Chamber News

This morning (5th October 2020) Chambers Ireland expresses concern at new advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team that the entire country should move to Level 5.

Speaking this morning, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “This latest announcement will come as a shock to businesses and local economies throughout the country, who have been doing their best to adjust to the new reality of living alongside the threat of Covid-19.

“Our members have many questions regarding the new advice. How has it arisen that only a few weeks after the publication of the “Living with COVID” strategy, we now find ourselves in a situation where we are jumping multiple levels overnight?

“The goal of the Roadmap, as we had understood it, was to give society as well as the business community, a clearer idea of how Government would respond to a rise, or indeed a decrease in cases. The message from NPHET, and the lack of communication from Government, is causing a significant amount of concern.

“We understand the challenges of managing Covid-19, and as a representative body, we aim to support Government in addressing this crisis. However, in the absence of clarity and data on the spread of the virus and the capacity of the system, we are unable to provide information to our members, and ensure that the required solidarity and compliance will be in place. Government must also improve the process of communication between NPHET, Cabinet, and the Covid-19 Oversight Committee, to ensure the public, especially the business community, is receiving clear information and guidance. 

“The current approach of regularly introducing new restrictions is not sustainable in the long-term. And so, Government must rapidly evolve its thinking in how it plans to supress the virus while living alongside it. The medical and scientific advice tells us that the best way to manage the latest outbreak is to effectively lock down most of society, flatten the curve and reduce the worst impacts of the virus by protecting people and saving lives. 

“Our question to Government is that if a new lockdown is necessary, what will follow? How will the strategy for living alongside the virus be altered so that we do not find ourselves in a new wave of restrictions and closures every time we ease measures?

“The State’s highest priority at present needs to be assigning sufficient resources to our hospital capacity and ensure that contact tracing and testing becomes effective at limiting the spread of this disease. It is only with better enforcement and intelligence that public health officials will be able to track the virus and stop it spreading. The alternative will be repeated local restrictions across the country, the costs of which will be devastating to the economy. We must endeavour to do all that we can to avoid such an outcome.

“The long-term impact of the repeated introduction of new restrictions cannot be under-stated, Businesses have been devastated over the past 6 months, with many now facing much reduced liquidity, and much higher debts.

“The reimposition of restrictions be they Level Three, Four or Five, must be accompanied with a targeted package of financial supports for the businesses and employees impacted. At this point, we have no clarity from Government what financial supports they intend to make available to businesses across the country to support them.

“This must be clarified urgently and must include wage supports, grants and other liquidity supports. Forbearance and flexibility from State agencies, banks and landlords must also continue to play a significant role in how we support the business community and our wider society. It is in nobody’s interest to see liquidations, business closures and increased vacancies in towns and cities throughout the country.

“We re-iterate our message that the risk of under-reacting is much greater than over-reacting. Government must use every available resource to tackle the spread of the virus and support local economies to withstand the impact. We call for information and clarity from coalition leaders immediately."

Waterford simply cannot go to Level 5 is the message this morning from Waterford Chamber CEO Gerald Hurley. Speaking following NPHET’s recommendation that the entire country moves to Level 5 for at least four weeks, Mr Hurley is calling on Government to consider regional infection rates.

“It is imperative that Government look at this in relation to case numbers. Yes Waterford spiked a couple of weeks ago, but we did our bit and our incidence rate is now at 35.3 per 100,000, while the national average is 108 cases per 100,000. We have shown the rest of the country it can be done, and we should not be penalised for the lack of effort of others.

“Waterford cannot afford to move to Level 5. Our economy has been tumultuous over the past number of years to say the very least. We have fought back and as a community we have worked together to bring about sustainability and growth. That is now in jeopardy. Our business community and the wider community has suffered enough and quite simply, we must remain at Level 2.

“We now need the Government to make an early announcement that Level 5 is not an option for the counties that have the virus under control. We do not want to have to take two steps back here in Waterford. Retailers and the wider business community have done everything asked of them since March. Looking at our numbers, we are the safest city in Ireland and we should not have to enforce further restrictions at this time.

“There is also the wider economic impact that needs grave consideration. The Government will have to provide the right supports for businesses if they are to survive this and make no mistake, many won’t make it.

“It is unfathomable how we can move from Level 2 straight to Level 5. What is the purpose of the step approach? Level 3 in Dublin cannot be enforced so how are they going to manage Level 5? There is a lot more transparency needed from Government right now. This is people’s lives they are dealing with and we deserve better.”

Following the publication of the Exchequer Returns for September, Chambers Ireland today (2nd October 2020) calls on Government to maintain supports for the badly impacted areas of our economy. Ensuring that we maintain supports will be essential if parts of the economy are to survive the pandemic. Budget 2021 must also minimise longer-term detrimental economic impact through prioritising funding for capital infrastructure and our town centres.

Speaking this evening, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive, Ian Talbot said, “The extent of the deficit is not a surprise, given the broad effects of the pandemic related restrictions on the economy, and the need for necessary additional spending on the health service.

“The figures highlight the widening gap between the Multinational sector and the real domestic economy. This emphasises the need for the state to take a counter-cyclical approach to the 2021 budget cycle.

“Many things are uncertain, but we know the economy has suffered a shock unlike anything in our lifetime and there is a growing concern that the long-term unemployment may permanently scar the careers of the younger generation.  Unlike past recessions this generation will not have the option of emigrating in search of work. This suggests that unemployment will decline slowly after Covid-19 and so Government needs to ensure its impact is minimised.

“Today’s Exchequer return figures emphasise the need for government to act boldly and accelerate expenditure on capital infrastructure to ensure that the economic disruption is minimised.

“Hugely important to this is the government prioritising, and appropriately funding, the Town Centre First strategy from its programme for government.”

Click on the video player below to view a series of profiles of companies participating in Toys4Engineers 2020. Alternatively, click here to view the videos on Waterford Chamber's YouTube channel.

Chambers Ireland, today (1st October 2020), welcomes the publication by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Affairs of the voluntary “Code of Conduct Between Landlords and Tenants for Commercial Rents”.

Speaking this morning, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive, Ian Talbot said, “As our members know from direct experience, and as our Business Community surveys have repeatedly shown, Covid-19 has caused income shocks which have had profound effects across the cities and towns of this country.

“Everyone in the business community will need to demonstrate flexibility and forbearance if we are to limit the long-term economic effects of this crisis.

“Throughout this crisis Chambers Ireland has argued that “those who can pay, should pay” and we continue to reiterate this. But this needs to be complemented with a realistic and pragmatic approach from all creditors, and particularly landlords that have tenants that are struggling to meet their obligations.

“With the domestic economy bearing the brunt of the economic impact of Covid-19, a large number of otherwise viable businesses may become insolvent as the impact of unpaid invoices reverberates from creditor to creditor.

“Liquidity effects will see many individual businesses struggle during this crisis, but the broad sectoral effects may mean that the commercial vacancy problem that already damages the local economies of our cities and towns could escalate if landlords and tenants do not engage with each other to ensure the sustainability of both parties.

“It is essential that both landlords and tenants should act reasonably, swiftly, and transparently in finding a sustainable solution to this temporary crisis and all parties should act in good faith. A key element of this will be to ensure any scheduled repayment of deferred rent will not compromise the ability of affected tenants to recover from the crisis.

“The Department of Finance’s presentation to the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council noted that “some firms/sectors [are] potentially not viable with social distancing”, suggesting that whole classes of industry are now under threat. This is likely to make finding replacement tenants a challenge, particularly if a failure to control Covid-19 leads to repeated cycles of restrictions and re-openings.

“Where tenants and landlords fail to engage in the manner suggested by the Code of Conduct, both sides are likely to experience the worst outcome for their businesses.  Everyone will be poorer if businesses, that would otherwise be viable, are forced to avail of examinership, receivership, and liquidation.

“It is only through sustained collective action that we will be able to regain control of the virus, and thereby mitigate the worst effects of this crisis on our society and our economy. Today’s Code of Conduct is a welcome approach, and we urge all stakeholders to engage with it.”

Happy to Chat BenchesWaterford Chamber, Waterford City & County Council and other stakeholders, have been actively promoting the Big Little Ideas campaign, calling on the public to be part of Waterford’s recovery.

One of the ideas, ‘Happy to Chat Benches’ which was submitted by Deirdre Phelan of Property Partners Phelan Herterich, will be officially launched on 1st October as part of the citywide celebrations to recognise the Day of the Older Persons.

Mayor of Waterford City & County, Cllr Damien Geoghegan, Mary Butler TD, Minister of State Department of Health with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People and Danette Connolly, Waterford Chamber President and National Clinical Lead of Home Instead Senior Care Ireland visited William Vincent Wallace Plaza, one of the five sites where a ‘Happy to Chat’ bench has been identified.

According to Minister Butler, “Loneliness and social isolation represent significant public health risks in our communities. They are non-discriminatory, affecting people from all walks of life, regardless of their age, social circumstances or whether they are urban or rurally based. Initiatives like the ‘Happy to Chat’ benches will offer people an opportunity to reach out to others.

“‘Happy to Chat Benches’, which can be already found across Europe, help tackle loneliness and isolation in the community, by breaking down the invisible wall between strangers who might be sitting side by side but uncertain about starting a conversation. The underlying belief was by simply stopping to say “hello” to someone at the ‘Chat Bench’ could make a huge difference to the vulnerable people in communities and help to make life a little better for them.”

Mayor Geoghegan outlined where the benches will be located. “Five city centre benches will be dedicated to the ‘Happy to Chat’ initiative, one on The Quay, one on the Plaza, one in John Roberts Square, one in Michael Street, and one in Hanover Street.

“These are difficult times for everyone and it is okay not to be okay. We are asking people to take time out, use the clearly identifiable benches if you are happy to lend an ear to someone or if you need to someone to listen. These benches are for everyone, for those with life experience and words of wisdom to share, or young people who just need an open ear. Above all, we ask people to be kind and support each other.”

“We have seen wonderful creativity through the Big Little Ideas campaign”, said Chamber President Danette Connolly. “These benches are just the one of many initiatives to come to fruition and if they will make life that little bit easier for just one person, particularly in these difficult times, then they can only be a good thing. We must remind people to respect the initiative, use it appropriately and of course maintain social distancing and HSE guidelines.”

Latest Chambers Ireland COVID-19 Survey Shows 30% Decline in Turnover Even After Economy Has Reopened

Chambers Ireland and our nationwide network of chambers has today (24th September 2020) published results from a survey of the Irish business community. This survey seeks to quantify and highlight the impact of COVID-19 on businesses in towns, cities, and regions across the country.

The survey, which is the fifth in a series, captured over 860 responses during the lead up to the imposition of new restrictions on activity in Dublin. This is the first Chambers Ireland survey in the series that focuses on business activity and outlook during a period where most parts of the economy had re-opened following the Covid-19 restrictions introduced in March.

Business activity is typically down 32% across the sample, though with strong business-size and sectoral effects. Revenue expectations over the coming quarter are expected to be 36% below baseline and has finally aligned with the outlook for the next 12 months, at -33% below baseline.

Speaking this morning, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “The data we are publishing this morning captures what the economy looks like while the virus was under control. Significantly, even during circumstances where the outlook is relatively stable and the economy is mostly open, businesses are telling us that, on average, they envisage turn-over to be 30% less than this time last year. Some sectors are suffering significantly worse than others, but no sector can be considered to be doing well.

This data also supports the theory of a more “K-Shaped” recovery, where larger firms are doing badly relative to a normal year, but SMEs are impacted significantly more. This may have to do with the predominance of SMEs in affected sectors, but the regional effects are important too.

In line with the ESRI’s report on SMEs which was published last week, the debt burden for SMEs is growing with Sole Traders believing that they will only be able to service 48% of their debt that falls due over the coming 12 months.

Liquidity is likely to continue to prove to be a problem for many businesses as considerable outstanding invoices are beginning to steadily build up. Again, the burden is being felt hardest by smaller businesses with as many as 50% of Microenterprises saying that they are having difficulty receiving payments for outstanding invoices.

It is important to bear in mind that this research illustrates sentiment in the economy while the outlook was stable, and before any of the new restrictions in Dublin were introduced, and as such represents a baseline for how the economy fares while Covid-19 is contained.

If we enter a phase where we swing between restrictions and relaxations, the impact on the business community will be significantly worse that the outlook presented in today’s research.

Where does this leave us?

The current “Living with Covid-19” strategy is set to last for the next 6 months, in all likelihood, we will be living with this economic impact for much longer.

Our members across the Chamber network understand the importance of protecting public health through reducing contacts and avoiding circumstances where people congregate. But this has a cost, and the business community cannot bear this alone. Supports introduced to date have been valuable in sustaining business through the first wave. However, it is likely that much more will be needed over the coming months.

The State’s highest priority at present needs to be assigning sufficient resources to ensure that contact tracing and testing becomes effective at limiting the spread of this disease. This has to become an imperative if we are to avoid large-scale community outbreaks.

It is only with better intelligence that public health officials will be able to track the virus and stop it spreading. The alternative will be repeated local restrictions across the country, the costs of which will be devastating to the economy. We must endeavour to do all that we can to avoid such an outcome.

Forbearance and flexibility from State agencies, banks and landlords must also continue to play a significant role in how we support the business community and our wider society. It is in nobody's interest to see liquidations, business closures and increased vacancies in towns and cities throughout the country.

Finally, business needs certainty in the type of financial supports available to them, particularly if they are to be impacted by new restrictions. Any new funds committed to business supports must also be delivered rapidly.

Existing measures for firms which are in areas that have not yet suffered from extra restrictions must also be fit for purpose. For example, schemes such as the EWSS must be improved so that businesses can receive subsidies more promptly. The commercial rates waiver must be extended to a full 12 months. The sectors worst impacted are also likely to need further targeted interventions.

If protecting livelihoods is the objective, then Government, through Budget 2021 must recognise what the business community has come to understand, Covid-19 will be with us for some time, and every part of our society needs support.”

T4E 2020 Digital

While the majority of Waterford Chamber's events have fallen victim to Covid-19, CEO Gerald Hurley says they refused to give up on Toys4Enginners, one of their most popular events.

“Toys4Engineers is now in its fourth year and has become the perfect platform to connect like-minded people from across Ireland and beyond in the area of engineering, be it in pharma, research, ICT, tech and so on.

“Ultimately the aim of the event is to showcase companies and encourage them to do business and the success of that has been noted with various contracts that were done over the past number of years.

“To date, the event has been held in WIT Arena, but in light of Covid-19, it has now moved to a digital platform and instead of one single day, it will run from October 6th to 8th via www.toys4engineers.ie. There was just no way we could let it go and we are delighted to have the full backing of Waterford City & County Council as our event partners. We enjoy putting it together too much and the ethos of the event is around innovation, so we challenged ourselves to embrace that and come up with a new format that would appeal to everyone. We have gathered some of the brightest minds in the country for our panel discussions and they will cover a broad spectrum of topics, from robotics and automation to pharma and agri-tech”.

There are four key elements to this year’s event, a digital expo, which is designed to showcase products and services through video. Then we have the conferences, which will be held daily and moderated by industry professionals and these are kindly supported by IDA Ireland, Cobotics Skillnet and Waterford Local Enterprise Office.

“Running concurrently and in association with IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, there’s Meet the Buyer. This will be done in a private capacity and aims to connect indigenous companies and multi-nationals. Finally, we have our recruitment element, in partnership with Crystal Valley Tech, which is designed to promote Waterford and the South East as a great place to live, work and do business, with hundreds of live roles being advertised and private meetings being held between candidates and recruiters.”

All elements, except for the digital expo, are completely free. To showcase your products or services, we are offering you a digital platform to a target audience. This includes the filming and editing of your own video, which you can keep for further use and which will also feature on www.toys4engineers.ie for the year ahead, as well as social media promotion. It will also be shown each day of our online event.

If you would like to take place in our digital expo please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Toys4Engineers is kindly supported by Waterford City & County Council, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Engineering South East, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford Chamber Skillnet, Cobotics Skillnet, Waterford Local Enterprise Office and Metalman Engineering.

 

 

Chambers Ireland today (22 September 2020) launches new data on engagement with training and life-long learning between the months of March and June. The survey polled businesses and employees to find out whether businesses were upskilling in response to COVID-19, and if so, how and what they were training in.

The data found that:

  • 1021 Businesses participated in the skills questionnaire
  • 867 were employers
  • 69% of businesses which have employees conducted training over the Covid-19 lockdown period
  • 52% of business operators participated in training during the Covid-19 lockdown period, including 68% of sole traders
  • Those who are working from home were mostly likely to engage with training
  • Outside of general CPD, the most popular topics for training included COVID-19 related issues, technical skills development, management skills and marketing

Speaking in response to the findings, Chambers Ireland President Siobhán Kinsella said, “The data we are publishing today gives us useful insights into business behaviour. Firstly, it is heartening that despite the constraints on business during the lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions that so many businesses invested in their employees by engaging in upskilling and training. Through refreshing expertise and learning new skills, businesses took positive steps towards making their staff and their business more resilient in a time of crisis.

“What really stands out is the kinds of areas that businesses were investing time to upskill in. For employees that received training: Covid-19 associated training was the most common. Through this, businesses tackle the challenges that Covid-19 pose to their activity ranging from PPE training and hygiene skills to stress management and mindfulness training.

“Next most important was technical training which saw a major investment in digital skills. Management was another important area particularly for business which had to transform their activity to support remote working.

“Digital and management training were areas that were noted for attention in previous Future Jobs Ireland reports as requiring targeted interventions, Covid-19 highlighted the deficiencies in these areas, and businesses have responded.

“Another area of innovation has been multimodal training. Businesses are simultaneously using different methods for training for their employees in particular areas. This demonstrates that flexibility in how we offer training options to employers if they are going to be able to avail of them. One-size-fits all has never been the right approach, but the complexity of the workplace under Covid-19 means that both trainers and funders will need to alter their approaches.

“With times as uncertain as they are, and the rapid transition to remote and flexible working, it is so important that our SME managers have access to training and supports. There is an opportunity to use the National Training Fund to both improve digital literacy and create more online trainings for businesses seeking to adapt during these challenging times.

“The newest Solas Strategy recognises this need, and programmes like Skills to Advance and Skills to Compete, have huge potential. Through strategic engagement with industry and business representative bodies, to tackle skills gaps and prevent patterns of long-term unemployment from emerging.

“The adaptability of our workforce to switch to online learning also shows what we can do as a workforce and an economy if we can improve digital literacy across the board. Despite improvements in recent years, Ireland still ranks below the EU average when it comes to digital skills. If we could improve digital literacy, we could do so much more to improve the productivity and competitiveness of the businesses operating in our economy

“Budget 2021 must ensure appropriate resources are available to improve digital skills, deliver digital training supports to in-working training, and to those who are but of work due to COVID-19. Short, sharp, targeted interventions can ensure that those who have lost their jobs are supported to transition to other sectors. A wider variety of digital courses for those in work will ensure that existing jobs are more resilient to ongoing turbulence in the economy.”

As the number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Waterford, Waterford Chamber is appealing to everyone to please be extra vigilant and compliant over the coming weeks.

We have been informed by Waterford Council and the HSE that the coming weeks are critical. We are facing down the barrel of having to move to Level 3 – lockdown. It has also come to our attention that a number of businesses have been somewhat lax in their approach and this is not acceptable.

Another lockdown would be a disaster for Waterford’s economy, which has been hit so much in recent months. Times have been tough, they continue to be so, but a second lockdown would be unthinkable. There are so many external factors at play in our lives right now, Brexit, a recession and of course Covid-19, all of which spell impending troubled waters ahead.

We have a window of opportunity to bring this disease under control and to keep Waterford at Level 2 restrictions. To do so, we all need to act now and break the chains of transmission, to ensure we live as optimally as we can with the virus, keep our schools open, resume non-covid healthcare and protect our vulnerable people.

We all have a responsibility now to act. Protect yourself and your staff, follow the guidelines and move on if you are not comfortable in an establishment that isn’t following guidelines.

In your personal life, please adhere to the following:

  • Meet less people inside your home.
  • Limit the number of people you meet outside your home as much as possible.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Prioritise the people you need to see, keeping groups small, and seeing them regularly, rather than meeting lots of different people from different households. Concentrate on your core circle in the coming weeks.
  • With those you do meet, be particularly attentive to safe practices - keep your distance, wear a face covering where appropriate, cough into a tissue and bin it, wash your hands.

The message remains the same, but please double your efforts in the coming days and weeks and let us all be advocates of Covid good behaviour.

Let’s not exacerbate the situation by adding a second lockdown. Do your bit – keep your community and yourself safe.

Speaking earlier today (15 September 2020) Chambers Ireland Chief Executive, Ian Talbot said, “Chambers Ireland welcomes today’s announcement by government of a medium-term roadmap – something which our network has been seeking for a considerable period of time.

“Covid-19 means that businesses are operating under uncertainty and against considerable economic headwinds. This morning’s report “COVID-19 pandemic and SMEs revenues in Ireland”, published by the ERSI, demonstrates the disastrous circumstances which SME and Microenterprise businesses are facing out towards the year's end.

“It now seems unlikely that our economy is on the ESRI report’s optimistic trajectory. The SME sector, which employs 63% of people working in Ireland, looks like it will be having a catastrophic 2020.

“It remains the case that the risks adherent to this pandemic are asymmetric, the risks associated with under-reacting to the virus far outweigh the risks of over-reacting.

“Businesses need a clear strategy outlined by government so that they know what will occur during the reimposition of restrictions that many businesses are likely to experience over the winter. There cannot be room for ambiguity as a huge number of businesses will have to minimise their exposure to risks if they are to survive into the new year. If they are to know what the right decisions are to be, they will need to be certain of, and trust in, what the government’s response will be.

“In addition to direct support to maintain employment through this exogenous economic shock, there is a clear case for the government to introduce a counter-cyclical and stimulatory budget next month.

“There is an existing shortfall in infrastructure which needs to be made good – the demands of the Green Transition will necessitate the revitalisation of our urban areas, the modernisation and expansion of our transport networks, and the reinforcement of our energy grid. This budget must aim to close that gap.

“Over the coming decade, these works will need to be done regardless. It makes sense to carry them out now when interest rates are negative and there is likely to be excess capacity in our construction sector for years to come.”

 

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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."

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