Seanad SME Report needs Government endorsement and not gather dust on a shelf

Friday 17th May 2019
A Junior Minister for Retail a good place to start, says industry body

Becci Harrison of Fishers of Newmountkennedy, Bryan Rankin, Retail Excellence and IEDR’s Alan Finneran at the Launch of the Seanad’s Report on SMEs in Ireland.

Ireland’s largest retail representative body, Retail Excellence today (Friday 17 May) has welcomed the publication yesterday of the ‘Seanad Report on Small and Medium Sized Business in Ireland’ but the next steps in the roadmap will be crucial. The body representing over 2,000 retail stores believes that our Government must commit publicly to the adoption and delivery of the report and its key recommendations, as a new policy framework for SMEs.

“This Seanad SME report is a very significant and impressive piece of work with 130 recommendations, but unfortunately we’ve seen too many Government reports over the years to pin all our hopes on it” said Bryan Rankin, head of public affairs with Retail Excellence.

“The focus of successive governments has been on technology-led, export driven businesses and attracting foreign multi-nationals. Now there’s broad acceptance that we need to re-calibrate this approach and focus on fostering small, sustainable businesses that are consistent with transportation policy, rural development with a high-employment dividend.  Retail must undoubtedly be to the fore in this, and should receive Government specific support and attention in the first instance” said Rankin.

There is a huge amount of data delivered in the report that throws more light on the SME business landscape in Ireland, and it’s striking that the report states that, while 65% of all Irish employees work in the SME sector, retail is by far the biggest sector within this, with a 25% share.

The single biggest recommendation coming from the report is to appoint a new, dedicated Ministerial role for SMEs.  While this is laudable, Retail Excellence’s position in calling for a Junior Minister for Retail has not changed, indeed it points out that it has been campaigning for a Minister for Retail for several years. It makes far more sense to appoint a Junior Minister that will have responsibility for a particular sector, similar to Agriculture and Health.

“The report contains a list of policy recommendations specific to retail which we welcome but could be even more ambitious. Across the globe, retail is at a crucial crossroads, with technology and consumer experience transforming our industry. Online sales in Ireland account for €6 billion, but 70% of those sales go on goods from outside Ireland, so there’s room for massive improvements. For instance, the online trading voucher for micro-businesses has a €2,000 grant  – hardly enough to manage social media platforms. We need direct grant assistance rather than tax credit schemes. Finally, pointing to tie-ups between Science Foundation Ireland is the wrong direction – the online retail marketing is well established at this stage, we just need to get our smaller businesses on the train.

“It’s a welcome first step and at the very least we should expect those recommendations to become the policy of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation before the summer recess.”

Retail Excellence pays tribute to all those involved in the compilation of the report, particularly Senators Padraig O’Ceidigh and Paul Coghlan and their teams.