The Government values the role of SMEs and microenterprises in our economy and as creators of employment throughout Ireland. Balancing our enterprise policy between foreign direct investment, FDI, export-only businesses and non-exporting indigenous firms is an important policy consideration and one which was touched upon by the OECD in its 2019 report on entrepreneurship and SME policy in Ireland. The OECD report refers to 250,000 active enterprises in Ireland, of which 92% are very small businesses with ten employees or fewer. Such a high number presents challenges in terms of the State’s engagement with and support for enterprises. It also creates challenges in complying with the EU's state aid rules. In terms of expanding the number of businesses eligible, the local enterprises offices, LEOs, have already started on this road with the productivity fund and business continuity voucher which targeted an expanded cohort of enterprises, namely, firms with up to 50 employees which would not customarily have qualified for funding. Enterprise Ireland is also working with a broader base of non-exporting SMEs, with the retail online scheme and the Covid-19 sustaining enterprise fund.
Whatever overarching institutional framework we have for developing microbusinesses and SMEs, it is important that a benign environment is in place for SMEs to start up, scale up, access international markets and enable SMEs to become more productive and ready for the transition to a digital and green economy. In that context, I have established the SME growth task force as committed to in the programme for Government. The task force is designing a national SME growth plan that will map out an ambitious long-term strategic blueprint for SMEs and entrepreneurs. It meets for the second time this Friday, 16 October and the possibility of establishing a new agency for SMEs will be part of its deliberations. The task force will also examine the recommendations of the 2019 OECD report, including the strategic framework and current delivery system for SME supports and entrepreneurship policy in Ireland. This new task force is composed of a broad range of business people with expertise in a range of sectors, as well as SME representative groups and other individuals uniquely positioned to contribute to a long-term vision for the SME sector and how best it can be supported by Government. I hope to receive recommendations from the task force in November.