My Department and I are fully committed to ensuring a “fit for purpose” ecosystem of supports for entrepreneurs. In 2014, the Government launched the National Policy Statement on Entrepreneurship in Ireland, a five-year plan to double the jobs impact of start-ups on our economy.
To further underpin this commitment, my Department, in conjunction with the OECD earlier this year, commenced a Review of SME and Entrepreneurship issues and policies in Ireland. This is a collaborative body of work and will involve considerable input from wider Government and stakeholders.
The aim of the review is to provide tailored analysis and recommendations to my Department and to Government on how to improve the design and implementation of national SME and entrepreneurship policies and programmes, based on an assessment of the country’s current SME and entrepreneurship performance, framework conditions and policies based on international comparisons.
To meet the ongoing concerns of the small business sector my Department actively engages with representative organisations through the Advisory Group on Small Business (AGSB). This forum is chaired by my colleague Minister for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen T.D. Meetings are held throughout the year in recognition of Government’s willingness and desire to engage on a continuing basis with our small business community.
My Department also chairs the SME Communications Group whose main responsibility is the online tool supportingsmes.ie. This is a cross-governmental initiative which helps Irish start-up and small business to navigate the range of Government supports. By answering 8 simple questions, an individual can find one or more of the most relevant State supports out of over 170 total supports.
In addition, my Department has created a Mapping of Supports database which compiles over 850 public and private sector supports for small businesses with contact details and addresses for the organisations in each category.
Budget 2019 saw a number of measures announced that will further support entrepreneurs to start, scale and internationalise their business from Ireland. These include:
- A Long Term €300m Future Growth Loan Scheme which will complement the previously announced €300m Brexit Loan Scheme that will provide businesses that are impacted or likely to be impacted by Brexit, the opportunity to borrow for up to ten years to support capital investment. It addresses the lack of availability of loans in the market place for long term loans of longer than five to seven years.
- An extra €5m being provided to the 31 Local Enterprise Offices to support start-ups and growth and in particular to support businesses to prepare for Brexit. This will include the provision of a new customs training programme for all businesses, exporters and importers, to be rolled out in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland.
- Following an extensive evaluation of Enterprise Ireland’s Seed & Venture Capital Scheme, a new programme of funding for the Scheme of €175m is to begin. The new Programme will be in place next year and will cover the period to 2024. The Programme will be aimed at seed and early stage investments, where the evaluation has shown there is a very clear market failure. It will actively direct investment to key sectors that have been identified for development as part of overall enterprise strategy and will be closely aligned with other key enterprise support programmes. The fund is expected to leverage a further €525m in private sector funding to make available a total of €700m. Well over 100 innovative Irish companies are expected to benefit, with thousands of jobs created and hundreds of millions of euros in additional exports generated.
The record budget allocation awarded to my Department in Budget 2019 has allowed me to fund a range of measures aiming to further drive indigenous enterprise and regional growth, in line with the objectives of the Regional Action Plans. These include:
- €2.75m allocated to Enterprise Ireland to fund a support programme of Regional Innovation and Technology Clusters. With this support Enterprise Ireland will progress a number of regionally focused initiatives linking SMEs and Institutes of Technology, and deliver new Project Ireland 2040 commitments to build regional sectoral clusters to scale and internationalise enterprise in all regions.
- €20m allocated funding for Phase 1 of the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund, a key element of Project 2040 which will see investment in the development and deployment of disruptive technologies and applications, on a commercial basis, targeted at tackling national and global challenges.
Given the importance of SMEs and entrepreneurship, I also welcome the announcement by my colleague, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr Paschal Donohoe, T.D., that the Employment Investment and Incentive Scheme (EIIS) scheme will be redesigned and will include a specific investor ready eligibility regime for investment in very small enterprises. Likewise, the announcement of enhancements to the Key Employee Engagement Programme (KEEP) share option scheme which will allow our SMEs to attract and retain talented individuals and encourage investment in their ideas in order for the businesses to scale and internationalise from Ireland.
Entrepreneur relief from Capital Gains Tax was introduced in Budget 2016, giving a rate of capital gains tax for qualifying gains of 20%. The rate was further reduced in Budget 2017 to 10%. Increasing the lifetime threshold to approximate parity with the UK was estimated to cost €48M and given the available fiscal space and other priorities, it was not possible to make this change in Budget 2019.