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Irish small businesses ‘under immense pressure’ and shutting, ISME spokesperson warns

Increased Government support is needed for Irish butcher shops to stay open on our highstreets, ISME, the independent business association for Irish small to medium businesses, has said.

Speaking to Gript, Mr Finbarr Filan, a member of ISME, said that the skyrocketing cost of energy means that any retail businesses who rely on refrigeration or chilling are under immense pressure.

“The bills are being passed on to retailers,” Mr Filan, who runs a small convenience store, said.  His comments come as one Dublin-based butcher called for immediate Government action to avoid more businesses disappearing before Christmas arrives.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Jason Corrigan, President of the Irish Butchers’ Guild, who also owns two butcher shops in Dublin, said the industry is “on its knees,” with an average of one butcher closing every three days in Ireland.

Measures announced in Budget 2023 designed to help businesses and families with the escalating cost of energy saw overall funding allocated to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment increase by €36 million, to €940 million.

While Mr Filan welcomed the new measure, he said that given the scale of the crisis facing businesses struggling to keep the lights on, increased support is needed.

“A few months ago, nobody knew where we were going to end up,” he said. “The government has stepped in and they are giving 40 per cent of the difference in your old energy bill versus your new one up to a maximum of €10,000 support per month.

“For many small businesses, the 40 per cent just isn’t enough,” he said, adding that the reality means that the support needs to be doubled.

“A jump like that is a very hard hit to take, particularly when you don’t know how long it’s going to go on for,” he said of escalating energy bills facing business owners.

“Most businesses could manage a month or two, but if this ends up lasting six to eight months, that’s when you start seeing people coming under pressure,” Mr Filan said, adding that those most under pressure at the moment are those in hospitality and in retail that have either chilling or heating. Food providers are the hardest hit, from butchers, to restaurants – to coffee shops and smaller supermarkets.

Local businesses have just emerged from surviving crippling Covid lockdowns, having had a difficult year, meaning their cash reserves are already depleted, the businessman said.

“This is an extra hit, and it’s starting to eat into cash. It’s starting to bite,” Mr Filan said, adding: “We would appreciate more government support”.

Mr Filan said that businesses are closing on a rolling basis – pointing to, how, while chains of convenience stores are remaining open, coffee shops, restaurants and smaller, independent convenience stores are shutting up shop on a routine basis.

“If you get outside the towns, into the smaller villages and towns, you will find that a lot of the hot deli counters are being shut because of the energy costs to keep them going. It’s different if you have a high volume of people,” he said, pointing to the fact it is no longer “viable” to keep deli counters open to serve a handful of people.

Speaking as the Budget was announced at the end of September, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was aware that Irish businesses were worried heading into the winter amid a backdrop of rising energy costs, increased interest rates, and waning consumer confidence.

“This Budget is about putting more money in people’s pockets and reducing the bills that people and businesses have to pay,” he said. The package announced included a €1.25 billion Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme (TBESS), which provides qualifying businesses with up to 40% of the increase in electricity or gas bills up to €10,000 per month.

The measure will run until at least February 2023, and although it will help small businesses most, the Government said it should also be of assistance to medium and larger businesses. It is currently administered by the Revenue Commissioners, backdated to September.

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