Small and micro businesses across Northern Ireland face financial ruin without significant and substantial government intervention, a cross-party group of MLAs has been told. The newly-reconstituted All Party Assembly Group on Micro and Small Business met yesterday (Wednesday 21 September) for the first time in the new Assembly mandate and heard concerns from entrepreneurs about the cost-of-doing-business crisis as well as the loss of EU structural funding.
Enterprise NI, the organisation which supports Northern Ireland’s aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups and works with more than 4,000 entrepreneurs and micro and small businesses every week, is facilitating the cross-party body and has warned that uncertainty over the replacement of EU funding risks creating a cliff edge for existing business and budding entrepreneurs.
EU funds played a key role in supporting enterprise agencies to provide start-ups with the training, tenancies, and advice and guidance they require to help them achieve their business ambitions. Enterprise NI has highlighted that the proposed replacement, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, is not as substantial as previous EU funding and warned that enterprise and local entrepreneurship will be among the hardest-hit casualties if it is not distributed effectively.
The group will meet on a regular basis to discuss issues affecting small and micro businesses across Northern Ireland. It will be chaired by UUP MLA for East Antrim John Stewart, a former business director, with Alliance’s Sorcha Eastwood MLA as Vice Chair and South Down DUP MLA Diane Forsythe as Secretary.
Michael McQuillan, Chief Executive, Enterprise NI said:
“Northern Ireland is a small and micro business economy at its core, and it is vital that our SMEs and entrepreneurs are fully cherished and supported. We have over 120,000 small and micro businesses operating across this country which provide jobs and sustain livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of us. The current trading environment, however, is extremely hostile to small businesses with the cost of doing business squeezing start-ups out of the market before they even get off the ground.
“The reconstitution of the APG on Micro and Small Business comes at a vital time. In the absence of the local political institutions and inflationary pressures on businesses like never before, bodies like these are crucial in bringing together our MLAs to hear the concerns of business and find solutions. As well as the cost-of-doing-business crisis, there remains a looming cliff edge over previous EU funding which has been so important in fostering enterprise in Northern Ireland.
“There is, however, an opportunity to build a new way with entrepreneurs at the centre, underpinning Northern Ireland’s 10X ambition and future Programme for Government aspirations. There is potential to generate sustainable measurable local impact, highly cost effectively, through an NI-wide entrepreneur-centric service. Enterprise NI have designed a refreshed service with the aim of delivering a more connected support ecosystem for entrepreneurs and businesses and we are looking forward to working with members of the APG to secure vital support for our proposals.”
John Stewart MLA, UUP MLA for East Antrim and new Chair of the APG on Micro and Small Business added:
“This is an incredibly difficult time for our small and micro businesses right across Northern Ireland. As well as being the new Chair of the APG on Micro and Small Business, I also have personal experience as a director of a small, family-owned business and know well the challenges that entrepreneurs face. I am committed to working with parties across our Assembly to deliver solutions and supports which will ease the current cost-of-living crisis as well as other challenges including the replacement of EU funding and supporting Enterprise NI’s proposed new service for entrepreneurs and start-ups.”
Diane Forsythe MLA, DUP MLA for South Down and Secretary of the APG on Micro and Small Business said:
“As someone with a background in finance and accounting, I am acutely aware of the pressures on business owners and entrepreneurs, and which supports will deliver for them most. During this term, I am determined to help our small and micro businesses navigate the current challenges while continuing to nurture the spirit of entrepreneurship which is so important for Northern Ireland.”