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Initiative could create thousands of jobs

Pic 1 SME
Judith Cochrane MLA, Chair of the APG on SMEs with Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton MLA and Chief Executive of Enterprise NI Gordon Gough.
Rebecca Kincade on March 17, 2014 - 1:00 pm in News

Judith Cochrane MLA, Chair of the Assembly group formed to support the SME sector in Northern Ireland has said that creating an environment whereby every SME can employ one more person in the next four years has the potential to create thousands of new jobs.

The second meeting of the All Party Group on Small and Medium sized Enterprises called on the Finance Minister to cut red tape and support the advancement of the “1 more in 4” initiative.

The group’s initial fact-finding event, last year, revealed some of the difficulties associated with setting up and maintaining small businesses in Northern Ireland.

SME owners and leading industry experts advocated the need for a strategic policy to encourage growth. They also pushed for a more extensive roll out of government mentorship programmes to increase confidence amongst entrepreneurs and to enable job creation through business expansion.

Attendees at the meeting were given the opportunity to direct their concerns at the Minister for Finance, Simon Hamilton MLA who outlined his Department’s plans to support the SME sector. He said: “I welcome the opportunity provided by the All Party Group on SMEs to engage with a range of businesses from across Northern Ireland. I am determined to playing my part as Finance Minister to achieve the Executive’s aim of growing a vibrant and dynamic economy. Supporting SMEs through rates, procurement and improving access to finance is something I am committed to and today’s meeting lets me hear directly from businesses about what they think my Department should be doing to help”.

Judith Cochrane MLA, Chair of the All Party Group on SMEs said: “This meeting has provided SMEs with the unique opportunity to engage directly with Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton MLA and put forward ideas about how he and his department can better support the needs of the small business community in Northern Ireland”.

“What is quite clear is that SMEs require more support from the Executive and from local representatives to ensure that they can gain the confidence and skills required to grow their business and as a result offer employment opportunities.”

“I am confident that if we tackle the main barriers to SME growth we can create an effective environment to ensure that we deliver on the ‘1 more in 4’ aim”.

Gordon Gough, Chief Executive of Enterprise Northern Ireland said: “It is encouraging to hear that SME interests are high on the Finance Minister’s agenda. However, it remains vital that there is a two pronged approach to improving the business environment – Yes, there needs to be policy reform but hard work and encouragement on the ground must continue”.

“Enterprise Northern Ireland will continue to play its role in supporting entrepreneurship by providing tailored services to its members and by successfully delivering national contracts such as the Regional Start ‘Go for it Programme’, ‘Exploring Enterprise’, and the ‘Small Business Loan Fund’ in the hope that this will increase SME capacity for offering new employment opportunities”.

“The APG represents an effective way for SMEs to directly engage with Government. I am confident that the Finance Minister will deliver the feedback that he received today to his colleagues at the Department of Finance”.

Angela McGowan, Vice-Chair of the Board of Enterprise Northern Ireland and Danske Bank Chief Economist, who facilitated questions and answers to the Finance Minister at the event said:

“On a positive note, the Northern Ireland economy is set to expand in 2014 – with private sector growth in particular helping to re-balance our economy.  The role of small firms and new start-up companies will be instrumental in driving that growth and creating jobs”.

“There are of course challenges for the SME sector and also for new enterprises; but the collaboration that is currently under way with enterprise representatives, the business community and government augers well for the future potential of these indigenous companies”.

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