Top European committee in Athlone to discuss helping small businesses

Political representatives from local and regional governments from across the 27 Member States of the European Union will gather in Athlone’s Sheraton Hotel on September 29-30 for a major conference, to discuss the problems that SMEs are facing and how to help these businesses grow and create jobs.

With most jobs in the EU provided by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs ), the EU Committee of the Regions (CoR ) in conjunction with the Association of Irish Regions and the BMW Regional Assembly, will organise a conference on ‘Supporting our SMEs – overcoming barriers to their development’ which will discuss the contribution that SMEs make to the economy and the impact of the proposed Small Business Act for Europe which the European Commission is bringing forward to help make policies more SME friendly.

The conference, which is the initiative of Cllr. Constance Hanniffy, President of the Economic and Social Policy Committee of the CoR, will be officially opened by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD and will include interventions by Gunter Verheugen, Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry; Frank Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Ireland and Minister Hervé Novelli, from the French Presidency of the European Union.

The conference comes at a time when small businesses face a number of challenges, not least the difficulties created by the international financial climate.

Cllr Hanniffy, in announcing details of the conference in Brussels, underlined that SMEs are vital to maintaining the viability of the communities, ensuring economic stability during times of economic change and have a high degree of loyalty and responsibility to the areas where they are based. They need our support and all authorities need to ensure that their policies are SME friendly”.

There are more than 23 million SMEs in the European Union and it is now accepted that they need better access to finance, skills and innovation; better regulation and less red-tape; enhanced access to public contracts and overseas markets; and implementation of policies which protect their interests.

In Ireland over 97 per cent of all businesses are classified as ‘small enterprises’ (they employ less than 50 people ) and Cllr. Hanniffy said that the establishment of the Small Business Forum in 2005 had helped to identify the particular needs of Irish enterprises and that good progress had been made in following up on its recommendations.

She did say however as part of a draft response to the Commission’s proposed Small Business Act “that we can always improve and learn from others and that the latest proposals from the European Commission are welcome. What we now need is implementation of the ‘Think Small First’ principle and there is a role here for local and regional authorities in reducing the administrative burden on small companies; reviewing the culture of buying goods and services and looking at how charges are applied and how local and regional authorities interact with the small business community”.

The conference will take place in the Sheraton Athlone Hotel on September 29-30 and will coincide with a meeting the Economic and Social Policy Commission of the Committee of the Regions, which takes place on September 29.

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