Thursday, 6 February 2014

Having served for several years on Kildare’s county enterprise board, it is with a tinge of sadness that I see their dismantlement. Coming from a business background, it was great to work with those on the board, who had a get-up-and-go approach. Deputy Naughten referred to the administration costs of some boards, but there was a small staff on the Kildare board which used its funding well and purposefully, as can be seen in the number of jobs it generated in Kildare. My problem was with those county boards which did not use up their full allocation from Enterprise Ireland. Perhaps Deputy Naughten was referring to those counties which would have had higher administration costs. The three remaining staff on the enterprise board in Kildare will move to the newly formed LEO. I wish them all the best. Their initiative and drive was the reason so many jobs were created in Kildare through the enterprise board.

I often questioned my role as a board member. While sometimes I felt the board was just rubber-stamping projects, because there were representatives from the community, Enterprise Ireland, the agricultural sector and local businesses, inputs came from a good cross-section of the county’s economy. I hope this kind of make-up will not be lost with the introduction of the enterprise offices. While I am saddened to see the county enterprise boards go, I welcome the new LEOs. One of our objectives when we set out in government was to use funding more smartly. Bringing the enterprise offices under the remit of the county councils gives a better and clearer objective as well as ensuring better value for money. The large administration costs associated with certain counties, which Deputy Naughten highlighted, will now be absorbed and funding will be utilised better within the county council system.

I am concerned, however, about the ability of various councils to drive enterprise, a point also raised by Deputy Naughten. In Kildare, we are fortunate to have personnel with drive and initiative on the enterprise board who will transfer to the LEOs. One example of this drive was the way they went about the youth and student enterprise awards. Through it, there was a focus on getting young people involved in enterprise at an early age. I am glad the youth entrepreneur scheme will be part of the LEOs, with ring-fenced funding made available for entrepreneurs under 25. I thank Celbridge Youth Group for highlighting this to me two years ago. In turn, I made a presentation to the Minister on this matter to have it included in the enterprise office set-up.

Will the Minister consider ring-fencing elements of the microenterprise loan fund scheme for young entrepreneurs? As I have argued before, a young entrepreneur might not have a credit rating or line, making it difficult for him or her to get funding from the banks. Many of these young entrepreneurs have good ideas that some of us who are older have had beaten out of us because of the amount of red tape associated with establishing one’s business. While it is welcome that multinationals are locating in Ireland regularly, getting back on our feet will also be down to indigenous small and medium-sized businesses and young entrepreneurs who are full of enthusiasm. Accordingly, we should help them as much as we possibly can.

I always saw the county enterprise boards as the first stop for someone starting a business and a real source of funding on the ground. We must examine this in a broader sense and determine how much more we could use funding at enterprise level. Deputy Áine Collins is full of enthusiasm for mentoring start-up enterprises and the need for more of it. I am on for getting as many young people as possible to start businesses. I know matching funding is required from local authorities. If start-up indigenous companies and enterprises are the country’s future, it is through the enterprise board that they will make their first contact with funding.

It will be their first port of call and they should be helped as much as possible. I again appeal to the Minister of State on the increase of funding in this regard.

Finally, as I stated earlier, I wholeheartedly welcome the much smarter use of available funds, as well as the pulling together under a single umbrella of all start-ups, and those which are going beyond the start-up phase, in order that they can get assistance wherever possible within the local authorities. I appeal to the local authorities to embrace this development and not to be fearful of it because this is a real opportunity for them to become actively involved in their local business communities. Local authorities have stood back from so doing for a number of years as they focused solely on garnering money from this group of entrepreneurs and business people. It is vitally important that local authorities embrace this opportunity and take it on board with the same enthusiasm some of the staff members of the enterprise boards who are being transferred to the LEOs have had for a number of years. I thank the Minister of State for bringing forward this proposal. I again thank the Minister, Deputy Bruton, for taking on board youth entrepreneurship, which is an excellent idea. I will be supporting this Bill.