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Small businesses need State bail-out

Election 2011
Small businesses need State bail-out

Áine Ryan

HEADACHE tablets, stress remedies, sleeping potions. Bet they’re among the few items whose prices don’t need to be slashed as the recession reels on. Election posters are overshadowed by SALE signs – a bottom-line necessity for almost all Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). 75% off. Half-price reductions. Two-for-the-price of-three. Who in their right mind would want to own a small or medium-sized business today? How many shop doors have closed on your main street in the last two years? Bet you know, at least, one inspired entrepreneur whose brainwave now flounders and sinks under the weight of  red ink in the bank.
For Westport businessman and retailer, Don McGreevey the bugbear of rates reduction has been his mantra for a long time. He tells The Mayo News that this year’s reduction of 2 per cent, in no way, went far enough. Although he does admit that the survival of small businesses and retail outlets throughout Mayo is more complex than ‘the rates question’.
“You need to give control back to the local Bank Manager. He or she understands the local business scene and what people and a town needs. Take the power back from the regional banking offices offices, they need to be closed forthwith,” McGreevey argues.
He also says to stimulate business, mortgages, for first time buyers, need to be just two-and-a-half times annual salaries and not six and seven times, as was the practise during the Celtic Tiger.
“Consumers are crippled by mortgages at the moment and have nothing to spend in shops. And, those people who cannot afford to pay their mortgages because of job losses or redundancies must be protected. It is their constitutional right.”
He continues: “If we exercise a common-sense approach to business, we will survive. Of course a town like Westport – because of its tourism industry and great community spirit – will survive but I would be very concerned about smaller towns like  Crossmolina, Swinford and Charlestown. I believe they will be devastated.”
Don McGreevey believes that, while supermarkets like Aldi, Lidl, Tesco and Dunnes Stores, on the face of it, create employment, the collateral damage they incur on employment within a 30-mile radius is very significant and ultimately catastrophic for sustainable employment and small businesses.

Role of rates
REGARDING the pivotal role played by local authority rates, Fine Gael Cllr Myles Staunton – a founding member of Westport’s Multi-Agency Task Force – defends this year’s level of reduction.
He tells The Mayo News: “Despite a reduction of 9.49% in the local government fund given by the Government, the Town Council has reduced the commercial rates by 2%. This follows on from the reduction last year of 2.5%, which was the first ever reduction by Westport Town Council.  In addition, despite some cutbacks we had to make locally, we put an emphasis on promotion of the town in areas such as a tourism initiative with Destination Westport, an increase in the promotion of festivals within the town and an allocation towards the Enterprise and Innovation Centre.  We also proposed that a role be set up to have a single point of contact to liaise between the council and the businesses and business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and Destination Westport.”
Cllr Staunton adds: “The key focus is to keep footfall coming to the town of Westport”
He concedes, however, that this is not enough and it is now essential for local authorities to implement other initiatives to support businesses during this very difficult economic period. Cllr Staunton cites the overhauling of public procurement, rent initiatives, innovative competition and reduction in red tape as key areas that must be proactively addressed.
“Fine Gael, on a national level has a policy to target a €500 million reduction in red tape for business which should benefit both the service provider and the end customer,” Myles Staunton said.
Interestingly, for business consultant, Olwen Dawe, it is      ‘the tenacity, rigour and vision of small business owners, and not necessarily State agency growth mechanisms, that keep small businesses afloat’.
Ms Dawe is President of Network Mayo and owner of Irish Business Intelligence (IBI), a Westport based small business communications consultancy.
On the other hand, in a recent survey she carried out, Olwen Dawe says  respondents felt there was little tangible support for them as they grappled with everyday functioning. She says that the big demand (41 per cent) is for State support while up to 35 per cent identified training and consulting as priorities. In order to manage leaner businesses there is a need for ‘State supports in training, mentoring, funding and small-business start-up’. 
Ms Dawe welcomes the fact that their seemed to be an air of ‘positivity’ out there, with 71 per cent of respondents to IBI’s survey stating they were keen to develop their businesses in 2011. However, ‘accessibility, suitability and the visibility’ of the State’s support agencies is a problem. 
“I really feel there should be a far more clear and precise messaging out there for SMEs and entrepreneurs … they do great work but there’s no link between their agendas, that small businesses know of, anyway.”