The opening session of the SFA Annual Conference last week focused on Ireland’s competitiveness challenges, which represent an urgent concern for businesses around the country.
SFA Chair, Sue O’Neill, opened the session. A detailed breakdown of her speech is available here.
Micheál Martin TD, Leader of Fianna Fáil, outlined what he sees as the overall economic challenges we face and then detailed five specific areas of action to strengthen smaller firms. The areas he focused on were the cost of doing business, skills and staffing, diversification, Brexit and the need for State investment in infrastructure and broadband. His full speech is available here. In the Q&A session which followed his speech, Deputy Martin supported the SFA’s call for tax equalisation for the self-employed but indicated that it would not be a red line for Fianna Fáil in the upcoming negotiations for Budget 2019.
Next to take the floor was Prof. Peter Clinch, Chair of the National Competitiveness Council. He stated that “Competitiveness is part of the DNA of sustainable jobs”. He highlighted five key areas where action by government can enhance Ireland’s competitiveness: ensure the fiscal position remains sustainable; coordinate and closely-monitor the delivery of capital investment projects; develop a more diverse export base; adequately resource higher education to enhance the skills base; and facilitate innovation and productivity through a business-friendly regulatory framework.
The core message from Ian Kehoe, Editor of the Sunday Business Post, was that Ireland can’t run forever on a single good idea, i.e. our economy can’t depend on FDI to fuel continued economic growth. He spoke passionately about the need for greater emphasis from government on the success of indigenous and small firms, endorsing the SFA’s call for a national Small Business Strategy.
Eddie Cullen, Managing Director of Commercial Banking with Ulster Bank, was the last speaker in the competitiveness session. He shared his insights into the challenges facing the SMEs that Ulster Bank interacts with. He referenced weak demand for credit and encouraged businesses to consider the right mix of finance to fuel their business ambitions.
Sue, Peter, Ian and Eddie all participated in a panel discussion, moderated by Colette Fitzpatrick with questions from audience members. Topics included the business priorities for Budget 2019, the main business cost concerns for small firms, skills shortages and how non-bank finance can be used to complement bank borrowing.