Tuesday 12 December 2017

It's not all doom and gloom as Noonan does nation's employers a rare favour

YOU identified a gap in the market, left your job, risked all to set up shop and now you run your own business. You work hard, employ a few local people and treat them well. You have managed to keep your head above water through the most serious recession in a generation and survived thus far.

You deserve a break, and Finance Minister Michael Noonan gave you one yesterday.

It was an unusual Budget because it was good for business but bad for everyone else. For the first time in years, a finance minister stood up and spent the first 15 minutes of his speech talking about real businesses and offering real help.

Ireland's 225,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises that employ more than half the private sector workforce must have finally felt they were getting some recognition.

Michael Noonan knows economic growth is stalling. The economy is expected to grow by a miserable 0.9pc this year.

The Government's austerity drive has killed spending, and Noonan knows more than anybody that the only sector with any growth potential is our booming export industry, driven by our indigenous companies. But lately even this sector is feeling the pain.

Last week's exchequer returns showing a €300m shortfall in income tax made this obvious. The lower-than-expected returns are mainly down to the fact that the self-employed are struggling to pay their tax and are being forced to do deals with the Revenue.

The minister went to great lengths to highlight areas that will get modest stimulus, including film, transport, construction, tourism and agri-food.

His tax reform plan for SMEs, including changes in the start-up corporation tax, cash receipts for VAT and the doubling of the research and development credit, together with the foreign earnings deduction, will no doubt provide a boost for this export sector.

With the banks still not lending, cash flow and access to credit remain the key challenges for many small businesses.

Bizarrely, the National Pension Reserve Fund, which was originally set up to be a national savings account, has been asked to step in here. The Government is planning to raid the €14bn left in the fund, this time to help finance credit-starved small business.

Coupled with extra resources for the Credit Review Office, the minister is hoping businesses might finally be able to borrow a few bob.

HOWEVER, there was one sting in the tail – plans to broaden the income base for PRSI, and in particular the measure to increase the minimum level of annual contribution from the self-employed from €253 to €500.

A self-employed person will have to pay a minimum of €500 in PRSI. This measure disadvantages self-employed people, particularly those on low incomes such as sole traders and those starting their own businesses.

All told, the modest stimulative measures aimed at the SME sector are helpful, but are very unlikely to have an immediate or measurable impact.

None of the above is spicy or titillating, but it is at least pro-business. That will have to be enough.

Irish Independent Supplement

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