by Marlon Madden
First Vice-President of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Ryan Walters is accusing the Mia Mottley administration of ignoring the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME) sector while focusing primarily on providing assistance to the tourism sector.
In fact, the DLP spokesman on business accused the Government of providing huge support to hoteliers while giving very little help to the small business enterprises, which he said continued to buckle under the pressure created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have seen the Government focus all of its efforts and attention to the hotel sector and hotel owners under the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) programme, who we know to be big businesses, allocating $300 million to the big business sector and a mere one-tenth of that to small and emerging businesses,” said Walters.
“Within the BEST programme, the Government has also allocated money that will be made available to help make the hotels more profitable in the future. Investments are being offered for switching over to renewable energy, improving linkages in supply chain, digitizing and refurbishing their facilities – all in an effort for big business to increase and grow their profits.
“While on the other hand, no such swell of support has been offered to the local small business community who cannot see their much smaller promised past dues materialize. By this approach, are we not to assume that the Government has no interest in ensuring that small business is profitable and sustainable too?” said Walters.
Giving an assessment of 2020, he said it was evident that the Government had not adequately addressed the needs of the small business operators and entrepreneurs over the past year pointing out that a mere $5, 000 in support through the Trust Loan Fund “cannot be seen as a vehicle to promote sustainable entrepreneurship or small business”.
Stressing that the Government had not done enough to encourage and facilitate the survival of businesses in the MSME sector, Walters added that as the country grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, “small businesses were left out to sea”.
“The Government did not follow through with its promise of access to funding in the first round of stimulus offered on April 29, 2020. The Throne Speech came in September of 2020 and promised hope for some relief but that too did not materialize for small and medium-sized businesses that, by and large, represent approximately 90 per cent of the formal businesses in Barbados employing about 45 per cent of the country’s workforce,” he said.
The businessman said his hope was that the Government “take the MSME sector much more seriously” in 2021.
“The Minister of Small Business and Entrepreneurship will need to lobby for the promised support for his sector. The needs of the sector have to be addressed. Furthermore, another important aspect of support is that it needs to be accessible by business owners who need it, and it should not be put out of their reach by unreasonable qualifying criteria,” he added.
Walters said it was time the Government realized that hoteliers were not the only struggling businesses on the island, adding that “regular businesses, both small and medium-sized, are under severe stress. Being open doesn’t mean being profitable,” he said.
“The same time, energy and money the Government has committed to sustaining the hotel sector should be put into smaller local entities. Make them resilient by assisting with working capital, transforming to green energy, helping them to be more efficient by digitizing and lowering their costs and refurbishing their plants and facilities. We need balance in this economy and we can achieve it if we truly embrace the MSME sector,” said Walters.