As all counties in Ireland are now operating at Level 3 of the National Framework for living with COVID-19, Shannon Chamber, on behalf of its 320 member companies is calling on everyone in the Mid-West region and beyond to abide by the clearly defined restrictions for this level, to facilitate a reduction in the spread of the virus and to enable a swift return to Level 2, if not Level 1.
“Businesses, especially those operating in the hospitality and retail sectors, are greatly impacted by the move to Level 3 and, as outlined by our keynote presenter, journalist and broadcaster Ian Kehoe, at a webinar we hosted in conjunction with Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Clare, our economy, and by default the supports that the Government can give to keep the economy moving, is very much linked to the corporation tax emanating from the business sector.
“A move to Level 5, while not totally negated at this stage, would be a retrograde step for our economy, our health and well-being. Each of us, at an individual, family and business level, must play our part in preventing this happening,” stated Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes.
Commenting on the presentation made by Ian Kehoe in which he covered a diverse range of topics, Ms Downes stated: “As always, Ian Kehoe gave us a lot of food for thought. In stating that the new oil, or gold, of business is now intellectual property as opposed to bricks and mortar or machinery, and generating a massive increase in corporation tax for Ireland, he outlined how this is giving the Government a buffer to handle COVID-19.
“All the more reason why we have to strive to keep our economy open”, stated Ms Downes.
Key issues covered by Mr Kehoe during the webinar was the Government’s decision to move only to Level 3. In doing so he said that the Government had taken back control of health, politics and business.
“This demonstrated a realisation by Government of businesses’ role in our recovery and getting us through COVID-19. It is now recognised at the highest level of Government that more needs to be done to connect with business; the engine of commerce must be kept moving to invest in health services. We also cannot afford to let sectors die like we did with the construction sector ten years ago,” he stated.
Commenting on a fundamental shift in our economy he added: “Remote working poses a lot of questions about work, property and offices while online shopping has accelerated the impact on retail.
“These are the kind of issues that our policy makers are grappling with in preparing for next week’s Budget 2021. A lot of what would normally be included in the budget has already been delivering via the July stimulus package so it will be interesting to see what more will be done. An extension or enhancement of the wage subsidy scheme? A shift in the hospitality VAT rate to 9% or even 5%? A reduction in Capital Gains Tax (CGT) for entrepreneurs and business, which would get transactions flowing again?
“Budget 2021 will most likely be a spending budget,” said Kehoe.
Turning his attention to Brexit, Kehoe started by describing COVID-19 as something that will change society and State whereas Brexit will result in a fundamental change to world order and Ireland’s place in it.
“So many of us are not prepared for Brexit. Despite warnings, many businesses have not done a risk register, perhaps due to the fact that the process has been going on for so long, which has led to an element of fatigue setting in. If COVID-19 had not happened, Brexit would be front and centre in every conversation,” he stated.
Concluding by taking a broad view of our economy, Kehoe said that this is a critical juncture for the Irish economy and that the forthcoming National Economic Plan will have to contain some blue sky thinking to bring it all together.
“Despite us having all the gadgets we need, there is a creeping sense that our quality of life is not where it should be. Government needs to take the chance being offered by COVID-19 and Brexit to create an economic model that gives citizens a good quality of life and standard of living. It is important also to address how we can grow more indigenous multinational companies.” he said.
Describing Ireland as the ‘Lionel Messi’ of foreign direct investment, he suggested that while the model has been so successful and become part of our mindset, we are not good at building indigenous multinationals.
“Our focus should not only be on those indigenous enterprises who are exporting but we should also broaden the capacity of our state agencies to support indigenous domestically focused enterprises who have the potential to create and sustain stable employment in our communities.”
Responding to questions from participants on the message that Google’s recent cancellation of a property lease might give to other companies, Kehoe said that any reduction in the demand for office space could lead to a softening of the commercial property market and, by default, have an impact on pensions.
Cautioning that remote working may be accepted at a high level but that it will have an impact on the younger generation he pointed to the value of hub working and the social integration benefits accruing to hubs.
“The hub strategy gives people a sense of where to go; they offer social interaction in a safe environment and people can work near where they live. We will see the real benefits of hubs over time,” said Kehoe.
This comment was welcomed by Padraic McElwee, head of LEO Clare, who believes that COVID-19 could lead to many people making a lifestyle choice and returning back to their roots to work, particularly those who work for companies that offer the flexibility of remote working.
“As Ian Kehoe stated, companies are already assessing where cohorts of their staff live and are contemplating putting or using hubs into/in those locations and using their established office base as a company headquarters. This is a very positive endorsement for the benefits of hub working.” added Padraic McElwee.