Sage words for SMEs fall flat outside The Pale

Pictured: Martin Shanahan, IDA Ireland; Alan Laing and Jacqueline De Rojas, Sage; An Taoiseach Enda Kenny; and Stephen Kelly, Sage

Ireland's lack of international political clout will hit rural businesses hard in 2017



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8 December 2016 | 0

Billy MacInnesIt was interesting to see that SMEs are so concerned by global and local political uncertainty as they prepare for 2017. According to a survey by Sage, 45% identified it as their most pressing cause for concern in the new year.

Is it such a surprise? Probably not when you consider that the survey also found Brexit was identified by 50% as the political event that would have the most negative effect on their business and that 37% identified exchange rates (indelibly linked to the plunge in the pound after the UK’s vote for Brexit) as the main issue hurting their business. Sadly for Irish businesses, for many of their Irish-based customers the changes in exchange rates might not be viewed so negatively if it makes products cheaper in the North.

Despite the fallout from Brexit, the good news is that 57% of SMEs had grown their turnover compared to the previous year, 97% of them were confident in their business and 68% planned to grow their business in the next three years.

In terms of obstacles, SMEs said the top five were competition (44%), taxation (34%), cash flow (32%), employing and retaining talent (24%) and Brexit (24%). With the exception of Brexit, none of those can be described as new or out of the ordinary.

An interesting finding from the overall survey, which encompassed 5,500 entrepreneurs across 19 countries globally, was that 63% felt under-represented by politicians. Sadly, we don’t have a figure for Irish SMEs, but when you look at the figures for the political events they believe will have the most negative impact on their business, there is little Irish politicians can do much about. Looking at the list – Brexit (50%), changes in the Euro (44%), Irish Government changes (26%), currency fluctuations (22%) and the result of the US elections (19%) – it might be better to ask whether the issue is one of being under-represented or of politicians being powerless to represent them.

The survey results were announced at the launch of Sage’s Business Builders Debate. Speaking at the event in Dublin, Jacqueline de Rojas, Sage MD for Northern Europe, said the survey showed Irish businesses were “passionate about what they do and want the government, and other experts, to help them knock down some of the barriers to doing business in Ireland today”.

In his speech, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was a key priority for the government to support SMEs and entrepreneurs “to pave the way for continued jobs growth right across the country”. Nevertheless, it came as no surprise that Kenny’s grandiose claims of all-Ireland support for SMEs and entrepreneurs were made at an event in Dublin.

It was probably no surprise either that in the two “lively panel debates at the event”, only one person out of the nine represented on those panels was from a company or organisation that did not list Dublin as its headquarters. That sounds about right in the context of the reality of the Government’s efforts to encourage business development outside the capital and its favoured business destinations: Galway, Cork and Limerick.

Whatever the concerns about Brexit and the euro, this is an area where Irish politicians and institutions should be able to do more than they are. At the moment, their commitment to promoting SMEs and entrepreneurs in other parts of the country appears closer to lip-service than anything else.

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