Draft Corporate Plan Response
Omagh Chamber of Commerce Response on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s – Draft Corporate Plan 2015 – 2019
Omagh Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) are pleased to comment on the Council’s Draft Corporate Plan 2015 – 2019. The Chamber is a representative organisation for micro and small businesses within the Omagh Council district and currently represent over 125 businesses. Our aim over many years has been to have a focus for micro businesses and in job creation so that they continue to grow and prosper. We are the largest representative business organisation in the new Fermangh and Omagh region and are particularly mindful of the difficulties still currently being experienced due to the continuing impact, economic conditions are having on our members. In this new chapter of local government, Omagh Chamber will wish to play an active role in developing micro businesses within the region and sees itself as a key partner for the Council, as an organisation with a deep understanding of their needs and requirements.
In responding to the Corporate Plan, we wish to also make comments in relation to the Organisational Structure as well as the role the Council will lead in the delivery of the ERDF Investment for Growth & Jobs Programme (2014 – 2020), as they are interlinked. Therefore this response is split as follows, so as to allow for clear dissemination of our comments.
- Draft Corporate Plan 2015 – 2019
- Council’s Organisational Design
- ERDF Investment for Growth & Jobs Programme (2014 – 2020)
Draft Corporate Plan 2015 – 2019
The Vision as outlined is “Fermanagh & Omagh, the place of choice – where people, communities and businesses prosper”. When we examine the content of the Plan we feel that there is a clear absence of a focus on micro businesses. With almost 8,000 businesses in the Fermanagh and Omagh region with almost 87% of these employing less than 10 employees, the micro business sector is the driving force for employment and collectively is the largest employer in the new region. Therefore, we feel that there is a need for the Council to develop another theme specifically relating to ‘Supporting Micro and Small Businesses’. The Chamber is very willing to work with the Elected Members and Council staff to develop this theme further.
It is essential that the Council, as a new entity, also has as a core Value, a ‘Business Friendly’ ethos, one that constantly promotes micro business development and job creation. In developing this theme, it will create transparency in delivering ‘outcomes’ with specific targets for job creation with a corresponding increase in micro business.
The impact of the ongoing recession in the Omagh District has seen since 2008, a reduction of 165 businesses to 3,190 in June 2014 .
 DETINI – Interdepartmental Business Register (Latest Results – Published 25th July 2014)  Reference as above – 87% is the Northern Ireland average
Council’s Organisational Design
To deliver the Corporate Plan successfully there is a need for the organisational structure to underpin it. The Chamber feels that there is a need for the Council to implement a range of initiatives so that a ‘business friendly’ ethos is central to the way in which it operates. We are detailing theses as follows:
At the Governance level the Chamber believes that there is a need for a formal Business Committee in the Council reporting structure to ensure that officers have a clear reporting structure, to Elected Members so as to reflect the needs of micro and small businesses.
To support the Business Committee the Chamber feels that the Council should elect a ‘Business Champion’ from the Elected Members, who will act as a catalyst for the promotion of the micro business sector both locally, regionally and nationally.
In order that the micro business sector can develop and grow, there is a need for a specific Directorate for Business, with line responsibility to the Business Committee. Currently the organisational structure is particularly weak in this area. Without a specific Directorate with a clear focus on developing the micro business sector the Chamber feels it will be difficult to meet the requirements of the ERDF programme as previously mentioned. It is important that there is one unit in the Directorate for Business. As this is a new organisation, duplication must be avoided. One unit within the region is preferable, irrespective of where it is located, as it will have a synergy and energy to deliver real outcomes for micro businesses. The Chamber feels that staff should not be located in both Fermanagh and Omagh.
The Chamber would recommend that the Council carry out ‘Business Impact Assessments’ on its own policies and procedures to ensure that they support the micro and small business sector. At this time the Council is not aware of any of the new 11 Council’s implementing such an approach, but it is an innovative idea to create internal benchmarks to support the micro and small business sector. As this is a completely new approach, the Chamber is prepared to work with the Council to develop it further; one that will not be time consuming, but will ensure that any policies or procedures are ‘business friendly’.
 DETINI – Interdepartmental Business Register (Latest Results – Published 25th July 2014)
- Council should create a formal Business Committee to report to on all business matters.
- An Elected Member should be elected to act as the Council’s ‘Business Champion’
- Council should have a separate Business Directorate with a clear focus on promoting the development of the micro business sector
- There should be one distinct Business Department, with all staff reporting to it, irrespective of its location. This should be implemented as soon as possible
- Council should implement ‘Business Impact Assessments’ on all policies and procedures to ensure that they are supporting the micro business sector
ERDF Investment for Growth & Jobs Programme (2014 – 2020)
– SME Development and Growth. Local Economic Development Activity
Under Priority 2 SME Development & Growth the focus is to create jobs with the focus on the micro and small business base (i.e. those with under 50 employees). In Northern Ireland the target is to create 34,000 jobs by 2023. The ERDF Programme Intervention rate is 60%. Matched funding of 40% is a requirement of the Programme. Invest NI it appears will be prepared to consider contributing half of the required 40% match where the Programme activities proposed align with its’ overall objectives. This would mean that the Council are required to fund 20% of the Programme. However this matched funding should not be seen as the only funding allocated by the Council to the development of micro businesses.
The Chamber notes that DETI and Invest NI presented information to representatives from the 11 new Councils and NILGA in February 2014 and that in May 2014, an ‘indicative’ allocation for Fermanagh and Omagh was provided.
On the basis of this Fermanagh and Omagh will receive €1,578,340 from ERDF. Invest NI and the Council will
therefore have to fund approximately €315,668 each, representing their respective 20% requirements.
It is the Chambers understanding that Fermanagh & Omagh Council has developed a range of ‘pipeline’ proposals. The Chamber is concerned that with such a major programme; designed to assist the micro and small business sector; that no consultation has been undertaken with us or to our knowledge with our members. The Chamber is very firmly of the opinion that programmes must meet the needs of the micro business sector and that ‘active engagement’ is essential. We would request that the range of ‘pipeline’ proposals are discussed with the Chamber and that no submissions are made to either DETI or Invest NI until the views of micro businesses in the region are sought.
In meeting the target of job creation the micro and small business sector in Fermanagh and Omagh will need to create approximately 2,980 jobs. With almost 8,000 businesses which are PAYE and VAT registered, the Chamber feels that the Council can achieve this target. However, this means having a clear focus on the creation of jobs as a priority and working in a collaborative manner with the Chamber.
The Chamber believes that when the amount of funding is finally decided upon, that all programmes are targeted towards firstly the micro business sector and then secondly the small business sector. It is important that the Council establish the exact numbers of micro PAYE and VAT registered businesses. The percentage of micro businesses in Northern Ireland is 87%, however this may be higher in the Fermanagh and Omagh region.
The terminology commonly in use to describe businesses locally is the SME Sector. This is unhelpful in understanding the dynamics of the local makeup of businesses. As outlined in this document the driving force for employment in the Council area is the micro business sector. The Chamber would request that the Council uses the terminology Micro; Small and Medium Business Sector to reflect the importance of micro businesses in the local economy.
- That immediate consultations are undertaken to establish the needs of micro businesses prior to any ‘proposals’ being sent for approval to the ERDF.
- When the final budget allocation is known programmes must be proporitonately allocated to the micro business sector first and then to the small business sector.
- The Council should use the term Micro; Small and Medium Businesses.
The Chamber’s members have voluntarily gave a considerable amount of their time in researching, preparing and responding to this consultation. We would therefore like to have a full written response to the recommendations made in this submission.
The Chamber is keen to ensure that it supports the Council in its work, in these challenging times and will meet with the Elected Members and Officers to further discuss and clarify anything in this submission.