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Government to give money to small businesses to get them online

Government vouchers of up to €2,500 will be granted to small Irish businesses with an online plan.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

A NEW INCENTIVE scheme to get at least 10,000 Irish businesses online is being launched by government today.

As part of the first phase of the National Digital Strategy, small and medium-sized enterprises will be able to avail of a ‘trade-on-line’ voucher programme, once the firm matches the amount granted.

The scheme is capped at €2,500 per company but businesses may request less funds, depending on the project.

The money can be used for banking systems or to extend a customer base but ultimately, the Department of Communications wants to get 2,000 more firms trading online over the next two years.

Minister Pat Rabitte said the cost of the scheme will be included in Budget 2014 this October.

“Many of our schemes have ceilings but this is one that if demand exceeded expectation, it would be a good thing…Performance will definitely shape the future of it. It is amenable to tweaking.”

The scheme, which will be trialled with 50 companies in Dublin before being rolled out across the nation, will be managed by local enterprise offices.

Currently, just shy of 23 per cent of SMEs in Ireland trade online but 73 per cent of the €3.7 billion spent by Irish consumers online last year leaked out of the economy.

Speaking in Leinster House yesterday, Rabbitte said the leakage out of Ireland cannot be stopped completely, but it can be competed with.

The government is in the process of recasting the economy and a digital strategy is needed as part of that task, continued the Labour TD.

Ireland is not getting back “the good old days” of construction jobs and high tax takes, he said. “We’re never going back there…that is an economy of the past.”

According to his department, the government has not been successful in grasping digital opportunities despite the presence of many leading ICT players and a digitally-literate workforce.

“An uptake of 23 per cent is frankly disappointing,” he said, noting that small companies utilising and exploiting all technological advances available to them can double growth, output and employment.

The Minister believes there is some reticence on the part of the SMEs because they are already dealing with recession, tight budgets and bureaucratic red tape.

“They do not see technology as an enabler to grow. It is about persuading them of the advantages of the technologies…Some evangelising may be needed.”

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The National Digital Strategy also aims to halve the number of ‘non-liners’ (people who have not yet engaged with the Internet) by 2016. Data examined by the department shows that almost one in five adults – that is 577,200 people – have never used the Internet. Almost three in ten who do use it, do so less than once a week.

Rabbitte noted that there are some concerns with connectivity but neither availability or cost of broadband are the main barriers to access. However, he did recognise that digital exclusion can become a problem is the issues that lead to it are not addressed.

“There is a regular trickle of complaints from rural Ireland in regard to poor broadband connections but it ought to be, at least of similar concern, that there is perfectly fine connectivity and the uptake isn’t what it should be.”

According to Rabbitte, women have generally been more responsive digital skills training courses than men but all demographics will be targeted as part of the strategy, including older people and those with a lower level of education.

Other strands of the first phase of the NDS include education and e-learning initiatives and cross-government measures.

The next iteration will focus on other issues, including trust and confidence, cloud computing, copyright, open data and privacy.

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