Good morning and welcome to everyone who has joined us online to mark the Local Enterprise Offices’ Annual Employment Results for 2021.
I’m joined by my colleagues in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ministers Robert Troy and Damien English, Padraic McElwee, Chairperson of the network of LEOs, and Ann Marie Farrelly, CEO of Fingal County Council and the County and City Management Association.
Today we are reporting that over 7,400 new jobs were created by Local Enterprise Office clients in 2021 and 3,000 jobs net.
The LEOs now support over 7,100 companies financially with over 35,000 associated jobs.
They help thousands of other businesses through training, mentoring and programmes such as the Trading Online Voucher, ‘Lean for Micro’ and Start Your Own Business.
Local Enterprise Offices are at the very heart of business development and entrepreneurship in towns and communities right across the country. In fact, 85% of LEO supported employment is based outside of Dublin.
2021 marked the eighth consecutive year of jobs growth since the LEOs were established in 2014. Not many organisations achieve that level of success in their early years.
On behalf of the Government, I want to extend my particular thanks to Local Enterprise Office staff for all you have achieved. You are exceptional.
LEOs and their staff have been on the frontline in assisting our small businesses throughout the pandemic. They have gone above and beyond.
With compassion, expertise and enthusiasm they have worked tirelessly with small business owners to see what is possible and how things could work differently. For this, you are to be commended.
I’d just like to take a moment to acknowledge how difficult the past couple of years have been, which makes today’s results all the more remarkable.
The pandemic has torn up many of our plans, disrupting established ways of doing things and causing a huge amount of hardship for Irish businesses.
Since the start of the pandemic we have aimed to minimise the loss of life, protect the health service and save as many jobs and businesses as possible.
The Government has not been found wanting when it comes to keeping jobs and businesses alive. Billions have been provided to help businesses respond to COVID and Brexit. The EWSS has been extended even though many other countries have ended their furlough schemes. The rules for the CRSS have been relaxed and tax warehousing has been extended.
Backed by an exceptional collective effort, the economy has performed more strongly than many expected.
On top of today’s LEO figures, in recent weeks, Enterprise Ireland announced that Irish exporting companies recorded their highest ever jobs gain in 2021, while IDA Ireland also announced the highest ever jobs gain in the multinational sector in a single year. We are well on our way to reaching the Government target of having 2.5 million at work in Ireland by 2024.
I have spoken before about my belief in the ability of Irish businesses to bounce back strongly and although these figures don’t capture the experience for all Irish businesses, they are certainly grounds for hope.
Thank you to those watching who have made them possible.
In 2021 Ireland’s small business community faced the perfect storm: Brexit, international supply chain issues and a pandemic. For big business these conditions can be extremely challenging, for a small business they can be critical.
Despite these conditions, they adapted, pivoted and with the help of their Local Enterprise Office, they kept going. Many saw opportunity in adversity and have established thriving businesses that can operate seamlessly in this new and uncertain world.
Our businesses don’t want to dwell on the past two years, they want to look forward, with hope. We want to equip them to think about the future and the possibilities that lie ahead.
The network of Local Enterprise Offices has adapted its offering to adapt to a changing world.
Last year, I had the privilege of launching the LEO Green for Micro programme, a scheme to enable businesses to take those first steps on becoming more sustainable. Businesses know this is not just about the environment but that their partners and customers demand sustainable practices and that this is a smart move for the future.
This year, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will be supporting the LEOs to help small businesses begin their journey of digitalisation. The benefits of introducing digitalisation to any business are well known but can be daunting. Similar to ‘Green for Micro’ the new digitalisation programme will help businesses take those first steps and see how the process can benefit their business.
The world continues to become a smaller place and this has never been truer than for our small businesses. In the past two years we have seen thousands of Irish businesses create an online trading presence. In the past two years more than 17,000 enterprises have been approved for the Trading Online Voucher – a truly remarkable uptake by our small businesses.
This has enabled them to open their doors to the virtual world. Exporting and selling into new markets has never been easier for small businesses and we plan to support more businesses to grow, scale and reach export stage this year and into the future. Ireland’s small businesses can compete with the best in the world and we will give them the tools to help them achieve that.
Last year we saw more Local Enterprise Office clients continue their growth by transitioning on to Enterprise Ireland. In total, 131 LEO clients transferred to Enterprise Ireland to continue their growth and maximise their export potential.
The Government wants to make sure this transition is seamless. Working together, Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs will ensure that companies of all sizes are provided with a flexible model of service in response to their growth and development needs.
I also want to take a moment to mention some upcoming changes that I know will affect a lot of you watching.
We will be bringing in significant reforms to improve workers’ terms and conditions this year. There will be five new rights - statutory sick pay, the right to request remote working, the protection of tips, new redundancy rights for people laid off during the pandemic and an additional public holiday to bring us in line with our European peers. We will also make progress on auto-enrolment ensuring that everyone has access to an occupational pension to supplement the State one.
I know to many of you that might sound like a list of extra costs but I believe the pandemic has prompted a permanent shift in the way we perceive work and the broader economy – not just here in Ireland but internationally. As policymakers, we must respond.
These new protections must be part of the legacy of the pandemic. I will be listening to the views of small business as these reforms are introduced and keeping a close eye on costs and competitiveness.
I firmly believe that better pay, benefits and protections for workers will help us to recruit and retain the skilled staff we need to power the 21st century economy. I will also be advocating for reductions in the cost of childcare for working parents as it is a huge barrier to fuller participation in the workforce by parents and women in particular.
2021 was a challenging year for Irish businesses but what the figures show is that Irish businesses have remained strong, they are innovative, and they can adapt to the conditions set out in front of them. We now have a stronger stock of businesses across the country, and many have future proofed themselves over the last two years by upskilling, by finding new markets, by innovating.
There are brighter days ahead for our small businesses and we will continue to ensure we have the supports to enable them to flourish. In 2022 we hope to see a more settled market and a chance for our companies to look forward and for them to know that their Local Enterprise Office will be there to guide and assist them every step of the way.