AN interesting press release from the Department of Finance winged its way to our offices last Friday. It was a call for suggestions from the business community to solve the credit famine that is allegedly crippling Irish businesses.
It was a little strange but the idea was sound. The opening words ran as follows: "The Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan TD, is calling for suggestions from members of the public on what can be done to encourage viable businesses to seek credit."
Quite why a minister of any kind believes that he should be encouraging businesses to borrow was not explained, however. Perhaps he knows more about your business than you do? Or perhaps this is as close as the department can bring itself to acknowledging the widely held view that banks are not lending anymore.
I've previously written about how difficult it is to determine whether a company is viable any more and whether banks should be encouraged to throw (our) good money after (their) bad money by propping up small and medium-sized companies which have often fallen victim to foolish land deals.
There are no easy answers, but a new wave of credit is clearly the wrong answer.
What I do like about the Department of Finance's new initiative is the attempt to canvass the views of business as it tries to formulate policy.
The department wants business people to email "innovative ideas from people who can assist in getting credit moving for businesses". It then goes on to promise that "all suggestions put forward will be considered with an open mind as we are trying to get as many ideas as possible which will develop new thinking on the issue. Suggestions can be as short or as long as applicants wish."
We really do need more initiatives like this.
One of the lessons every reporter learns quite quickly in his or her working life is that nobody has a monopoly on wisdom, and good ideas can come from the most unlikely sources.
Another lesson is that business people don't always know what's good for them but they are good at forecasting what government initiatives will work and what won't. I'm always surprised politicians don't listen more to real businessmen and women while ignoring the lobby groups that are often far removed from their members.
Disappointingly, the press release states, in the dreary language of civil servants, that "a meeting of stakeholders is being held in the Department of Finance next Wednesday which will look at suggestions submitted via email" -- which sort of lets the cat out of the bag.
By giving just a few days' notice, the department and the mysterious "stakeholders" don't appear to be too concerned about what you think on the issue although a further meeting is proposed at some unspecified date in the future.
The charitable explanation for all this is that the department is still getting used to the idea of consulting anybody other than the "social partners" and the usual lobby groups who really run the country. The cynical explanation is that this is just another exercise in hot air -- a mini version of the meeting at Farmleigh House back in 2009, which yielded a lot of good publicity, high hopes and few concrete results.
The department's latest wheeze may well belong to this second category but I'd urge you to look to the stars rather than the gutter. Email email@example.com by the June 8 deadline and let them know what you think.
It is time for business to get involved and make its voice heard. In fact, why not copy me in, too, and we can publish the results in these pages.
It is time for business to speak clearly and tell the Government what it wants.