Boost SMEs, Says MLAs

Northern Ireland's smaller businesses were in focus this week as a local politician welcomed the introduction of the Small Business Finance Scheme in the Chancellor's Pre-budget report - and another suggested a means of making Executive contracts more accessible to smaller and medium-sized enterprises, (SMEs).

Robin Newton, the East Belfast DUP MLA, (pictured) who is a member of the Assembly's Enterprise Trade and Investment Committee, said it will support up to £1 billion of bank lending and allow a separate £1 billion guarantee facility to facilitate lending to exporters.

However he has warned that this good news for local businesses must not turn into an administrative nightmare.

"There can be no foot-dragging on this matter; decisive actions are required to help small to medium businesses survive in these currently turbulent economic waters," he insisted.

"We must ensure that the many good businesses in Northern Ireland are not strangled by temporary cash flow difficulties and a closed door attitude adopted by banks."

Speaking on foot of Alistair Darling's report, he said: "The measures introduced by the Chancellor will help to ensure that businesses receive adequate financial support through these difficult times, boosting their ability to trade through the economic storm that is surrounding them."
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He also urged that effective mechanisms be put in place to guarantee that when required, funds can be "accessed swiftly and without unnecessary administrative burdens being placed on the businesses which deter them from making use of the funds in place to help them".

Meanwhile, and also on matters related to the development of smaller enterprises, Sinn Fein MLA and Economic spokesperson, Mitchell McLaughlin, has said that one further measure that may be adopted to help sustain the local economy is the tailoring of the Northern Ireland Executive's contracts into smaller, yet more numerous packages, to help local small and medium enterprises compete for tenders.

Mr McLaughlin said this week: "The Assembly should examine how Executive contracts could be scaled down and broken up in order to provide the opportunity for the small and medium enterprise section of the construction industry a chance of securing such contracts.

"Currently these contracts are bundled together and tendered for with massive budgets involved, some indeed being over the £100 million mark, which inevitable means that local firms lose out and any profits exit the local economy.

"This is not a case of not spending as much but one of tailoring the projects to suit the local economic climate.

"With small and medium enterprises making up 90% of the private sector this move would help sustain local businesses in the long term," he claimed.


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