While many of the recommendations in the Joint Oireachtas Committee Report on the Cost of Doing Business relate to issues that are the responsibility of other Departments, there are a number of areas addressed by the Report that come under the remit of my Department including employment permits, the work of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, access to affordable finance for SMEs and supports for business productivity.
My Department is taking action on a number of these issues. We have reviewed the policies underpinning the current employment permits regime, to ensure that it is fully supportive of Ireland’s emerging labour market needs, be they skills or labour shortages in certain sectors. I recently announced that the spouses and partners of highly skilled workers coming here from outside the EEA will now have immediate access to the labour market. Effective from 26 March, I have also amended the Employment Permits Regulations to allow for the granting of General Employment Permits to certain chef grades.
The work of the Personal Injuries Commission, whose Second and Final Report were published in September 2018 by my Department, the implementation of the Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance and the complementary work of the Cost of Insurance Working Group should help to reduce insurance costs for businesses. I was pleased to bring through the Oireachtas, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act 2019, which was signed into law by President Higgins on 25 February 2019. This is an important piece of legislation as it enhances the role of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board to benefit users of the service and society more generally and it forms an integral part of the Government’s response to facilitate cost savings.
I am committed to ensuring that SMEs have access to appropriate and affordable finance and my Department supports ongoing key SME access to finance initiatives including the Credit Guarantee Scheme, the Brexit Loan Scheme, the Future Growth Loan Scheme and the Microenterprise Loan Fund Scheme. All these schemes have been developed to meet the specific needs of SMEs and to provide finance at low cost levels and better terms and conditions to SMEs than that available on the marketplace.
In addition to the wide range of existing supports provided by my Department and Agencies, Budget 2019 allocated additional funding for my Department to boost business productivity, for example doubling of the Retail Online Pilot Scheme to €1.25 million. An additional €2.75 million was also awarded to Enterprise Ireland for its SME Regional Innovation and Technology Clusters Programme and €5m to the LEOs to support a broad range of indigenous micro-enterprises to prepare for the challenges and opportunities associated with Brexit. Budget 2019 provides €8 million extra for my Department’s Brexit Response and expanding our Global Footprint. More broadly, I would draw the attention of the Deputy to Future Jobs Ireland 2019 which I launched with An Taoiseach earlier this month and which includes a dedicated pillar on improving SME productivity with a range of ambitions and deliverables for 2019.
It is important also to be aware of the role that the National Competitiveness Council plays in relation to competitiveness. The NCC is an independent advisory body that reports to the Taoiseach and the Government, through the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, on key competitiveness issues facing the Irish economy and offers recommendations on policy actions required to enhance Ireland’s competitiveness position. The reports published by the NCC, which include The Cost of Doing Business Report, Ireland’s Competitiveness Scorecard and Ireland’s Competitiveness Challenge effectively monitor the cost of doing business in Ireland.