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Government Announces the Development of a Major New SME Policy as Part of Future Jobs Ireland

Announcement made as the Government hosts a high-level conference on Ireland’s SME and entrepreneurship strategy with the OECD.
Conference is the culmination of a consultation exercise, which will feed into the development of the new SME policy.
Initiative is a key part of Future Jobs Ireland, the new whole-of-Government plan to prepare our economy, businesses and workers for the future.
Minister Humphreys announces two new funds worth €3 million to enhance the productivity of our smallest indigenous firms.

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Heather Humphreys, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and Pat Breen, Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market, and Data Protection today announced that the Government is developing a major new policy on SMEs and entrepreneurship under Future Jobs Ireland.

They made the announcement as they hosted a conference to discuss a draft roadmap for SME and entrepreneurship policy, which was prepared by the OECD for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. The draft was informed by extensive consultation and is the precursor to a wider review by the OECD.

The review, which will be published in October, will provide comprehensive analysis and recommendations to the Government to inform the development of the new policy. It will include comparisons with international best practice.

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said:

Seventy per cent of people at work in Ireland, work for an SME. Small and medium enterprises are the backbone of our local communities, providing jobs and prosperity across the country. Through Future Jobs, the Government wants to nurture entrepreneurship and do what we can to assist small businesses and help them adapt to the needs of the future.

Every generation needs to shake up its enterprise and jobs model, otherwise it falls backwards.   We need to change the way we work. Today we are focussing on how we can improve productivity. This includes doing things like encouraging more female entrepreneurship, targeted assistance for companies which need it through the Future Growth Loan Scheme and introducing an Operational Excellence programme to drive company transformation.

Employment is now at its highest ever level; with 2.3 million people at work and the lowest unemployment rate in 14 years. Through Future Jobs, we are focussing on the quality of those jobs, to ensure we all have better living standards. I want Ireland to be a country that works to live, not lives to work.

Minister Humphreys said:

Future Jobs Ireland is about securing Ireland’s economic success by protecting the hard-won gains of recent years. As we approach full employment, it is time to shift our jobs focus. It is no longer just a question of more jobs, instead we must focus on growing highly productive businesses that will sustain the jobs of tomorrow.

Ultimately we want to increase the living standards and quality of life of our people and increasing productivity levels is necessary to achieve this goal. Typically, our foreign-owned firms are highly productive, however, in recent years we have seen a decline in productivity in indigenous SMEs. We want to close this gap and our new SME policy will help us to do that.

Minister Humphreys also took the opportunity to announce two new funds worth a combined €3 million, which will enhance the productivity of firms in every region. Both funds will be operated through the network of Local Enterprise Offices, which means that they will reach our smallest indigenous businesses.

The first is the €2.5m Competitive Fund. The LEOs will compete for this on behalf of their clients, whether individually or through collaborating with other LEOs. Projects should focus on the priority areas identified in Future Jobs Ireland, and the Regional Enterprise Plans. For example, they could look at themes like innovation, Brexit readiness or market diversification.

The second is the Productivity Challenge Fund worth €500,000. This is for businesses who are not currently LEO clients. The funding will be used to address productivity gaps, including through the adoption of lean business practices. It will also incorporate business opportunities in the green economy.

Minister Breen said:

Ensuring that our policies and programmes focus on and deliver real supports to businesses across the country has been a central focus of mine as Minister. My involvement with this ongoing OECD Review has been extensive.  The level of expertise in the OECD will ensure a quality policy framework for Ireland into the future. We have already begun to implement some of the recommendations. 

I now chair the new Consultative Group with over 40 members including representative groups, programme managers, policymakers and SMEs themselves. We will push forward with the recommendations of the OECD Roadmap and their integration into actions within the Future Jobs framework.

The press release can be read in full here