The Government must fully commit to supporting regional growth if SMEs in Ireland are to continue to thrive. This was the message of the newly elected President of CPA Ireland, Gearóid O’Driscoll, who said that the recently announced Rural Regeneration and Development Fund is welcome, but too restrictive to maximise its value.
Speaking following his election at the CPA Ireland AGM in Dublin, Gearóid O’Driscoll said the priority of his tenure will be “supporting CPA members nationwide, who service over 100,000 SMEs, to contribute to Ireland’s economic growth and success.” A native of Bandon in Co. Cork, O’Driscoll has been an accountant in practice for over 40 years. He is currently the Senior Director at ODM Accountants who specialise in strategic business and accountancy services for individuals and businesses across Ireland.
Rural Regeneration and Development Fund
According to O’Driscoll the launch last month of the €315m Rural Regeneration and Development Fund was, “only a half-step in the right direction for supporting the regions. Access to the programme is unfortunately highly restrictive, which could severely limit its ultimate impact.”
“The fund is only open to projects in communities with a population of less than 10,000. This is an arbitrary cap which will exclude dozens of towns that could benefit from its support. Clearly the fund should not be open to the major cities, but currently strategically important rural towns such as Cavan, Tullamore and Letterkenny will be unable to avail of this funding.
“The requirement for all applications to be led by a state body could stifle the creativity of many worthy projects,” warned O’Driscoll. “There are many examples of non-commercial programmes from charities and social enterprises that have had a positive impact on rural development. By insisting upon a Government agency taking this lead role additional steps are being created. This may see some ideas never get off the ground.”
Another concern raised by O’Driscoll was the requirement for the applicant to fund the initiative with a minimum 10% cash contribution. “The commitment that the Government will fund 75% of successful applications is welcome and ambitious. However, insisting upon a 10% cash contribution will restrict a lot of entrants. It also fails to recognise the significant contribution that could come in the form of volunteering time or rent-free space.”
O’Driscoll, who as President of Bandon Chamber of Commerce is responsible for the operation of the E Bandon Enterprise Centre, said that this fund should be used in part to increase the number of digital hubs. “These e-centres provide excellent opportunities for start-ups and smaller businesses to thrive without being required to make long term commitments. But the benefit is not limited to smaller companies. Remote working is increasingly common in multinationals and creating more regional technology centres will add to Ireland’s attractiveness to FDI investors.”
National Broadband Plan
Gearóid O’Driscoll said that one of the biggest barriers’ businesses face in towns around Ireland was the lack of adequate broadband infrastructure. “This is a particular challenge to successful SMEs when they begin to scale. I have witnessed many examples of companies in my area of county Cork who are forced, through poor broadband facilities, to relocate to the city centre or bigger business parks. It is essential that the National Broadband Plan is implemented in a smart and swift manner.
Gearóid O’Driscoll, President of CPA Ireland, concluded by stating the accountancy profession needed to attract more new trainees into local practices. “Over the last decade there has been a drop in the number of entrants into the profession. In recent years however there has been an increase in the number being taken on by the largest firms. This is leading to a war for talent which is very difficult for small and medium practises.
“These local firms are essential to supporting SMEs nationwide. The executive at CPA Ireland are doing excellent work in creating more streamlined education processes for would-be accountants to prepare them for the future world of work, and as President I look forward to supporting them.
Further details also published in the Irish Times, Sunday May 5th