The co-operative model is one of a number of legal options that are available to those considering establishing themselves in business, and the different models have their own distinct characteristics. It is, of course, up to each individual operation to choose the model that best suits the nature of the business and the desired ethos of the entity. The Department does not promote one business model over another.
My Department’s role is to facilitate the development of co-operatives, rather than actively encourage or promote them. My responsibility lies in the legislative provision for co-operatives in general. Any initiatives to facilitate or promote the development of co-operatives in particular sectors, for example childcare, education, housing, energy retro-fitting, environmental protection, would be a matter for my colleagues in the respective Government Departments.
My Department supports co-operatives in the same way as it supports other enterprises. My Department provides a range of grants and funding streams for ambitious start-ups, principally through the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs). The 31 LEOs are located throughout the country and provide a range of supports for the micro and small business sector. As the “first-stop-shop” for providing advice and guidance, financial assistance and other supports to those wishing to start or grow their own business, the LEOs:
- provide a sign-posting service to all relevant State supports
- offer direct grant aid to micro-enterprises (10 employees or fewer) in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sector which, over time, have the potential to develop into strong export entities
- offer “soft” supports in the form of training and mentoring
- assist with loan applications to Micro Finance Ireland.
Enterprise Ireland have a number of targeted supports for start-ups, including co-operative start-ups, that have global ambition, the potential to scale and meet Enterprise Ireland’s eligibility criteria. Enterprise Ireland supports enterprises in regional and rural areas to start, innovate and remain competitive in international markets, now and into the future. Supports include competitive feasibility funding, mentoring grants and innovation vouchers.
During the period 2015 to 2018 Enterprise Ireland, an agency of my Department paid approximately €16.1m to 7 co-operatives. Regarding the Local Enterprise Offices, they approved €28,550 to 4 co-operatives during the same period.