Finance schemes for SMEs in place by September
THE long-awaited loan guarantee scheme for small firms and a microfinance fund for start-ups will be running by September, Small Business Minister John Perry said yesterday.
Speaking at the Small Firms Association's (SFA) annual conference in Dublin, Mr Perry said the guarantee was being processed "urgently" while the microfinance fund will help restore confidence in the start-up sector.
"These two schemes will be up and running in the third quarter of this year.
"Both of these are designed to assist companies who have been refused credit by the banks, because they are deemed to be a higher risk. We are urgently progressing the necessary legislation to underpin the loan guarantee scheme, while the microfinance loan fund is designed to stimulate lending to sustainable micro enterprises.
"Itis targeted at start-ups, newly established or growing micro enterprises across all industry sectors, employing not more than 10 people," he added.
Mr Perry conceded that while SMEs were operating in a particularly tough environment at the moment, he was confident the Government was working to get the sector functioning again.
Pointing to a survey by the National Consumer Agency, the minister said consumers were now far less willing to accept lower levels of service than during the boom and firms had to match their service to consumer expectations.
"Consumer empowerment metrics since 2007 and the latest data published in March 2012 shows that levels of stated empowerment are at all-time high levels: 77pc state they are confident of their rights; [while close to the same percentage] assert they are knowledgeable of their rights, and feel protected in respect of their rights.
"The most recent research in relation to consumers' willingness to complain revealed that 85pc of consumers were willing to complain when they have cause or reason to do so.
"The message is clear: consumers are more willing than ever to assert their rights and take action if they have a problem. The challenge for retailers and service providers, therefore, is to ensure that they have appropriate systems in place to deal with the inevitable issues that occur and respond to these in a fair and open manner," Mr Perry said.
The conference was opened by SFA chairman Ian Martin, who said confidence was the key to getting the Irish economy working properly again. "Restoring consumer confidence must become a policy priority for government, just as it is for individual businesses in their own strategic plans," he said.
"It is essential that action is taken to address the challenges in the domestic economy to ensure it does not hinder future growth and prosperity for many indigenous small firms."
A survey commissioned by the SFA to coincide with the conference found small and medium firms were overwhelmingly against the cutting of redundancy rebates for employers in last year's Budget and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton's proposals to introduce mandatory sick pay and pension provision on employers.