Missed opportunities must be kept on the Agenda
Shannon Chamber has described Budget 2021 as a spending budget, befitting the times we are in and containing measures that will be welcomed by business, particularly the extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), the VAT reduction for the tourism and hospitality sector, the extension of the rates waiver, the new COVID Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) and the investment in broadband infrastructure so essential to accommodate the growth in remote working.
Shannon Chamber has described these measures as an appropriate targeted response which will support businesses into 2021.
“Unsettling times call for consideration and compassion and in delivering the largest Budget in the history of the state, the Government has demonstrated a willingness to address the needs of diverse sectors, each needing support at different levels and of different magnitude, stated Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes.
“The one common denominator of every business in every sector is sustainability and striving to keep their business solvent, even when forced to close temporarily. This includes the aviation sector, one of the most severely impacted by COVID-19 and while the announcement that a €10 million capital provision is being made to address challenges facing Shannon and Cork Airports is welcome, we await details as to what this will be allocated to and at what level for each airport.
“Given the impact of COVID-19 on our airports, capital support alone will not reignite the sector. Regrettably there was no inclusion in the Budget for Opex support for Shannon Airport and given the critically low level of travel during the pandemic period this will be essential to ensure sustainability. We request that a small element of the €2.2b contingency fund is utilised to address this shortcoming. The recommendations of the Aviation Recovery Task Force must also be actioned. We would hope that these issues will be addressed in the forthcoming National Economic Plan when it is published in November.
“We also welcome the Government’s comment that ‘it looks forward to working with its EU colleagues to deliver a common approach to aviation travel during the COVID-19 crisis’. A VAT reduction for the tourism and hospitality sector will be meaningless if, due to reducing visitor numbers, particularly international, or being closed temporarily, they are not generating revenue,” added Ms Downes.
“The extension of the commercial rates waiver was a key ask of the Chamber network and the additional funding of €300 million for local authorities is welcome. We are disappointed that this rates waiver has not been extended into 2021; this will also be a challenging year for business and it is very possible that a further extension will be required into the new year,” Ms Downes stated.
As a Skillnet Network promoter, Shannon Chamber welcomed the allocation of €120 million to reskill and upskill people affected by the pandemic and the announcement that over 10,000 upskilling and reskilling opportunities will be offered through SOLAS and Skillnet Ireland.
“Having operated a Skillnet since 2015, we have witnessed a tremendous increase in demand for our training programmes, particularly since the onset of COVID-19. We understand the value accruing to offering people the opportunity to reskill and upskill as is enhances their value to their employer, and their ability to transfer within companies and within sectors, should they be faced with unemployment. This has been a key focus of Shannon Chamber Skillnet in the past seven months. We look forward to working with Skillnet Ireland to securing additional funding to assist our member companies in the months ahead. It is essential, as an island economy, that we continue to support, retain and upskill our existing workforce to remain attractive to our existing and new investment,” added Ms Downes.
While appreciating the challenge facing Government in compiling Budget 2021, Shannon Chamber commented on what it describes as missed opportunities.
“More should have been done to support entrepreneurs through the reform of Capital Gains Tax, and other entrepreneurial reliefs, albeit there is a commitment to review the Employment and Investment Scheme (EIIS).
The lack of change in tax reliefs for remote workers is also disappointing given that an increasing percentage of the workforce is now working remotely. We do however, welcome the commitment to developing digital hubs to support workers and students alike,” Ms Downes said.
“Living alongside the pandemic remains our immediate challenge, but a sustainable recovery, that reaches all parts of the country, must be central to the National Economic Plan next month. We would hope that the €3.4 billion recovery fund might be allocated on a broad regional basis to addressing the pressing needs of this nation as it forges its path through COVID-19, Brexit and beyond,” concluded Ms Downes.