I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 40 together.
The Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment to "thoroughly investigate the German Sparkassen model for the development of local public banks that operate within well-defined regions". My Department, along with the Department of Rural and Community Development, are responsible for fulfilling this commitment.
Local public banking is where a State, or other public body, has ownership of a financial institution. In Germany, local public banks, called Sparkassen, are only permitted to operate in specific geographic regions. The business model of Sparkassen is not to maximise profits, but rather promote economic development and financial inclusion in the particular regional area in which they operate. In terms of SME finance, Sparkassen tend to build close relationships with SMEs in their locality.
The investigation of local public banking has consisted of a consultation process engaging with stakeholders and interested parties. This consultation process was carried out last year by the Department of Rural and Community Development, assisted by the Department of Finance.
Additionally, there has also been detailed consideration of a proposal put forward by Irish Rural Link and the Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation (SBFIC), the international development wing of the Sparkassen group. The proposal outlines a potential model of local public banking, based on the German model, in Ireland. There have been a number of meetings between officials in both Departments and representatives from Irish Rural Link and SBFIC.
Officials in my Department and the Department of Community and Rural Development have been working closely together. They have now completed the report on the findings of their investigation and both I, and my colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring T.D., have received this report. We expect to be in a position to bring the joint report on the investigation of local public banking to Government for approval in the coming weeks.
The Deputies may be interested to know that there are already significant Government measures in place to support access to finance by Irish SMEs. These include the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI), the Supporting SMEs Online Tool, the Microenterprise Loan Fund, Local Enterprise Offices, the Credit Review Office and the Credit and Counter Guarantee Schemes.
Additionally, my Department is working with other Government departments to develop tailored and innovative schemes to meet the evolving needs of Irish SMEs, such as the Agricultural Cashflow Support Loan Scheme and the Brexit Loan Scheme I announced in Budgets 2017 and 2018 respectively.