterprises - in other words, those which have employees of numbers of up to ten. They are therefore eligible for engagement by the local enterprise offices, LEOs. Companies of ten to 29 employees represent about 7% of the total cohort and these are companies which may be assisted by Enterprise Ireland. These are the companies on which the Senator is homing in on. The figure is 7% or 8%, maybe a little bit more, which are in that gap and in the grey area. However, it is acknowledged that there may be enterprises particularly in the non-manufacturing and non-internationally traded services companies which can fall outside either the LEO or Enterprise Ireland net. The Government has, in addressing the Brexit and Covid-19 challenges, made it possible for the LEOs, in particular, to extend the reach of their services to a broader base of businesses, both in terms of sector and size, by offering financial support to companies of up to 50 employees, which would customarily not have qualified for LEO funding.
Examples of this include their business continuity, competitive and productivity voucher schemes, for example. Furthermore, Enterprise Ireland now grant aids the retail sector under the successful online retail scheme, a sector which is not usually supported by Enterprise Ireland.
I have to compliment the LEOs in their work around the business continuity voucher. If I remember the figures, more than 12,000 were granted. There were nearly 15,000 applications for that voucher and 12,000 these were successful in drawing that down. It costs €20 million and is a worthwhile voucher. The business continuity voucher, along with the training online voucher, which was also supplied by the by the LEOs, has been an immense success. The LEOs reached out to many businesses well beyond their normal reach. We want to build on that success. I compliment all involved, but we want to make sure that we do not let that slip and that we continue with that engagement.
Enterprise Ireland has also to date expended more than €141 million on the sustaining enterprise fund, SEF. Companies applying for the SEF are across a range of SME sectors and sizes including those employing ten to 29 employees in areas such as precision engineering, life sciences and construction, food delivery services, ICT, telecoms, international services, and consumer-retail. Indeed, small companies, those employing 50 or fewer, account for 76% of all companies approved funding, and 65% of the value of total funding approved.
We are, therefore, trying hard as a Government. I know this subject is dear to Senator Maria Byrne’s heart that we reach in to support those companies, those micro and smaller companies of fewer than ten people, but also up to 50 people, and beyond that.
The success of the above-mentioned programmes and schemes has strengthened our resolve to provide for a comprehensive range of training, advisory and financial schemes, including grant and equity interventions, for regional enterprise development and scaling.