Chamber News

Chambers Ireland has today (1st September) sent a letter to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin outlining the concerns of our members regarding the Government response to Covid-19 in advance of the Dáil reconvening.

Chamber Ireland Concerns:

  1. There is a need for additional supports to help areas where restrictions must be reintroduced, to sustain businesses that are active in those areas, and then to support them upon reopening.
  2. It is critical that there is a co-ordinated, coherent and clear programme of policy and communications from government, the absence of which is undermining the viability of businesses and the sustainability of our economy.
  3. There are failings in the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme which need to be addressed urgently.

Speaking today, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “Chambers Ireland welcomes the early reconvening of the Dáil this week as there remains many policy areas which need the immediate attention of government. The transition from a set of temporary schemes to a longer-term response is to be welcomed but has not been communicated or co-ordinated as effectively as it might have been.

Businesses need to know what will happen if their area gets caught up in the future restrictions of an outbreak. Staff need to know that their jobs will be supported if their area is locked down. Government action in the three counties that suffered the reintroduction of restrictions, while welcome, has been limited to mentoring supports, marketing for the county, and training vouchers. If businesses and jobs are to be sustained through periods of restrictions, additional supports for cashflow will be required.

And, critically, we need a generalised, co-ordinated and coherent policy response to this disease. It is six months since the first Irish case of Covid-19 was diagnosed, and still businesses are trying to make decisions while the policy and regulatory environment is shifting on a month by month, even week by week, basis. Businesses continues to call on Government to provide certainty and sustainable long-term support during what will be a difficult winter trading period.

Of most concern at present is the transition from the TWSS to the EWSS scheme. This transition is concerning for several reasons and includes eligibility, the sudden change of rate from €350 per week to €203 per week and the proposed seven-week delay in payment of the subsidy to businesses. The new changes could seriously undermine the objective of the Subsidy, which is to support business cash-flow so that jobs can be protected.

We urge Government to work with the business community to ensure that a coherent, co-ordinated national policy response is put in place to support local economies and communities as we continue to grapple with the threat of the COVID-19 virus.”

A new partnership has been announced between Chambers Ireland and health and wellbeing provider, Health Assured, to offer a new Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to their Chamber members.

Chambers Ireland’s new partnership with Health Assured will offer business members within our network a reduced sign-up rate to a 24/7, 365 confidential telephone support and counselling service, as well as to a wide range of wellbeing resources via an online wellbeing portal and mobile app, including articles, fact sheets, videos, webinars and self-help programmes.

David Price, CEO of Health Assured, said, “Health Assured is delighted to be partnering up with Chambers Ireland and their members. With one in four people in Ireland predicted to suffer mental health issues at some point in their lives, and despite the significant progress made in modern society, the long-standing stigma that was once attached to mental health conditions still plays a role in preventing many employees from coming forward to their employers regarding their mental health.

With the clear links between employees’ wellbeing and their level of performance and morale at work, taking note and modifying the way you address mental health at work should be of the up-most importance. We hope that our new partnership with Chamber members will go a long way towards ensuring that those who need support in a professional or personal capacity, always have somewhere to turn.”

Welcoming the new programme, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “Chambers Ireland is pleased to play its part in encouraging the importance of looking after the mental health and wellbeing of employees, as we all adapt to new measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

By partnering with Health Assured to offer our members the opportunity of a reduced sign-up rate to this programme, we hope to see businesses across the country avail of these essential resources for health and wellbeing support.

COVID-19 will have disrupted many aspects of people’s lives, particularly in the area of mental health.

It is vital that particular care and attention is paid to people’s mental health as they continue to work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and this new Employee Assistance Programme is intended as a key resource employees can turn to for support.”

The fourth Regional Leaders Programme is now open for applications and Waterford Chamber are looking for professionals who have management potential, run their own business or looking to advance their career to join.

While Covid-19 has had a huge impact on Chamber events in recent months, CEO Gerald Hurley says the Regional Leaders Programme is an important part of the business community that must be maintained at all costs.

“The minute Covid-19 hit we moved the programme to a digital setting and we were delighted to be able to facilitate one to one meetings, speaker sessions and group webinars, which ensured everybody could complete the programme and not miss out on anything.

“While Covid-19 has been a tough road for us all, in terms of the Regional Leaders Programme it has allowed us to be innovative and reach out to national and international business professionals who are at the top of their game to come on board.

“This year we are launching with a host of new leaders, along with many familiar faces, so whether you are a senior executive or starting your own business, we have leaders to cater for every sector and experience level.

“Waterford Chamber facilitates a ‘Friends of Waterford’ group in Dublin, made up of high profile business people who have a special connection with Waterford, be it family or business interests and we are delighted a number of them jumped at the chance of joining the programme as leaders, including Lorcan Tiernan, Partner at Dillon Eustace; Jack O’Keeffe, Director, Focus Capital Partners, Eugene O’Callaghan, Director, Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and Damien Gaffney, Principal and Director at Tetrarch Capital.

“Also joining us this year are international coaches Benedek Frank, Hidai Degani, O.H Degani Consultants and known locally we have Shane O' Sullivan, Inspiring Excellence and Richard Burke, Resilience Matters, among others.

“Our programme is unique in that it is created by the business community for the business community and our leaders are the best in the business, giving of their time voluntarily to ensure we build a strong and vibrant business environment for all.

“Of course the programme wouldn’t be possible without the support of our industry partners Bausch + Lomb and Waterford Chamber Skillnet, who will subsidise the programme by 25% this year. Now at €262.50 for the nine-month programme, it offers incredible value for anyone who wants to do something for themselves professionally in a cost effective way with maximum outcome and on their own schedule.

“Covid-19 has taught us all to work smarter and the Regional Leaders Programme is the perfect next step.”

For more information on the Regional Leaders Programme, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Chambers Ireland town centresIn a submission to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Chambers Ireland today (30 July 2020) calls for the establishment of an inter-departmental National Town Centre Taskforce to revive urban centres, address the issues of vacancies, incentivise brownfield development and ensure that our cities and towns across the country are supported through the post-COVID recovery.

The Programme for Government committed to a ‘Town Centre First’ policy approach, founded on the Town Centre Health Check research, to ensure that our cities and towns become vibrant places for living and working in by removing the blight of underused and vacant urban building stock.

Even before Covid-19, a Town Centre First programme was critically important and urgently needed attention with Irish national commercial vacancy rates at 13.3% (GeoDirectory). Meanwhile, research from the Parliamentary Budgetary Office, published 28 July, demonstrates that at least 18,000 new homes would become available if vacant properties were activated.

In the wake of Covid-19, with the global economic downturn likely to gravely impact our economic performance, a well-resourced Town Centre First programme would serve as a platform for a counter-cyclical economic stimulus – supporting jobs while carrying out much needed public works at a cost-effective point in the economy cycle.

An impactful Town Centre First programme would position Ireland to be more competitive, with sustainable housing and resilient local economies and communities, and would allow us to take better advantage of the rebound to the global economy, which may be another three years away.

Speaking today, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “As part of last week’s July Stimulus, €10 million was allocated for Town and Village renewal schemes. With 300,000 people living in over 600 small towns and villages this will not have a noticeable impact at the national level, and it neglects the urgent needs of over 3,000,000 people who are living in the urban areas of our cities and towns across every county.

“The Heritage Council’s town centre health checks have demonstrated that our urban spaces are among the least active in Europe. The economic burden of vacancy is felt very heavily in our towns and cities. The Covid-19 crisis is already making the vacancy problem in our town centres worse. Business owners are experiencing significantly reduced footfall and business activity.

“The Programme for Government makes a commitment to a ‘Town Centre First’ approach. If this objective is to be successful it will require the Taoiseach’s leadership and a cross departmental approach. Coordinating the policy activities of the departments of Planning, Housing, Enterprise, Transport and Finance with the actions of Local Authorities is too broad a brief for any one minister and will require the Taoiseach to lead the way if we are to make the necessary changes to change a system that has led to vacancy rates that are far higher than the EU average.

“More attractive urban spaces that support active transport can revive our high streets through supporting increased footfall which leads to higher levels of local spending. Beyond the immediate commercial concerns, making urban living viable will be key to creating sustainable communities that can succeed under the Climate Action Plan.

“There are billions of euros of works which Local Authorities have identified that need to be completed as part of the National Development Plan. Now is the time to make progress.”

In a submission to Department of Taoiseach, Chambers Ireland identified several issues which require intervention and has made recommendations on policies that should be adopted, some of which are noted below.

  • Create an Urban Living Initiative for urban spaces across the country, focusing on the development of healthy streets as in the London model.
  • What is now the Living City Initiative (LCI) should be expanded to include long term vacant commercial properties built post-1915 in the cities and towns specified in the NPF and reformed to include acquisition costs of LCI qualifying properties.
  • Introduce Section 28 planning guidelines that support prioritisation of town centre over greenfield sites.
  • Incentivise the upgrading of existing buildings as they are an essential part of conserving our carbon budget over the coming decades.
  • Empower local authorities and state bodies such as the Land Development Agency to actively manage, and masterplan, underutilised land with an effective compulsory purchase regime.
  • Reskill affected workers to make the upgrade and retrofitting of vacant properties economical.
  • Enact legislation that will empower and resource Local Authorities to establish one-stop shops to guide property owners through the planning process.
  • Streamline the planning and regulatory regime for change-of-use construction projects and above-the-shop conversions to expand the availability of housing.
  • Renew the Derelict Sites Act 1990 to strengthen its elements to incentivise infill and brownfield construction.
  • Better resource Local Authorities to initiate street improvement and active travel investments.
  • Ensure that our Local Area Plans require the people-friendly pedestrian infrastructure, segregated cycleways, and rest spots that are needed to support active transit while linking our residential areas with our civic and economic centres.

WIT main campus

Waterford Chamber has welcomed the appointment of Mr. Tom Boland, a former Chief Executive of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), as the new independent Programme Executive Director for the TUSEI consortium comprising the Carlow and Waterford Institutes of Technology.

Speaking on the announcement, Gerald Hurley, Waterford Chamber CEO said: “We are delighted to hear of the appointment of Mr Tom Boland. This is something we lobbied for at any opportunity, most notably to the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance when they visited our offices last year. We also acknowledge the Government’s commitment to ensuring the timely establishment of the Technological University and we certainly hope this new appointment will finally get this over the line.

“There has been far too long a delay on what is certain to be a game changer for Waterford. We can see the impact University status has had on other cities and Waterford is in need of such an injection.

“Mr Boland is certain to bring his experience to the table in getting the job done and Waterford Chamber gives every assurance that we will not be found wanting in our support when required.”

July Stimulus 2020Good but lot’s more to do is the line for Waterford Chamber in relation to the July Stimulus which was announced by Government on Thursday last.

The measures include:

  • Expansion of grant aid for business impacted by COVID-19
  • Extension and reform of the Wage Subsidy Scheme beyond August, to March next year
  • Extension of Commercial Rates Waiver
  • Stimulus measures to support sectors vulnerable to pandemic social-distancing, including retail, hospitality and tourism
  • Additional funding for active travel infrastructure

Speaking after the announcement, Gerald Hurley, CEO of Waterford Chamber said: “The July stimulus is a strong recognition of the gravity of the situation facing local economies and these measures will provide some breathing space for business until Budget 2021.

“However, I feel it didn’t go far enough as we must be cognisant of the ever increasing debtors lists that businesses are experiencing right now. We will certainly be in regular contact with the Government on behalf of our members as we lead up to the Budget and proposed National Economic Plan to ensure further supports are put in place.

“There are so many aspects for businesses to understand in the Stimulus and they need to understand the options available to them. We would encourage all businesses to avail of the opportunities and to help businesses, we will be hosting a number of webinars in the coming weeks to tease out all the details.

“Of course, the priority now must be to ensure that the schemes and funds announced are immediately available to business. There needs to be rapid implementation, clear communications, and equity in how these supports are administered around the country."

“We are also conscious that some of the announcements, particularly the Rates waiver, may fall short of what is needed. Our own data has shown us how deeply impacted businesses in local economies have been because of COVID-19. Many will struggle to pay Commercial rates and other bills this year, which will leave our local authority in a very vulnerable position at a time when we need them to be supporting and investing in local economies more than ever.

July Stimulus 2020Chambers Ireland welcomes this afternoon’s announcement (23rd July 2020) on the July Stimulus from Government. The measures include:

  • Expansion of grant aid for business impacted by COVID-19
  • Extension and reform of the Wage Subsidy Scheme beyond August, to March next year
  • Extension of Commercial Rates Waiver
  • Stimulus measures to support sectors vulnerable to pandemic social-distancing, including retail, hospitality and tourism
  • Additional funding for active travel infrastructure

Speaking this afternoon, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “Today’s announcements are a strong recognition of the gravity of the situation facing local economies and these measures will provide some breathing space for business until Budget 2021.

Ongoing commitments to a Wage Support Scheme, expanded grant aid and liquidity supports are welcome and have formed part of our own priority recommendation to Government in the past several weeks. The tax rebate for tourism will be also provide a welcome stimulus to the sector as it approaches the winter season.

The priority now must be to ensure that the schemes and funds announced are immediately available to business. There needs to be rapid implementation, clear communications, and equity in how these supports are administered around the country.

However, we are conscious that some of the announcements today, particularly the Rates waiver, may fall short of what is needed. Our own data has shown us how deeply impacted businesses in local economies have been because of COVID-19. Many will struggle to pay Commercial rates and other bills this year, which will leave Local Authorities in a very vulnerable position at a time when we need them to be supporting and investing in local economies more than ever. 

We had called for a rates waiver, or write- off, for impacted businesses to be put in place for up to 12 months, with Local Authorities instead being funded by central Government. While the extension to the end of September is a welcome one, more may be required.

There is now a need to move towards a more strategic approach from Government – the first six months of the COVID-19 crisis have, of necessity, been characterised by reactive measures that have changed on a monthly, and sometimes, fortnightly basis. The actions taken so far have been commendable.

While understandably the initial State response was predicated on the COVID-19 crisis being a short, sharp shock, that is no longer a tenable position. Businesses that are trying to trade through these circumstances must consider timelines that cover 6-month, 12-month, and 18-month periods. If government activity is to be effective, it will have to provide the private sector with guidance that extends across such timespans.

COVID-19 has had an impact on the global economy akin to a world war, and like a war, unfortunately, its effects will be of indefinite duration. Added to this, in 5 months-time we are likely to be dealing with a no-deal Brexit that will do further damage to our trading and domestic economy.

Chambers Ireland welcomes the Cabinet’s action on the immediate crisis and we now call on the Government to take a wider view on what the trading and business landscape is likely to look like over the next two to five years. Such a long-term strategy will need to address how we retrain our people, create jobs, invest in infrastructure, and provide housing. 

The upcoming Budget and proposed National Economic Plan will be the next opportunity to do this and we look forward to engaging with Government in the lead up to this.”

In advance of the announcement of the July Stimulus, which is expected next week, Waterford Chamber is calling on Government to give every support to vulnerable businesses to ensure their chance of survival.

Working with Chambers Ireland, Waterford Chamber engaged with their members on national business surveys and Waterford had the largest response per capita.

According to Gerald Hurley, the recommendations sent to Government this week were very much a representation of the business community in Waterford.

“At this stage it is necessary to protect jobs, prevent businesses from failing, and support the recovery. Representing 40 Chambers, more than 8,000 businesses and with a geographic reach in all major cities, regions and towns, Chambers Ireland calls for Cabinet to use all resources available to reboot the economy.

“Our members have been extremely vocal in the need for supports to continue if they have any chance of sustainability or growth. The measures introduced to date to support businesses to re-open have played a positive part in reducing some of the economic damage. In particular, the introduction of the TWSS has been extremely successful in protecting jobs and incomes, while businesses trade through the pandemic. However, it will be critical that supports like this are continued for vulnerable sectors.

“Our series of surveys and research over the course of lockdown and the early stages of re-opening, show us how deeply COVID-19 has impacted our local economy. Revenue of most businesses is about half of what it usually would be at this time of year. 
The actions Government takes in the coming weeks will determine how many jobs we save and how many businesses will survive the coming months.”

Ahead of the July Stimulus, Chambers Ireland calls on Government to take several far-reaching actions, including the following:

  1. The extension and reform of the Wage Subsidy Scheme for vulnerable sectors. This reform must include allowing vulnerable sectors, many of whom are seasonal, to hire new staff under the Wage Subsidy Scheme.
  2. A 12-month waiver of commercial Rates for impacted businesses, with an accessible mechanism, and commitment to ensure that Local Authorities receive additional central funding to make up for the short-fall.
  3. A new expansive model for grant aid so businesses can tackle the mounting costs of debt and outstanding invoices. The introduction of the “Restart Grant” was a welcome first step in supporting business to re-open, but ultimately did not go far enough. Without a significant intervention from the State, the debt burden will become insurmountable for many, with closures and job losses inevitably following.

“Our asks are not new. These are issues which have been visible since the early days of the crisis and we have consistently called for Government to intervene. Now that we have a new Government, with a new mandate, an expansive, ambitious program of supports must be introduced.

“If Government does not continue to intervene in a meaningful way, with a package totalling billions of euro, then it is quite probable that huge numbers of jobs and job creators will be lost to the economy. If the State intervenes, we have a much better chance of protecting local economies all over the country, not just in Waterford. Without such an intervention, the economic outlook is bleak.”

Waterford figures supporting local

What do rugby international Niamh Briggs, Chef Paul Flynn and radio personalities Kieran O’Connor and Damien Tiernan have in common? They are all ambassadors for a new shop local campaign created by Waterford Chamber and Dungarvan & West Waterford Chamber.

These popular Waterford figures are passionate about the need to support local right now and into the future and are asking you to buy Shop Local gift vouchers to ensure your money is spent locally.

This is the first time Waterford Chamber and Dungarvan & West Waterford Chamber have come together to advertise Chamber Shop Local Gift Vouchers. Between both Chambers, these vouchers can be spent in over 250 local businesses.

This campaign is also running in conjunction with WLR FM who are consistent advocates for supporting local and it is also supported by Waterford Council.

Vouchers can be bought from both Chamber offices in Waterford City and Dungarvan or online at www.waterfordchamber.ie and www.dungarvanchamber.ie

Tune in to WLR FM during July and August to hear the popular figures asking you to choose Chamber Shop Local Gift Vouchers and there will also be some vouchers up for grabs. But above all, please remember to ‘Shop Waterford Support Local’.

Chambers Ireland today (15th July 2020) publishes its recommendations to Government on the measures that will be necessary to protect jobs, prevent businesses from failing, and support the recovery.

Representing 40 Chambers, more than 8,000 businesses and with a geographic reach in all major cities, regions and towns, Chambers Ireland calls for Cabinet to use all resources available to reboot the economy.

Speaking today, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “Measures introduced to date to support businesses to re-open have played a positive part in reducing some of the economic damage. In particular, the introduction of the TWSS has been extremely successful in protecting jobs and incomes, while businesses trade through the pandemic. However, it will be critical that supports like this are continued for vulnerable sectors.

“The “re-opening” of the economy is a tremendously tricky task. The first Phase of lockdown ultimately involved freezing all social and economic activity. The current phase, unfortunately, is not a return to normal trading conditions, but instead is a balancing act, where we both try to live and do business around the virus, while ensuring we do everything to avoid a second wave.

“Because of this, the possibility that COVID-19 will result in a shallow recession with a V shaped recovery, is unrealistic. Instead, this crisis will likely affect us over a period of years rather than months.

“Our series of surveys and research over the course of lockdown and the early stages of re-opening, show us how deeply COVID-19 has impacted local economies. Revenue of most businesses is about half of what it usually would be at this time of year.

“The actions Government takes in the coming weeks will determine how many jobs we save and how many businesses will survive the coming months.”

Ahead of the July Stimulus, Chambers Ireland calls on Government to take several far-reaching actions, including the following:

  1. The extension and reform of the Wage Subsidy Scheme for vulnerable sectors. This reform must include allowing vulnerable sectors, many of whom are seasonal, to hire new staff under the Wage Subsidy Scheme.
  2. A 12-month waiver of commercial Rates for impacted businesses, with an accessible mechanism, and commitment to ensure that Local Authorities receive additional central funding to make up for the short-fall.
  3. A new expansive model for grant aid so businesses can tackle the mounting costs of debt and outstanding invoices. The introduction of the “Restart Grant” was a welcome first step in supporting business to re-open, but ultimately did not go far enough. Without a significant intervention from the State, the debt burden will become insurmountable for many, with closures and job losses inevitably following.

“Our asks are not new. These are issues which have been visible since the early days of the crisis and we have consistently called for Government to intervene. Now that we have a new Government, with a new mandate, an expansive, ambitious program of supports must be introduced.

In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, most economic activity was required to halt, which caused what we referred to as a mini-ice age. This decision, although the right one, has an economic cost.

If Government does not continue to intervene in a meaningful way, with a package totalling billions of euro, then it is quite probable that huge numbers of jobs and job creators will be lost to the economy. If the State intervenes, we have a much better chance of protecting local economies all over the country. Without such an intervention, the economic outlook is bleak.”

 

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"Waterford is a very attractive location for Foreign Direct Investment as it is a dynamic city which is very much open for business – the city has a proven track record of attracting investment from start-ups and expanding business, who are hugely supported by Waterford Chamber. The city, county and region offers a young, well educated workforce and is easily accessible for international visitors. Waterford’s quality of life for employees is exceptional as it blends elements of rich cultural heritage with a new and vibrant lifestyle – with new additions such as the Greenway further showcasing the county to not only locals, but visitors from all over Ireland and overseas. The Chamber has been a vital link in welcoming our companies into the local Business Community – helping them not only network, but also gain a sense of community and belonging."

Brendan McDonald, Regional Manager, South East Region, IDA

 

 

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