Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Questions (1000)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1000. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to ensure that productivity levels improve among the indigenous small and medium enterprise, SME, sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32437/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

As Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I regularly meet with different sectors of Ireland’s business community. As we reach what are considered to be levels of full employment, priorities are changing from getting people back into work, to delivering long-term quality employment for all. I and my colleagues across Government must now determine how we adapt our current policies to futureproofing Ireland’s workforce.

Future Jobs Ireland launched in March 2019, and focuses on the challenges ahead in terms of ensuring Ireland is well positioned to adapt and prosper into the future by having skilled people working in quality jobs in sustainable sectors.

In March 2018, I along with my colleague Minister Pat Breen commissioned the OECD to conduct a Country Review of SME and Entrepreneurship Policies in Ireland. An additional feature of this Review is a specific chapter examining SME Productivity in Ireland.

The aim of the Review is to provide tailored analysis and recommendations to my Department and to Government on how to improve the design and implementation of national SME and entrepreneurship policies and programmes, based on an assessment of the country’s current SME and entrepreneurship performance, framework conditions, and policies based on international comparisons.

Since the Review’s inception, my Department has played a central role supporting and facilitating the OECD during this process. My officials have organised and facilitated stakeholder events throughout the process to date in order to ensure detailed engagement between Government Departments, agencies, academia, business representatives and the small business sector. This engagement has enabled the OECD to gain insightful knowledge of our SME and entrepreneurship ecosystem at the various critical stages of building this report.

The preliminary findings of the Review indicate specific recommendations regarding developing mechanisms to assist SMEs and entrepreneurs in areas such as lifelong learning, financial management, and digital skills. These will be of key importance for the future of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Furthermore, Future Jobs 2019 identifies Improving SME Productivity as one of its key pillars. The final OECD Report and Strategy Roadmap, due to be received and published in October 2019, will assist my Department in developing a national SME Strategy which will feature within the overall Future Jobs Framework.

I have and continue to advocate on behalf of our SMEs. It was important to me to show our policy makers and our SMEs how the work and findings of the OECD Review and Strategy Roadmap will support the Future Jobs Framework.

To this end, I and Minister Breen hosted a very successful Future Jobs, Pillar 2 - SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy Conference at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on July 12 last. The event drew over 200 attendees with a broad representation of Irish SMEs, policy makers, agency leaders and academia. Structured dialogue took place in the form of panel discussions regarding Productivity, Internationalisation, Regional Growth, Skills and Innovation.

The Taoiseach also attended and addressed the event, reinforcing the natural alignment between that of the OECD Review and the Future Jobs Initiative. The Taoiseach spoke about the importance of each generation’s need to shake up their enterprises and jobs model. He spoke of the need to change the way we work and to focus on improving our productivity to ensure continued progress and prosperity for all Irish citizens.

The final OECD Report and Roadmap will provide my Department and the whole of Government with targeted recommendations to ensure that productivity levels further improve among our indigenous SME sector.

This year the Capital allocation made available to the 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) is €27.5m, an increase of €5m on last year, which is being used to fund LEO clients by way of financial assistance and a range of soft supports such as training and mentoring.

On the 12th July, I was pleased to announce a further €3M for two new funds through the Local Enterprise Office Network to support our smallest businesses across the country.

The first is a €2.5M LEO Competitive Fund to support LEO led projects in alignment with the framework of the Future Jobs Ireland strategy and the Regional Enterprise Plans.

The projects will focus on new approaches and emerging innovations that build on and strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem for the future throughout the country, demonstrate innovative solutions towards fostering and creating sustainable employment and improving productivity and build on collaborative and joined -up approaches to build on the synergies, added value and economies of scale which such collaboration can bring.

The second is a pilot, Competitive Productivity Fund of €500,000 which will be primarily aimed at s upporting domestically focused small businesses.

This fund will help small businesses to examine their current operations to identify opportunities in addressing productivity gaps, embedding “lean” practices, greening their business and in reducing waste. This initiative will also focus on training and capability development thereby enhancing customer experience, time and performance management.

To further strengthen and develop the capacity of Local Enterprise Offices, in collaboration with Enterprise Ireland, we provide a comprehensive suite of supports for indigenous Irish businesses and entrepreneurs that will enable seamless and appropriate supports, addressing any gaps in such supports, for ambitious and growth-oriented firms thereby achieving an increase in enterprise productivity, innovation and resilience.