Helping small business grow in a recession
As a membership organisation our performance is closely aligned to the performance of our members. There is no doubt the recession is having an impact on confidence, however, our members are continuing to provide a range of training and consultancy services and our recession proofing services are in great demand. Enterprise NI, which represents the network of local enterprise agencies, is currently delivering contracts through its members on behalf of Invest NI, Department of Employment and the Special EU Programmes Body and so our “order book” is quite healthy, although the challenge is always to secure new contracts before current ones run out.
Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
We are always looking at innovative ways to improve the services we offer to our members and are looking at a number of joint-purchasing initiatives to tap into the buying power of the local enterprise agency network. We are also hoping to bring a major UK conference on business incubation to Belfast later this year; if successful, it would be the first time this conference has been held in Northern Ireland. Another exciting project planned for later this year is when I hope to arrange for the local enterprise agencies to host a study visit to Northern Ireland by representatives of the Iraq Basra Development Commission who are looking for ideas on business start up interventions for the post-conflict Iraq.
What are the long term prospects for your organisation?
All membership organisations must constantly review the services they offer to members. Enterprise NI is constantly refining its membership offering and is looking at ways to expand membership so in short, it’s positive but challenging.
What are the biggest challenges facing your organisation?
The Review of Public Administration (RPA) will most likely result in “ownership” of small business interventions shifting from Invest NI to the new 11 “super” councils and is the single biggest strategic issue for us. This poses the question: “Who will be responsible for small business policy?” We cannot have a situation in 2011 where there is not a unified small business policy for the province. Enterprise NI is well positioned to provide a solution for government.
Could the Government help you to do business better?
The Executive continues to take whatever measures it can to help businesses through the current recession. The £45m package of assistance recently announced will provide a much needed boost. The cash freeze on non-domestic rates for 09/10 is also to be welcomed. Invest NI will soon launch its new Small Business Support programme and I hope the local enterprise agencies are well placed to play a major role in the delivery of this initiative throughout Northern Ireland. One thing which government could undoubtedly help with is the public sector procurement process; at the moment it is unbelievably slow. This has ramifications for social economy, not for profit organisations in terms of HR planning and cash flow.
Why would someone want to work for you?
Enterprise NI provides great exposure to a multitude of tasks and situations. Working in a membership organisation is also a great environment for networking and you get the opportunity to meet lots of important people — recently I was in No 11 Downing Street meeting the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling.
Your views on the economy, please.
In 2007 the UK’s national debt was 36% of GDP; by 2011 it’s projected to be 56%! Change on that scale is usually brought about only by a major catastrophe, like war! There needs to be a shift in resources from the public to the private sector. However, the large public sector would suggest that Northern Ireland will be impacted less by the current downturn than other regions of the UK. On the plus side, certain parts of the local economy will be assisted by the weak value of sterling.
The business climate — good or bad?
It’s not all gloom and doom. For example, some of our local enterprise agencies have reported an increase in property enquiries and many more are seeing an increase in the number of people enquiring about starting their own businesses. Also, the Enterprise Northern Ireland Loan Fund for small businesses has never been more popular as small business owners seek to inject some short term capital into their businesses.
What ambitions do your have on a personal level?
Nothing too fancy; just to give 100% to my work and to hopefully “do unto others as I would have others do unto me!”
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a big connoisseur of the French film genre (especially anything starring Juliette Binoche) and I like nothing better than relaxing while watching a movie. For exercise I do a lot of walking and swimming. I’m also a big football fan and locally, I support Glenavon.