Restoring consumer confidence, tackling the personal debt crisis and increasing the credit flow from the banks must become a policy priority for government.
That's according to the Chairman of the Small Firms Association, Ian Martin, speaking at the SFA's Annual National Conference in Dublin today.
"Restoring consumer confidence must become a policy priority for government, just as it is for individual businesses in their own strategic plans. It is essential that action is taken to address the challenges in the domestic economy to ensure it does not hinder future growth and prosperity for many indigenous small firms," he said.
The conference was told that a new survey of members found that increasing employment levels is viewed as having the greatest potential to improve consumer confidence (94pc) and that is why it is critical that the Government's "Action Plan for Jobs" and "Pathways to Work" initiatives are delivered.
However, they must also go further and "ensure that every single policy emanating from Government is "job-proofed", i.e. an analysis is conducted on its likely impact on jobs. For example, the slashing of redundancy rebates for employers in last December's budget and the Department of Social Protection's current proposals to introduce mandatory sick pay and pension provision on employers which will dramatically increase the cost of employment to small businesses and will see many more businesses stop hiring or indeed close as a direct result."
Increasing credit availability from banks to SMEs is viewed as critical by 91pc of respondents to improving consumer confidence. We welcome the Government backed loan guarantee scheme and micro-finance funds, but need to see sustained progress by the two pillar banks in meeting their E3.5bn lending targets this year, and a defined Government policy for introducing more competition into the SME marketplace, to solve the dual problems of availability and increasingly, the cost, of finance.
The survey also found that 91pc of SFA members also believe that realistic measures to tackle the personal debt crisis will also lead to a substantial improvement in consumer confidence. While many are in very genuine difficulties as a result of job losses and negative equity, we are also concerned that the net savings ratio has jumped sharply to 10pc. Many consumers have accelerated debt repayment over and above what is required and are building a rainy day fund as they hear these negative stories in the media. The normal savings ratio for Ireland should be 5pc. The achievement of this would release a vital E1bn into the domestic economy.
"I set up my own business, Martin Services, which now employs 22 people in Dublin, Cork&Belfast and supplies first aid and hygiene products, in 1982, and we have seen the good times and we have seen the bad times. I firmly believe, that despite all the challenges, we are well on the way to creating a better, more sustainable, economic future for all our people," said Mr Martin.