Dáil Éireann - Volume 603 - 31 May, 2005

Written Answers. - Small Business Supports.

  277. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the State funding granted to support small businesses in 2004. [18171/05]

  Mr. Martin: A small business is defined by the European Commission as one that employs fewer than 50 people and has a turnover or balance sheet total of less than €10 million. My Department provided funding and support to small businesses in 2004 through a number of relevant state agencies which operate under the aegis of my Department, namely, Enterprise Ireland, Shannon Development, the county and city enterprise boards and FÁS.

Enterprise Ireland — EI — is the national development agency with primary responsibility for assisting the development of indigenous [715] enterprises in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sector. More than 80% of EI’s clients are small businesses. EI’s assistance is delivered by way of both financial and non-financial supports. Financial supports are designed to encourage development and growth at key stages in a client’s development, for example, start-up or early stage, expansions etc., and consists of both grants and equity finance. With regard to non-financial support, EI provides expertise to its clients not only in relation to the business functions listed previously but also with regard to the crucial endeavour of developing exports. In this regard, EI has a network of more than 30 overseas offices positioned to provide clients with market information and assisting client contact with potential buyers.

Total financial support paid out by Enterprise Ireland to client SMEs — firms with up to 250 employees — in 2004 amounted to €82 million. However, a breakdown of this figure between small enterprises and medium-sized enterprises is not readily available.

Shannon Development is responsible for both foreign direct Investment and indigenous industry in the Shannon Free Zone and in the remainder of the Shannon region — Limerick, Clare, north Tipperary, north Kerry and south-west Offaly. In 2004, Shannon Development paid some €3.4 million to 100 companies that employ fewer than 50 people each.

The 35 county and city enterprise boards — CEBs — have the primary responsibility for support to micro businesses — businesses with ten employees or fewer. Subject to certain eligibility criteria, the boards can support individuals, firms and community groups. The boards give priority to manufacturing and internationally traded services companies which over time may develop into strong export entities.

In 2004, a total of €16.5 million of capital funding was made available to micro-enterprises by the CEBs of which €10.5 million related to project support expenditure in the form of capital grants, feasibility study grants and employment grants. In total, 864 CEB clients were approved for direct financial assistance by the boards in 2004. The balance of funding provided, approximately €6 million, was spent on the provision of soft support activities — advice, management training, e-commerce training, enterprise education, mentoring and the promotion of female entrepreneurship. More than 15,000 people participated in the wide range of training and development courses offered by the CEBs countrywide.

FÁS, the national training and employment authority, also has a role in supporting the small business sector through the provision of a range of advisory and human resource development services to business, including small business. It [716] works closely with companies to assist them identify their current and emerging training needs and to implement training and development initiatives to meet these. It also assists industry search for suitable candidates to fill job vacancies. Given that the focus is on upskilling the labour force generally, it is not possible to identify the level of FÁS spending that specifically benefits small businesses.

In addition to the targeted interventions by various State enterprise development agencies, the small business sector in Ireland is supported and encouraged by the active pursuit and promotion by the Government of an economic environment that is supportive of entrepreneurial activity. Ireland’s extraordinary success over the past decade has been built on, and continues to be built on, such key competitive strengths as having one of the lowest taxation regimes in Europe, access to the EU’s internal market, a well educated and skilled workforce and a history of Government policies that are pro-business and provide a benign business environment. The Government is committed to the continued support and development of these strengths.