Fianna Fáil councillor Emma Coffey says grant aid needs to play a bigger role in the move to help small and medium businesses in Louth and nationwide emerge from the economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cllr Coffey tabled a motion on Monday, 72 hours prior to the announcement of the Government’s Stimulus plan, calling on the local authority to request that the Government urgently adopt the SME Recovery Ireland ‘National Small Business Recovery Plan.’
The plan called on the government to support Small and Medium Enterprises with a bailout to the tune of at least €15bn to reboot the recovery of society and the SME economy. Speaking to LouthNow.ie after the July Stimulus package was announced on Thursday, the Dundalk-based representative welcomed some funding but urged greater emphasis on grant aid.
“A legacy of unpaid bills, liquidation sales and boarded up shop fronts in towns and villages across the country remains a very real reality. Grant aid will address those legacy issues and ensure that SME businesses will remain viable in the future.”
On Monday, she told the July meeting of Louth County Council that small businesses in the service industry, and not just commercial rates payers, must be helped.
“We all have our favourite local business or we have friends or family that own a local business. I started off my working life at a small business on Park Street and I’m very thankful that as a 15-year-old, I had a few pound in my back pocket,” Cllr Coffey, the Cathaoirleach of the Dundalk Municipal District, told the meeting.
“Small businesses were at the forefront, on March 13, of shutting down, closing their doors for the benefit of public health. A lot of those businesses, both locally and nationally, will not open their doors again or even if they do, they’ll struggle. The plan is suggesting a figure €15 billion is needed to boost the recovery.
“I’m not just talking about ratepayers – but other small businesses like local bus operators who don’t have a Bus Eireann contract. They may not qualify. There’s a lot of businesses in the service industry that don’t have rates. SMEs are vital. [They provide] 93% of financial interaction in our economy. They are the engine.
“It is incumbent on our government now that we have a bail out for our SMEs,” she added. Her motion was supported by Independent councillor Hugh Conlon who said; “SMEs are the backbone of our country.”
In a statement after the €5 billion-plus package was unveiled on Thursday afternoon, Chair of SME Recovery Ireland, John Moran said he welcomed some elements but described the overall package as lacking in scale and ambition.
“We acknowledge that the stimulus incorporates some calls that SME Recovery Ireland has been putting forward in recent weeks. It has recognised the key role SME’s will play in the recovery and the need to protect them in as far as it includes a more robust grant scheme, an extended wage subsidy scheme and additional powers for the SBCI,” he said.
“However, against the scale of the losses indicated for micro and small businesses in our latest ‘Covid-19 loss assessment survey’, the measures announced today simply do not go far enough to prevent firms from folding. A legacy of unpaid bills, liquidation sales and boarded up shop fronts in towns and villages across the country remains a real reality, while people dependent on unemployment payments face little hope of finding a new job.”
Councillor Coffey also stated this week that the community and voluntary sector should be a priority for government in the forthcoming Budget, citing their impact during the Covid-19 pandemic in providing much needed supports and services to communities across the country.
Cllr Coffey, herself a volunteer with Dundalk Tidy Towns among other local groups, said greater allocations should also go to the Louth LEADER programme.
“As someone who is a volunteer board member of a number of Community Groups in the County, it’s important to note that the cuts to funding for the Community and Voluntary sector made during the last recession have yet to be restored.
“One of the few positives out of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it highlighted importance of communities and the active role many community organisations have played in ensuring services have been provided to the people that need them most in our local areas. This support must now be formally recognised with investment in programmes that support community engagement, deal with deficit demand, tackle social exclusion, and sustain communities.
“This funding must also take into account that, regardless if the organisation is a professional or voluntary entity, both have the same legal and fiduciary responsibilities. As a result, the increased administrative and regulatory duties imposed upon the voluntary sector means that resources that would otherwise be dedicated to frontline and core services are diverted to administration and consultant’s costs. This must be streamlined with recognition given to the size and capacity of the range of organisations within the sector.
“Furthermore increased funding to support community development, especially in rural areas and areas of high disadvantage, has to be a given in the upcoming budget. Government must increase funding allocations to LEADER (the funding programme to support the social and economic development of areas) particularly to offset where practical, any reduction of EU CAP funding to the rural and agricultural sector. Such funding allocation should also include additional SICAP (the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme) to support the development of local communities.
“Many do not realise that under the Community Organisation umbrella there is a diverse scope of organisations within the social enterprise arena, ranging from those responding to ‘deficit demand’, particularly in under-represented and disadvantaged areas, to social entrepreneurs whose business model is most closely aligned to the commercial sector. The National Social Enterprise Strategy, published last year, sets out a very ambitious plan to ensure the sustainability of Social Enterprises, however is this another Social Enterprise Plan that will remain gathering dust on a Government Department Shelf?
“If this Plan is to succeed and our Social Enterprises survive and thrive, they must be adequately resourced and resources allocated to take account of the diverse range of services provided.
“One cannot underestimate the value of the sleeping giant of community organisations that was awakened in the Covid Pandemic. For once the organisations that are often unnoticed, have had the spotlight shone on the very important work they do during this crisis. In light of this, our current government cannot ignore the lack of investment in this sector anymore and must give the financial support, not just that it needs, but that it richly deserves, to ensure the direct benefit to our communities are being achieved.”