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Isme boss: Some senior officials think small firms ‘fiddle expenses’

The chief executive of Isme said the State had a blind-spot over small and medium businesses.

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Neil McDonnell, the chief executive of Isme (Screenshot/Oireachtas TV/PA)

Neil McDonnell, the chief executive of Isme (Screenshot/Oireachtas TV/PA)

Neil McDonnell, the chief executive of Isme (Screenshot/Oireachtas TV/PA)

The head of a lobby group for thousands of Irish businesses has claimed that a senior trade union official and a senior civil servant have accused small business owners of “fiddling their expenses”.

Neil McDonnell, the chief executive of Isme, (the Irish SME Association) also claimed that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been a “blind-spot” for Government.

Mr McDonnell told the Special Committee on Covid-19 that the voice of the SME sector has not been heard throughout the pandemic.

The committee heard from a number of lobbying organisations about the reopening of the economy.

Mr McDonnell accused the State of being “fixated” on the foreign multinational corporation (FMC) sector.

Our interactions with the upper reaches of our public service and Executive leave little doubt of their perception that big business is good, small business is badNeil McDonnell, Isme

He added: “We have no issues with FMCs, which are some of the best customers for our SMEs. But our indigenous industrial policy must be fit for purpose, and focused on those areas of greatest systemic importance to the Irish economy, to society, and to the Exchequer.

“This issue is particularly important in the context of Government response to the Covid-19 pandemic, because many of the missteps with the pandemic unemployment payment, the temporary wage subsidy scheme, the trading online voucher scheme, and the return to work safely protocol, could all have been avoided if there was a formal liaison between Government and small businesses.

“Unfortunately, SMEs continue to be a blind-spot for Government.

“It is hard to say why this is the case, but our interactions with the upper reaches of our public service and Executive leave little doubt of their perception that big business is good, small business is bad.

“Big corporations pay their taxes, while small business owners ‘fiddle their expenses’.”

“This is not merely anecdotal. I have personally heard it said to me by a senior trade union official and by a senior civil servant, that the lower tax credit available to the self-employed, and the USC surcharge imposed on high-income self-employed are justified by their ability to fiddle expenses.

“This is baseless and unsustainable.”

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A man walks past a mural in Dublin (PA)

A man walks past a mural in Dublin (PA)

PA

A man walks past a mural in Dublin (PA)

When probed further about the claims by Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane and Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Mr McDonnell said it was senior officials in the Department of Finance that told him they believe small businesses “fiddle with their expenses”.

Meanwhile, lobby group Ibec (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) called for the Government to reduce the two-metre social distancing rule to one metre.

Its chief executive Danny McCoy also called for the removal of quarantine restrictions in place for people arriving in Ireland from overseas.

Mr McCoy added: “Significant measures will need to be taken to protect the livelihoods of both households and businesses, get people back into jobs, and bring forward maintenance and investment projects from an extended capital plan.

“For now, the immediate actions required from Government are: the removal of the quarantine restrictions; replacement of the two-metre social distancing to a one-metre requirement; and an extensive and systematic Covid track and trace programme.

“If the rules are inevitably going to be changed then business must know when.

“Uncertainty around the timing and application of rules will compound economic and social destruction,” he added.

PA