Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Questions (41)

Robert Troy

Question:

41. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the timeline for the implementation of the recommendations emanating from the OECD review of SME and entrepreneurship policy in Ireland and the accompanying roadmap; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50375/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Business)

What is the timeline for the implementation of the recommendations emanating from the OECD review of SMEs and entrepreneurship policy in Ireland and the accompanying roadmap? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter? The OECD report on SME sales policy initiatives needs to be addressed in respect of finance issues; low productivity, start-up rates and uptake in management; training; and research and design incentives, as well as the adoption of digital technologies.

I launched the OECD review of SME and entrepreneurship policy in Ireland with the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and the Deputy Secretary General of the OECD, Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, on 31 October 2019. The report is pivotal research on the current environment for SMEs and entrepreneurship in Ireland, the scale of which has not previously been undertaken. I am working with my Department officials on how best to progress implementation of the main recommendations in the OECD report and intend to bring forward a national strategic document for SME and entrepreneurship policy outlining planned policy interventions in the near future. The 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 that will continually evolve in line with enterprise needs.

My Department officials will drive forward with the policy formulation through the innovative new SME and entrepreneurship consultative group, chaired by my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for trade, employment, business, the EU digital Single Market and data protection, Deputy Breen. The new stakeholder group provides a platform for high-level, structured engagement among the Government, agencies, representative bodies and small businesses. The establishment of the SME and entrepreneurship consultation group is an important recommendation from the OECD review, which I have implemented.

The inaugural meeting of the SME and entrepreneurship consultation group took place on Wednesday, 27 March 2019 at the Royal College of Surgeons and it subsumes the functions of the former advisory group on small business. More than 40 stakeholders attended the inaugural meeting of the consultative group, and together with my officials, they will oversee the effective and efficient implementation of the OECD's recommendations.

What is the timeline for the implementation of the 11 specific actions the OECD outlined in its roadmap for SME and entrepreneurship policy in Ireland?

The OECD laid out a number of recommendations and we will develop the strategy. For example, only 6% of our SMEs export but we want to double the number as quickly as possible. We will scale up the training online voucher programme for SMEs, expand the exporter development department of Enterprise Ireland, EI, which assists companies, and beef up InterTradeIreland's grant support and funding advisory services. We will broaden the remit of the local enterprise offices, LEOs. The Deputy will be familiar with the LEO in his county of Sligo. I want to empower the LEOs to do more to help our indigenous sector. We want to increase management skills among SMEs because we have found that SME managers who have completed management skills courses are more focused on increasing productivity and embracing lean programmes across their businesses. We will also step up the financial skills and the knowledge among SMEs. The measures I have outlined are all part of Future Jobs Ireland, our whole-of-government strategy to prepare businesses and workers for the world of tomorrow.

I welcome what the Minister outlined. Given that the OECD has indicated that enterprises may fall between the cracks of eligibility for LEO or EI services, it is important that we support increasing the remit of the current LEO network to support firms of between ten and 249 employees that have limited or no export potential. We must secure such jobs as well as we can.

I am a great supporter of the LEOs, as is my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Breen. They have done great work. We increased their budget by €5 million in budget 2019 and have introduced a number of new funds. In July, I announced two funds for the LEOs, one of which was a €2.5 million competitive fund, for which there were 16 successful projects. It was up to the LEOs to bid for the funds to support projects in their regions, many of which were collaborative. The LEOs have become good at working with one another. We do not want to see county boundaries but rather them working together.

The productivity challenge fund is worth €500,000. The LEOs work with a broader base of companies, such as those employing more than ten people and those in freight, transport and retail. I welcome the Deputy's comments on the LEOs.