For small and medium enterprises (SMEs), Budget 2019 contained some treats, although they’re being viewed with caution.
Included are a future growth loan scheme for SMEs and the agri-food sector, as well as more generous terms for the unloved key employee engagement programme (Keep).
“The devil is in the detail,” said Sven Spollen-Behrens, the director of the Small Firms Association. The previous Brexit loan scheme, for example, didn’t encourage him, with relatively low take-up.
“Our businesses are screaming for working capital. It isn’t necessarily going to be Brexit-related so this could be good, but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association.
Last year’s budget looked promising but the Finance Bill dampened expectations somewhat, SME business leaders say. And that’s one of the reasons there’s initial scepticism surrounding Keep.
McDonnell says there’s yet more confusion after the Minister’s speech on Tuesday. “He used the expression that the limit has been lifted to lifetime. Does that mean there’s a lifetime maximum you can gain under this scheme?”
More egregious was the small increase in the earned income credit of €200 when the gap between self-employed workers and PAYE workers was €500.
“That was such a petty, nasty little measure,” McDonnell said. “There’s no justification for that sort of discrimination. If we were talking about people in the public sector, there’d be marches on Kildare Street.”
Spollen-Behrens noted that the full cost of equalising the credit would have been just €37 million. “If you compare [the strategy] for foreign direct investment and multinationals, we still don’t have a clear coherent strategy for [SMEs].”
That was such a petty, nasty little measure. There’s no justification for that sort of discrimination. If we were talking about people in the public sector, there’d be marches on Kildare Street