The Deputy may be aware that I published an independent assessment of the Credit Review Office late last year and that this assessment was broadly positive about the effectiveness of the Office. That said, I remain concerned at the low level of numbers of SMEs seeking reviews by the Credit Review Office. The most recent report by the Credit Reviewer shows that the Credit Review Office upheld the credit appeal in 135 cases or 57% of cases decided. The upheld appeals have resulted in €16.8M credit being made available to SMEs and farms, protecting 1,297 jobs. This shows that there is a strong prospect of success for SMEs going to the Credit Review Office and I would strongly encourage SMEs refused credit to seek a review by the Office. I find it difficult to understand why SMEs and farms who are at risk of going out of business are not willing to seek a review of a refusal of credit.
The independent assessment contained a number of recommendations to make the CRO more effective in encouraging and increasing the supply of credit to SMEs. One of these recommendations was to increase the resources of the CRO and I sanctioned the appointment of additional reviewers at budget time last year. The recent CRO report stated that the procurement process for additional reviewers has been completed and that the implementation of the remaining recommendations in the assessment within the CRO’s remit would follow the training of these reviewers. I am satisfied that the CRO now has sufficient resources to fulfil its mandate of encouraging and increasing the supply of credit to SMEs. In looking at the implementation of other recommendations, my officials have also been considering where the CRO should fit into the overall strategy of ensuring credit availability for viable SMEs and the level of resources is one aspect of this strategy. I expect that the deliberative process on the strategy will conclude shortly.