I thank Deputy Quinlivan for his question. Any proposals that can contribute to keeping the costs of doing business down are to be welcomed, including those contained in the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the costs of doing business. In terms of maintaining our cost competitiveness, both the public and private sectors must proactively manage the controllable portion of their respective cost bases, drive productivity and continue to take action to minimise costs.
There are a number of areas addressed by the committee's report that come under the remit of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, including employment permits, the work of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, access to affordable finance for SMEs and supports for business productivity. The Department is taking action on a number of issues relevant to the recommendations set out in the report. We have reviewed the policies underpinning the current employment permits regime to ensure that it is fully supportive of Ireland’s emerging labour market needs, including skills and labour shortages in certain sectors. The Ministers for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Justice and Equality announced yesterday that the spouses and partners of highly skilled workers coming here from outside the EEA will now have immediate access to the labour market, effective from 26 March. We have also amended the employment permits regulations to allow for the granting of general employment permits to certain chef grades, which has been welcomed by the hospitality sector.
The work of the Personal Injuries Commission, whose second and final report was published in September 2018 by my Department, the implementation of the report on the cost of motor insurance and the complementary work of the cost of insurance working group all should help to reduce insurance costs for businesses. We were pleased to bring through the Oireachtas the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act 2019, which was signed into law by the President on 25 February 2019. We propose to commence that Act shortly. This is important legislation as it enhances the role of the PIAB to benefit users of the service and society more generally and it forms an integral part of the Government’s response to facilitate cost savings.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
We are committed to ensuring that SMEs have access to appropriate and affordable finance and the Department supports ongoing key SME access to finance initiatives including the credit guarantee scheme, the Brexit loan scheme, the future growth loan scheme and the microenterprise loan fund scheme. All these schemes have been developed to meet the specific needs of SMEs and to provide them with finance at lower costs and on better terms and conditions than available on the marketplace.
In addition to the wide range of existing supports provided by the Department and agencies, budget 2019 allocated additional funding for the Department to boost business productivity, for example, a doubling of the retail online pilot scheme to €1.25 million. An additional €2.75 million was also awarded to Enterprise Ireland for its SME regional innovation and technology clusters programme and €5 million to the local enterprise offices, LEOs, to support a broad range of indigenous microenterprises to prepare for the challenges and opportunities associated with Brexit. Budget 2019 provides €8 million extra for the Department’s Brexit response and the expansion of our global footprint.
It is also important to be aware of the role that the National Competitiveness Council, NCC, plays in relation to competitiveness. The NCC is an independent advisory body that reports to the Taoiseach and the Government, through the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, on key competitiveness issues facing the Irish economy and offers recommendations on policy actions required to enhance Ireland’s competitiveness position. The reports published by the NCC, which include the Costs of Doing Business Report, Ireland’s Competitiveness Scorecard and Ireland’s Competitiveness Challenge effectively monitor the cost of doing business in Ireland.