Comment: Government must stop pandering to small parties and start helping SMEs

Small businesses are concerned about insurance costs and the lacklustre response of the political class, writes ISME’s Neil McDonnell.

With the media fixated on motor car insurance, SMEs will tell you that the costs of all types of insurance for buildings, public liability and employees, are rising.

Isme is no supporter of the insurance industry, but as long as we have a system that places the value of a broken toe at €15,000, we will have expensive insurance.

We and other players presented to the Dáil finance committee a list of measures to reduce insurance costs. The committee ignored most of what they were told.

If the judiciary won’t play ball, legislate a way out for them, and amend the Constitution, if necessary. 

As long as judges continue to pick compensation figures out of that part of their anatomy best reserved for sitting upon, we will have unaffordable insurance. 

All sorts of costs are too high in Ireland. Insurance, electricity, rent, health, education, transport and energy — all affect SMEs directly, or through their employees. All are highly influenced or controlled by government policy.

Credit is improving slowly, but decisions are taking too long, and the premium being paid by SMEs is at least 1% over normal commercial lending.

It is unacceptable to demand signed, undated letters of resignation from the directors of companies seeking credit. 

While the pillar banks dither, and continue to be unreasonable with SMEs, other financiers are eating their lunch.

The public discourse on pay has been overwhelmed by the public sector unions.

Despite only accounting for 15% of the workforce, they are almost 17% better paid that the rest of society on a like-for-like basis.

We need to get real about public sector pay, and public sector spending in general. 

As a society, we espouse no values and can’t assign a priority to anything.

When SMEs hit a funding problem, the very last person tapped is the customer. You improve processes. You do more with less. You reduce your costs. You purchase better. You change the way you deliver. This mindset is absent in the public service.

Where significant job creation is concerned, SMEs are the only game in town.

However, the crisis isn’t over for SMEs. Unfortunately, advice on terminations and redundancies remains in the top three queries to the Isme help-line. 

Yet, the outlook for multinationals is now so uncertain (think Trump, Brexit) that SMEs are going to have to paddle the Irish canoe for the next four years.

A final word to our Government: Stop trying to micro-manage everything. 

Fifteen people are not capable of running every facet of life. Set meaningful goals for your departments. Promote those officials who meet them. Remove those who don’t. Tell us your vision. Share your values and defend them. 

Even if some people don’t like them, they’ll at least appreciate the fact you have a spine.

Stop pandering to the parties who can barely muster a margin-of-error in polls.

This is the type of politics that has lead the US to elect the most unpopular candidate in history, and to UK voters deciding to leave the EU before googling ‘what is the EU?’ in their thousands. 

Accept the fact you inhabit a post-truth, fake news world; where feelings mean more than facts; where every idiot with a Twitter account considers an anonymous opinion more important than that of the Taoiseach.

Neil McDonnell is chief executive at business group Isme.


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