Speech: Conference on SMEs in Bucharest

Buna ziua!  Hello.

 

Ma numesc Theresa Griffin. Sunt Membru al Parlamentului European.  Sunt fericita sa ma aflu aici cu ocazia acestui eveniment.

And I do apologise, but that is about as much Romanian as I have.

I am delighted to be here today with you.

I represent the North West of England in the European Parliament – a region that is thriving with small and micro businesses and includes the creative hubs of Manchester and Liverpool.

85% of all new jobs in the EU between 2002 and 2010 were created by SMEs, particularly by new firms. 32.5 million people in the EU are self-employed.

I believe that there are four key factors for an SME to succeed: peer support and networks, seed funding, relevant and flexible investment and good mentoring.

We need to make sure that access to these key strands of support are open to everyone who is considering starting a business or seeking to grow their business. From tech innovators to fashion designers – the SME world is diverse and exciting.

We need to invest more in Research & Development and Innovation. We need to dedicate increased resources and create innovative networks, bringing together universities, research labs and SMEs, covering the whole value chain.

SMEs must have good and easy access to financing, and we should do even more work to develop innovative financial instruments relevant to the needs of SMEs.

EU financial instruments put in place in 2007-2013 have a proven added value and have made a positive contribution to at least 120,000 SMEs, helping to maintain 851,000 jobs since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008.

There are European budget lines available such as COSME, which will allocate €2.3 billion between 2014 and 2020 to strengthen the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises in Europe.

However, existing and new lines of finance should be coordinated with use of other EU instruments such as budget lines for cohesion policy or the Horizon 2020 7-year research framework programme.

There are also other solutions, such as a North West organisation – Juxdit- which is a crowdfunding company that brings together the creative community to support SMEs with innovative financing.

I know that in the North West of England, European Regional Development Funding for business support has been absolutely critical. The Big Enterprise in Communities scheme has opened that door to hundreds of people who would not have otherwise been able to start their own businesses.

However, we should always keep in mind that even if excellent support is offered in major cities to SMEs, that is not always where they are found or indeed want to be based.

We should work more on getting that support out of our cities and into our rural areas  – our market towns and our villages to make sure that it is not just those that are well geographically located that receive this support.

I often find that it is the cities where SMEs thrive – because of these networks, because of these programmes – and we need to work on extending this out and making our passion for business even more inclusive.

A key organization providing critical support in the North West is Another Level, which offers webinars and interactive workshops as well as 1-to-1 support for those that may find it more difficult to get to city-centre spaces.

We can improve SME competitiveness by fostering new technologies, limiting energy costs, promoting legislation to encourage recruitment, reducing bureaucracy and developing a modern public administration to support SMEs.

Additionally we need to ensure that business support is properly accessible to young people – at the minute it is often very corporate and off-putting to young entrepreneurs who just need that bit of extra support or an understandable answer to a question they need to resolve.

There are great European Regional Development Fund programmes in the North West that are trying to tackle this very issue in interesting ways – for example ‘The Lock In’ in Liverpool is an ‘all-night’ business event in a bar and creative space, where young entrepreneurs can network in a relaxed environment and bid for funding by pitching their ideas to a panel of experienced business people.

It is ideas like this – innovative ways of providing support – that I love. We need a flexible environment for SMEs where the rules of participation and openness should ease the flow of ideas and information, not hinder or restrict it.

However, we all know that SMEs are not just developed by support and mentoring, they can be quickly brought down by problems with funding. I am not just talking about seed funding here – which is vital – but funding and payments once a SME is already up and running.

It should be recognised that SMEs have different business needs than bigger organisations. The EU must develop a network for business support services by helping enterprises to improve their competitiveness and explore business opportunities in the single market and third countries.

For example, an issue such as late payments can seriously negatively affect an SME.

I have recently been in contact with a SME who had to wait months for a payment from a public body due to their bureaucracy only to then have the amount disputed as the body had lost the invoice – this is not acceptable.

Headcount and investment decisions can be stifled by late payments, and the fear of consistent late payments. This is not fair for SMEs and harms their growth and growth of the wider economy.

But we need to make sure that we get any changes to legislation on this issue right and that any changes that are made do not then have further, inadvertent, negative effects on business, and particularly SMEs.

Most importantly, I’m sure we all know that talent, and talent at business, will be stifled in an unequal society. We need to break down barriers and create a fair society and equal opportunities for all.

From the teenager with a great idea in a major city, to the mother in a rural area who wants to take her skills and start a small business.  For her, in my constituency, an organization like Sefton and Liverpool Women in Business  is so important – providing business support and mentoring to women looking to get back to work by starting a business. We need more organisations across Europe that can provide this support.

Setting up a SME, and trying to grow one, can be scary – particularly if you are on your own and you are taking financial risks by personal investment or by sacrificing salaried positions – but it is possible.

It is even more possible with the right support.

Support that means that SMEs have good networks.

Support that means they can take risks and fail and still carry on, that they should not have to prove commercialisation in their initial stages.

That Research and Development continues and is allowed to flourish, and innovative financial models are developed and we continue to put funding into schemes that will actually help SMEs, and not just big business.

And of course, that easy access to all of these things is recognised as being absolutely vital.

European intervention will, and can be, key to better provision for micro-businesses and SMEs – we must continue with these valuable support systems – and work to make them even better, even more relevant by listening to and learning from small businesses and entrepreneurs.

 

Thank you. Va multumesc!