Cantillon: Ireland may be short of money, but not ideas

A people’s economic forum might be just what State needs

The Avoca shop in Dublin city centre. A director of the successful Avoca retail and food outlets, Donald Pratt, told a humorous story with a serious message

The Avoca shop in Dublin city centre. A director of the successful Avoca retail and food outlets, Donald Pratt, told a humorous story with a serious message

 

The Irish Stock Exchange held its Funding for Growth conference on Thursday at the Convention Centre Dublin, bringing together executives from a swathe of companies to discuss ways to improve access to capital for Irish businesses.

One of the speakers at the event was Donald Pratt, a director of the successful Avoca retail and food outlets, who told a wonderfully humorous story with a serious message. First the story.

Pratt explained to the audience that large companies generally have the option of tapping the corporate bond markets when raising capital. Smaller companies do not. He said he devised an idea recently for a type of “patriot bond” that could be used to fund smaller businesses.

People with money to invest could put it into the bonds, managed centrally by the State. Smaller companies requiring capital could then approach the middleman and access some of this capital to expand their businesses.

Not knowing quite what to do with his idea, he sent if off to various stakeholders, in and out of Government. He said he received only two replies.

One was from the Minister for Enterprise, telling him it was a great idea and that he was passing it on to the Minister for Finance for consideration.

The other reply, again congratulating him, was from the Minister for Finance, telling him he was passing it on to the Minister for Enterprise.

While capital is in short supply in Ireland, ideas to improve the economy are not. Pratt’s predicament is indicative of the brick wall of officialdom that neuters ordinary citizens and small businesses when it comes to propagating new ideas.

Where should citizens and SME owners go with plausible ideas to improve the economy? Billionaires and other members of the elite have the Global Irish Economic Forum, once held at Farmleigh and latterly at Dublin Castle.

Perhaps the Government should consider developing a similarly themed initiative for the rest of us. It doesn’t need to be a two-day shindig in a luxurious stately home. But what about a public information campaign seeking good ideas, with a centralised office to sift through the ideas and disseminate them to the relevant Government departments and follow up on their progress?

A people’s economic forum might be just what this State needs.

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