“Every 10 euro spent locally on Irish products generates 24 euro of benefit to the local community,” claimed the Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) in a recent call for Irish shoppers to shop locally and buy Irish in the run-up to Christmas. The Epoch Times spoke to ISME CEO Mark Fielding to find out why the organisation felt so strongly about their recent initiative.
“We issued the statement earlier on in December – just in connection with the importance of shopping locally – and we are asking people not only to shop locally, but also to buy Irish. Both of those coming together will be a great help to businesses,” said Fielding.
“We find that there is a correlation between retail sales and job hours and an increase in jobs,” he said. “Where there is an increase of maybe one or two per cent in retail sales, within about two or three months you will see that there is a correlation, and there will be an increase in jobs. So it is quite important this Christmas that people, when they are spending, that they look for the Irish products and they shop locally, because it affects the local economy.”
“We would say that for every 10 euro that’s spent in a local shop buying Irish products, that that has an affect of 24 euro within the local economy – from buying from the local producers, paying for local services and, obviously, paying wages to local people as well,” said Fielding.
The ISME CEO wanted to get the message across that every shopper has an influence. “It is very important for people who think that they can’t influence the economy – you can do your best if you shop for Ireland this Christmas,” he said.
Softening of the ‘Guaranteed Irish’ Message
According to Fielding, the strong “Guaranteed Irish” message of the past has been softened due to pressure from Europe.
“The EU put their foot down and said that if you are part of the EU, you can’t be trying to favour one country over the other,” he said. “But we in the ISME would say that we need to be looking after our own and it is so important that we look after each other, and if there is a choice between an Irish product and an imported product, that we go for the Irish product and we support our own. Not only does charity begin at home, but business begins at home as far as we are concerned,” said Fielding.
Fielding explained that the main reason that the Buy Irish Campaign isn’t as strong as it was is because of the EU rules – the Irish government used to sponsor the Buy Irish Campaign, and it can’t do it anymore. “It is really depending now on people themselves to do it, so that is why we are issuing these statements – just to remind people of the importance of buying Irish and buying local,” he said.
Challenges for ISME Members in 2014
2014 was a challenge for ISME members, continuing on from the previous years. However, Fielding says “we would say that things have started to improve. One of our members said to me about one month ago that in May things stopped getting worse, so that was another way of saying that things have not only stopped getting worse, but they’ve started to get better.”
Fielding says his members are seeing a slight pick-up in retails sales. “The economy has started to pick up. The problem is that the economic figures that are put out are GDP figures that take into account all the multinationals, and you can’t really judge it that way because multinationals use transfer pricing and all sorts of stuff. So that distorts the Irish figures, but if you look at the NDP figures they have started to improve, and that is the important thing,” said Fielding, adding that: “We are expecting a bit of an increase in retail sales this Christmas.”
ISME carry out surveys on a quarterly basis with their members that measure across 12 indicators. “The last quarterly survey we did was in September and all 12 indicators showed a positive trend over the last two quarters, so things are starting to pick up. But we still need to be careful – it is not something you would be throwing a party about,” said Fielding.
What lies ahead for ISME in 2015
“2015 looks a little bit more positive but we are still very cagey, it is cautious optimism,” said Fielding. He was quite serious, however, when he pointed out that his members are not achieving anywhere near the turnover of 2007/2008 before the crash. “We just have to keep an eye on our costs and that is the major issue for small businesses, and they have cut down their costs as much as they can. But every time they open the post there is a letter either stating that gas is going up or electricity is going up, or that the cost of transport is increasing. So we need to keep an eye on what we call ‘government influence cost’ – whether that be rates, local authority charges, or energy costs. And then the major ones for small businesses, in particular, are labour costs,” he said.
According to Fielding, one of the top priorities for SMEs is to keep an eye on the cost of labour. “I know it’s popular to say that we need to be paying people more because people have been on the breadline for the last number of years, but we have to start being more productive and making more to actually be able to afford to pay more. So labour costs in the small sector, especially, are quite important. Having said that, we expect 2015 to be better than 2014,” he said.
“Our big item next year is to continue the pressure that we have been putting on the government to reduce state influence costs – that is our number-one priority. Our second issue next year is the status of the entrepreneur, or business person. We need to make sure that that gets its proper recognition,” said Fielding.
“Just to give you an example, self-employed people are paying higher taxes than employed people, and the self-employed are people who are employing other people, so when the government talks in terms of being pro-enterprise…with their talk they say it, but with their actions they do the opposite,” he said.
“What we are trying to get is equality and fairness into the tax system, whereby entrepreneurs will be taxed at least at the same level as employed people, and that is not too much to ask.”