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Tanaiste fails to get bills paid on time

TANAISTE Mary Coughlan faces another embarrassing revelation about not taking action to protect jobs.

The Enterprise Minister failed to ensure government departments paid their bills on time to help suppliers improve cash flow.

Despite the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises association (ISME) warning that non-payment of bills can and does put companies out of business, new figures show that less than half of all departments are settling their bills on time.

In the last three months of 2009, suppliers were owed almost €46m in overdue payments.

Ms Coughlan's own department owed almost one-third of this -- or €14m. The Tanaiste has been dogged by accusations in recent weeks that she has failed to protect jobs in Cadbury's and she was also dragged into the Government's handling of Bank of Scotland's decision to close its branch network with the loss of 750 jobs.

Under 1997 legislation, all state bodies are required to settle bills within the calender month. Last May the Government announced it was halving the payment deadline to 15 days for all departments.

The rules took effect from June 15 last, and all departments are required to send a quarterly report to the Department of Enterprise showing their payment history.


At the time, Ms Coughlan said: "I hope that it will also set an example for business in the private sector to improve their payment record and pay each other more promptly."

The figures published yesterday show that small companies already struggling with the worst recession in living memory are being forced to wait for payment, which threatens their ability to continue trading.

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"Non-payment can put you under," ISME chief executive Mark Fielding said. "In the past the banks would look favourably at you if you were owed money. They're not doing that now. The big guys are holding onto their cash and not paying. Our guys are at the end of the food chain.

"The departments might find it difficult to get money from Finance but that's no excuse. We have to spend endless hours chasing money, and in some cases you have a full-time person doing it."

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