My Department and I are fully committed to the continued growth and development of our small and medium indigenous enterprises. The Department is engaging and listening to the needs of small businesses, which account for 99.8% of all enterprises in the State. My Department through its Agencies, Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), provides a range of tailored supports to micro, small and medium enterprises. Supports include access to finance, management development, mentoring supports, business development programmes, market supports and trade promotion.
At the end of 2018 there were 36,666 people employed by 7,164 small business and start-ups that had received financial assistance from the LEOs through schemes such as the Technical Assistance for Micro-Exporters (TAME) Grant, Priming Grants, Business Expansion Grants, Feasibility Study Grants, the Trading Online Voucher Scheme and through Microfinance loans.
In 2018 Enterprise Ireland (EI) client companies reported strong employment performance with 217,186 people employed in companies supported by the agency and 18,896 new jobs created. EI client exports increased to €23.8bn in 2018.
My Department, in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills and EI, is supporting client companies to identify and address their critical skills needs. Under this collaborative programme, EI has designed regionally focused Spotlight on Skills Workshops. The aim of the workshops is to assist client companies to identify their critical skills needs, and to support the growth of their businesses.
EI are working to support Regional Enterprise Development and have awarded €60 million to 42 projects under the competitive Regional Enterprise Fund. Under the Regional Technology Clustering Fund, Enterprise Ireland will provide funding to the Institutes of Technology to increase their engagement and connectivity with SMEs.
My Department is also leading on the implementation of the SME Test. The main thrust of the Test is to assess and design-in appropriate less stringent requirements for smaller companies and the simplification of regulatory adherence, for example through the use of templates, reduced thresholds for SMEs, and the use of plain English in forms.
I am pleased that the application and use of the SME Test across Government is now a deliverable action in the Future Jobs 2019 work programme. The adoption of the Test is included under action 2.3 which states:
“Raise awareness and promote the SME Test throughout Government Departments. Workshops will be available for policymakers”
Additionally, I have requested officials within the Indigenous Enterprise Development Division of my Department be available to assist other Departments in using the Test and answering any questions they may have.
Earlier this year my Department updated the Supportingsmes.gov.ie website, directing small businesses to their most relevant out of a possible 170 Government supports. It has a latest news page and events calendar for SME related events.
Furthermore, in October I launched the OECD Review of SME and Entrepreneurship Policy in Ireland with Minister Breen and OECD Deputy Secretary General Knudsen. This report is pivotal research on the environment for SMEs in Ireland, the scale of which has not been delivered before.
I am working with my Department officials on how best to progress implementation of the key recommendations in the OECD report and I intend to bring forward a national strategic document for SME and entrepreneurship policy outlining planned policy interventions in the near future. This strategy will set out the policy vision, objectives, targets, lines of action and performance indicators specific to SMEs and entrepreneurship. It will cover all areas of policy intervention and all SME and entrepreneurship populations. The new SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy will be a living document which will continuously evolve in line with enterprise needs.