Seanad Public Consultation Committee calls for series of measures to support SMEs as Brexit nears
Last week, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee published its report on Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland. The report set out to contribute to the formulation of a national strategy proposal to support the fostering, growth and sustainability of Irish SMEs. An extensive research and public consultation process with key stakeholders (93 participants in total including the SFA) was carried out to identify the opportunities and challenges experienced by Irish SMEs.
This research underpins the development of recommendations provided throughout the report on the following key areas: fostering specific sectors in which SMEs play a significant role; developing a regional ecosystems approach; promoting female entrepreneurship; creating effective business ecosystem conditions; managing a changing macro-economic and political landscape internationally; and finally, formulating an Irish SME strategy.
Key messages arising from the report are:
- The SME sector is the backbone of the Irish economy, as the main source of jobs and enterprises. SMEs operate across a large range of sectors. They are varied in their performance, they participate in global value chains, and their geographical spread is wide.
- While there has been a clear national industrial policy of attracting inward investment in targeted high-tech and emerging sectors for over five decades, a coherent and comprehensive strategy on Irish SME development has been lacking.
- Notwithstanding this, Ireland has made notable progress in providing a myriad of supporting programmes and instruments aimed at SME development, and has made significant achievements in innovation and skills development in this sector, compared with its European counterparts.
- State-led initiatives and programmes tend to have a predominant focus on export-oriented and high-growth start-ups, which is not undesirable, but a balance is needed to support the growth and innovation capacity of SMEs in traditional sectors, as well as in rural and regional areas.
- Given a more volatile international economic and political landscape, it is incumbent on the Government to formulate a comprehensive strategy that supports and fosters SMEs in a more targeted way, embracing the diversity of the sector across cities and regions in Ireland.
The following are some of the key recommendations presented in the report:
- Introduce a dedicated Junior Ministerial role for SMEs to develop SME policy that fully embraces the diversity of the SME population and the challenges and opportunities this brings, particularly in the context of international developments.
- Develop a national strategy on female entrepreneurship and aim to be a leader among EU countries in female entrepreneurship.
- Adopt a regional ecosystems approach to enterprise and innovation policy, whereby hubs of activity are identified based on existing capabilities, and further strengthened by addressing the local challenges and opportunities present. As part of this, regions should be identified as specialist areas for targeted cluster or hub-building. For example, technology clusters of activity in particular cities or heritage hubs in rural areas, and there should be a coordination of efforts among locally based agencies/community groups.
- Promote and encourage collaboration, cohesion and communication among the various organisations and bodies delivering supports and initiatives to SMEs. Formulating an SME strategy is not simply a question of meeting the needs of the economy. As revealed in the public consultation process, Irish SMEs are the socio-economic fabric of a local area, supporting local community development, investing in people, and sustaining employment across regions.
The full report can be downloaded here.