I am pleased to join you all this evening and I want to add my expression of thanks to Julie O’Neill for her excellent work as President of IBEC.
I also offer my congratulations to Paul Rellis, and wish you well during your tenure as President.
At this event last year, Julie concluded her inaugural address as IBEC President by calling for open and constructive engagement between enterprise and government that was both practical and pragmatic.
She spoke of the need for leadership and collective decision making at a time when people expect more, where Government needs the support of enterprise and where so much is at stake.
I believe it is fair to say that such open and constructive engagement between enterprise and government has been strengthened over the intervening months, and that progress has been made as a result.
There are those who believe that Government expects too much from enterprise. That we want enterprise to somehow alone deliver the solutions to all of the stern challenges we face. To deliver the growth Ireland needs, the employment we all so strongly desire, and the taxes to fund public services.
Government wants only one thing from enterprise, from the members of IBEC: we want you to be successful.
We know that Governments don't create employment. Growth, employment and resources are the products of successful businesses and entrepreneurs.
In our Action Plan for Jobs 2012, we restated this truth but added that this does not remove the need, the absolute obligation, for Government and all sectors of our society to respond to the jobs crisis facing our country.
That Action Plan, published in February last, set out the step-by-step approach that the Government would take to help businesses be more successful. In all, 270 actions were identified for 2012 to be delivered, quarter by quarter, reform by reform.
The Plan was strengthened by the type of engagement Julie O’Neill called for last year, as the enterprise community fed its knowledge and ideas into the planning process.
The Government has placed implementation of the Action Plan for Jobs, and the complementary Pathways to Work activation strategy, at the top of our agenda.
All of this combined effort has yielded encouraging results.
In the first half of 2012, we committed to implementing 160 measures that would improve the operating environment and supports available to entrepreneurs, existing firms, large and small, across the country.
Every Government Minister, Department and Agency made delivery of these steps its top priority and we established dedicated monitoring and implementation structures.
Consequently, 97% of the steps to be taken in the first six months of this year were delivered on time, and in full.
That in itself is not a cause for celebration. The Government owes it to every citizen to do its full part in tackling the challenges facing our society, with unacceptable unemployment levels prime among them.
No, what is encouraging is the positive impact that our actions are having, and the tangible outcomes already visible.
In Q1 alone:
Investments by 15 multinationals in Ireland were announced with associated jobs for Dublin, Limerick, Mayo, Sligo, Cork, Louth and Kildare;
200 companies attended Export Awareness events around the country;
Over 330 employers were awarded Employer PRSI exemptions in respect of over 460 employees;
There were upwards of 30,000 visits to the ConnectIreland website, under our Succeed in Ireland jobs finder’s fee scheme;
6,000 additional free part-time higher education places for unemployed people were rolled-out under the latest Springboard call;
The JobBridge Scheme was extended, providing an additional 1,000 places and widening the eligibility criteria to include recipients of One Parent Family or Disability allowances;
Both the Immigrant Investor Visa Programme and the Start-up Entrepreneur Visa Programme are operational and
Irish firms have signed multi-million euro contracts with international customers, made international acquisitions, and launched new products on foot of our trade missions.
All of this in just the first Quarter of this year, under the Action Plan for Jobs.
Overall – of course - the success of the Plan will depend on whether it fosters greater job retention and creation.
We hold fast to our ambition to make Ireland the best small country in the world to do business, and to create the environment where the number of people at work will increase by 100,000 net - to 1.9 million – by 2016 and reach 2 million people by 2020.
The continuing scale of the challenge is evident from the most recent unemployment data.
But the action taken and early-stage impacts seen to date does illustrate what can be achieved when constructive engagement, strategic planning and leadership become the distinctive qualities of our approach.
This is why I am further encouraged by the launch of IBEC’s Driving Ireland’s Recovery campaign and the launch in July of IBEC’s Action Plan for Recovery: 50 Ideas to Drive Growth.
In these strategies and approaches we again see the complementarity between enterprise and Government.
We strive for the same objectives: keeping Ireland strong in Europe, restoring domestic demand, supporting job creation, and delivering world-class public services.
We share a common method: focussed on action, maximising credit and investment, putting in place optimal labour market structures, driving regulatory reform and administrative burden reduction, and enhancing public services.
We are listening to the business community and we are responding in partnership.
For example, one problem identified by business was the lack of one single online source of information on regulations and how to comply with them. We have launched businessregulation.ie so that businesses no longer have to search multiple Government websites to find out their obligations.
IBEC has shown itself to be an effective and influential actor and partner in encouraging positive change. In May, Ireland voted to take another step on the road towards economic recovery, ratifying the Stability Treaty and sending out the forceful message that we as a country are determined to overcome our economic challenges. IBEC campaigned actively nationwide to help secure this outcome.
This positive result has helped to further improve Ireland’s international reputation and it greatly strengthened my hand in negotiating the political agreement in June to address the burden on the taxpayer of Ireland’s bank related debt.
Government and enterprise can work together on many fronts to continually drive recovery in our economy and reputation.
Improvements in our national competitiveness have boosted Ireland’s FDI performance. For example, Ireland continues to rank strongly in the availability of skilled staff with the 2012 IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook placing Ireland number 1 in the world for skilled labour.
The IDA’s last Report shows there are now almost 146,000 people working directly in over 1,000 FDI companies. 2011 saw the creation of over 13,000 new jobs - the best net jobs increase since 2002 of over 6,000.
Progress to date has also boosted Ireland’s indigenous firms. Enterprise Ireland-supported companies achieved record levels of exports last year. Total exports of €15.2bn in 2011 exceeded the pre-recession record levels of 2008 and new export sales exceeded €2.14bn. This was the highest ever annual export gain achieved by these indigenous companies.
Most importantly, employment in these Irish companies stabilised, with full-time employment of 141,000.
We have published our legislation to provide for a comprehensive reform of insolvency law, with new and more flexible options to address the circumstances of insolvent debtors.
The Government continues to be aware of the challenges faced by companies accessing credit. The Credit Review Office has received some 200 appeals, with overturned refusals resulting in the banks subsequently supplying €6.9 million of credit, supporting over 650 jobs in the SME sector.
In July we announced our plans for an additional €2.25 billion investment in job-rich public infrastructure projects in Ireland.
Later that same month, the NTMA returned to the bond market in a very welcome and positive move. That auction marked the first time Ireland has raised long term funds in the markets for two years.
At European level, a clear statement was made that breaking the vicious circle between banks and sovereign is “imperative”. Further, the principal that the European Stability Mechanism should be enabled to directly recapitalise banks was agreed. Such significant shifts in position are of real importance and consequence.
The Government successfully concluded the seventh review of the Programme of Assistance with the EU Commission, the ECB and the IMF in July.
The growth figures published in parallel showed that the Irish economy experienced solid growth of 1.4% in 2011. The Exchequer returns showed that our 2012 tax take continues to grow. Taken together this data shows that we are on track to meet our 2012 deficit target of 8.6%.
Government and enterprise - working
together - can continue to see challenges met. And the challenges continue to be significant and real.
We are committed to our plan to reduce the deficit to below 3% of GDP by 2015. Just under 60% of the budgetary adjustment in 2012 was on the expenditure side, with reductions in expenditure implemented right across the board. This has been difficult for many in our society.
The Government’s Medium Term Fiscal Statement published last year plans an additional €1.7 billion of measures to reduce day-to-day Government spending next year, compared with €1.4 billion of current spending cuts in last year’s Budget.
To deliver on this plan, it is essential that every effort is made to achieve savings that minimise the impact on front line services and on supports for the most vulnerable.
That is why this Government believes that we need to achieve the maximum possible level of savings out of the Croke Park Agreement.
While we are committed to the full and accelerated implementation of the Agreement, we need more savings to make sure we can keep our promises in our Programme for Government to protect the most vulnerable, and to support jobs and economic recovery.
For that reason, the Cabinet yesterday decided to require each Government Department to specify the maximum pay and non-pay savings and reforms that should be pursued in each area of the public sector.
The output of this examination by each Department will form the basis of a new, intensified engagement between the Government, public sector management and the trade unions which represent public servants to ensure that the Croke Park Agreement facilitates these targeted savings.
Yet, moving towards a balanced budget position remains a key condition - not just to ensuring that we can access international financial markets– but for restoring sustained economic and employment growth for our people.
The members of IBEC know this all too well.
Though painful, we must continue on this path to rule out any negative impact on investor confidence, consumer confidence and demand, enterprise income and, ultimately, enterprise success.
If we do not, the resources needed to meet debts are diverted from the critical investment and service provision that firms and individuals alike require.
We progress - confident that the levels of consolidation necessary each year can decline as economic activity strengthens, enterprise success is enhanced and modest employment growth returns.
We progress – confident that constructive engagement, strategic planning and leadership will continue to yield positive results.
We will progress towards our medium-term goals, including making Ireland the best small country in which to do business by 2016.
There are important steps to be taken in the short term.
We will continue to drive implementation of the remaining elements of the Action Plan for Jobs 2012.
This will see further impactful measures rolled-out. For example:
New, more effective and secure procedures under legislation for establishing wage setting mechanisms;
Tackling the cost of doing business by placing downward pressure on insurance costs and the cost of legal services via the Legal Services Bill;
Examining the feasibility of a new structured and non-judicial debt settlement and enforcement system to meet SME needs (or “Examinership Light”);
Improved linkages between higher education institutes and the business community;
The rollout of 100 megabit broadband to 200 second level schools, and
The commencement of lending under the micro-finance fund, to provide loans of up to €25,000, targeted at start-up and growing micro enterprises across all sectors.
The Action Plan for Jobs is a multi-annual strategic process and I urge your organisation and those like it to engage positively once again as Action Plan 2013 is devised.
This process is underway, led by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and he, his Department and Government as a whole continue to need and welcome the considered views of IBEC and representative groups.
As we have demonstrated, we have the willingness to take on board all appropriate inputs, coupled with the determination to make them a reality.
When I addressed this gathering last year I discussed what the Government had achieved in its first hundred days in office - injecting confidence and hope back in the economy and our people.
At that time, the visits by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama had reminded the world - and indeed ourselves - of this great country’ strengths, and demonstrated to the world audience what we have to offer.
Our superb Olympians have – in their own way - done the same at the summer games in London last month.
In the year since I addressed this event, the Government built on the early progress I outlined to you, to deliver further progress, step by step, action by action, reform by reform.
We have some way to go, but we have the strategic framework and the will to complete our recovery.
My message to you remains the same:
Firstly, I know you will make an important contribution to further enhancing our reputation and our recovery through your initiatives over the next twelve months.
Secondly, I take this opportunity to again express sincere appreciation for your work, which is both impactful and positive.
Finally, I encourage IBEC and its members to continue in your efforts, and I assure each and every business that this Government will do all it can to support you in making your businesses successful ones.