As the Deputy is aware, I announced in Budget 2014 that the Government is developing a comprehensive communication strategy to increase awareness of the full suite of developmental business supports, totalling approximately €2bn, which is available from State bodies and agencies. To date, a number of initiatives have been undertaken to make information available to SMEs on the part of Government Departments and State agencies, including
- Engagement with industry and representative bodies through the SME Funding Consultation Committee;
- The Department of Finance's quarterly SME newsletter;
- Publication on my Department's website of a 'SME funding matrix';
- Targeted communication strategies by individual agencies directly to their clients;
- Various guidance documents and support material.
In spite of the work done by relevant Government Departments and agencies, all parties accept that a challenge remains around SMEs' awareness and understanding of Government supports. The most recent SME credit demand survey found that there was a low level of awareness of certain initiatives. It was against this background that the SME State Bodies Group was tasked with drafting a communication strategy. The strategy was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Mortgage Arrears & Credit Availability and will be fully implemented as part of the Action Plan for Jobs 2014.
There has been no cost to the Exchequer to date.
Since the launch of the Microfinance Loan Fund Scheme, by my colleague Mr Richard Bruton T.D., the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in October 2012, Microfinance Ireland (MFI) has been actively promoting the Loan Fund across a wide variety of communication, promotional and advertising channels both at local and national level. As MFI is a private company with a Board of Directors, the budget for promotional activity is a matter for the Board of MFI to approve and is reviewed on a continuous basis in terms of value for money, appropriateness of audiences and allocated on a seasonal basis in line with business cyclical trends. MFI has been operational for just over a year and like any new business with a national reach, advertising and promotional spends are necessary in terms of creating public awareness of the service. Ongoing review and assessment of communication spend across various media and promotional channels, together with resultant application activity, will assist in determining the future and ongoing level of spend and optimal communication strategy to relevant audiences.
As the Deputy will be aware the network of new Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) will be formally established in 2014, thereby providing a first-stop shop service to micro and small businesses across the country. One of the key roles of these new bodies is to facilitate micro and small businesses access to finance, through the LEO s package of financial and other supports (such as those that improve the financial capabilities and awareness of micro and small businesses). The LEOs will continue the work of the City and County Enterprise Boards as the primary source of access to the Microenterprise Loan Fund. The LEOs will provide both links to other finance providers and also advice on a range of Government services such as Revenue, the Credit Review Office and the Companies Registration Office.