By Pádraig Hoare
The chair of the National Competitiveness Council has called for "better data" from the CSO on insurance and the legal profession if soaring costs for SMEs are to be tackled.
Peter Clinch told the Oireachtas Budgetary Oversight Committee that the council has a "big problem" in trying to analyse insurance costs, because the micro-data needed to do so was not being provided.
The council can only follow the data that is available in order to make conclusions but it was being "made very difficult where the data is poor", Mr Clinch said.
He was responding to Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen who said any report on competitiveness had to have insurance costs "at its core" because of "crippling" costs to SMEs.
Mr Cowen criticised the council for its Cost of Doing Business 2019 report last month, claiming it had ignored insurance as the most vital cost for SMEs, as well as festivals and schools, a charge Mr Clinch said he "robustly" refuted.
The council's report analysed international data to compare costs Irish businesses face compared to other countries.
The council was one of the principal organisations to raise the insurance issue but he was "urging a push" for more detailed data from the CSO, Mr Clinch said.
Mr Clinch also told the committee that childcare costs were also having a big impact on smaller firms as well as the economy in general.
It was a "major indirect cost" to business because of staff retention issues, and parents having to work less hours and changing roles.
Mr Clinch said the focus on larger companies such as the tech and manufacturing multinational giants when it came to national competitiveness was hiding the stagnancy in productivity in smaller firms.
The economy was somewhat "flying on one large engine" with the multinationals, but that engine could not be switched off until the smaller yet equally important engine representing SMEs becomes stronger, he said.
SMEs were less likely to be able to invest in management, staff training and research and development compared to multinationals, which exacerbated the disparity, he said.