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Economic Committee: Liability framework of the SME Promotion Act to be expanded to one billion euros

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Reports on the situation of SMEs and the hardship fund for the self-employed show that companies have come through the crisis well, according to Kocher

Vienna (PK) – Two resolutions adopted today by the Economic Affairs Committee are intended to help domestic small and medium-sized enterprises cope with the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, according to the coalition parties. There was unanimity on the coalition parties’ proposal to expand the scope of the liability framework for Austria Wirtschaftsservice (aws) guarantees in the SME Promotion Act to EUR 1 billion. The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Green Party (Grüne) also submitted an initiative motion to extend COVID 19 rules for accountants, auditors and civil engineers. It was passed by a majority, with the votes of the ÖVP, SPÖ and Greens.

The report “SMEs in focus 2021” deals with the situation of small and medium-sized enterprises in the past year. The report was unanimously acknowledged. Together with the SME report, the monthly reports of the Ministry of Economic Affairs on payments from the Hardship Fund for the self-employed from January to April 2022 were discussed. These reports were noted by the committee by a majority, without the votes of the NEOS.

SME Promotion Act: liability framework to be increased to € 1 billion

The liability framework of € 750 million provided for in the SME Promotion Act is to be expanded to € 1 billion. A motion by the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Green Party (Grüne) to amend the SME Promotion Act was passed unanimously by the Economic Affairs Committee (2419/A). In connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for guarantees from Austria Wirtschaftsservice (aws) had increased, the coalition MPs justified the proposed increase. Therefore, the liability framework defined in the SME Promotion Act had already been exhausted and should be increased, Elisabeth Götze (Greens) explained.

Extension of COVID-19 regulations for business professions and chambers

With an initiative motion of the coalition parties ÖVP and Greens, regulations in connection with the Corona pandemic are to be extended again (2648/A), namely until the end of 2022. The provisions on the pandemic introduced in the Balance Sheet Accounting Act, the Economic Chamber Act, the Economic Trust Professions Act, the Civil Technicians Act and the Chamber of Labor Act will therefore expire on June 30, 2022. It can be assumed that the regulations will also be needed for the remainder of 2022, said Elisabeth Götze (Greens), a member of parliament. In the area of accountants and in the law on the profession of chartered accountant, for example, it is a question of the suspension of deadlines, for example for taking the professional examination. In addition to the suspension of such deadlines, the regulations in the Civil Technicians Act, but also for the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Labor, concern, among other things, the online conduct of meetings and assemblies.

From the point of view of the NEOS deputy Gerald Loacker, the step is an unnecessary act of “pandemic prolongation”, which leads to discussions in the chambers being made more difficult. Erwin Angerer (FPÖ) took a similar view. NEOS and Freedom Party therefore did not agree to the deadline extension.

Small and medium-sized enterprises have generally come through the pandemic crisis well

The report “SMEs in Focus 2021” (III-672 d.B.) deals with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Austria. In 2021, there were approximately 358,600 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Austria. The impact of the Corona crisis was still clearly felt in 2021, with numbers in the accommodation and catering sector in particular not yet approaching those before the pandemic. Overall, however, the relief measures have taken effect, according to the Ministry of Economics.

Austrian SMEs employ a total of 2 million workers and train 52,400 apprentices, accounting for 67% of employees and 63% of apprentices in the market-oriented economy, the report said. In 2021, the turnover of SMEs amounted to €535.4 billion, or 62% of the total turnover of the market-oriented economy, and the gross value added amounted to €137.4 billion, or 61% of the value added, it said. With a share of 99.6% of all companies, SMEs are “the backbone of the Austrian market-oriented economy”, according to Minister of Economy Martin Kocher.

The report paints a thoroughly gratifying picture, the Minister of Economics told the committee. It shows the central role that SMEs play for the Austrian economy. The acute shortage of skilled workers, exacerbated by the Corona crisis and the resumption of the economic upswing, was also the biggest hurdle for the business activity and innovative capacity of the companies. Here, the federal government is implementing a package of measures. Furthermore, the current geopolitical situation, in particular the crisis in Ukraine, has serious effects on the economy and society in addition to the humanitarian impact. Mitigating the effects of rising energy prices was essential as a first step. For this reason, he said, the federal government has launched a relief package that includes relief for those SMEs with high fuel expenses, a reduction in the natural gas levy and electricity levy, and an investment offensive in wind power and photovoltaic projects.

The report shows that in 2021 many SMEs could already leave the Corona crisis behind, Laurenz Pöttinger (ÖVP) was pleased. After massive slumps, pandemic-related in 2020, small and medium-sized enterprises had grown again in 2021. Their nominal sales and gross value added in 2021 were thus already above the level of 2019. However, employment in SMEs has not yet returned to the pre-crisis level, which also clearly reflects the shortage of skilled workers.

Elisabeth Götze (Greens) pointed out that a lot still needs to be done to provide social security for one-person businesses (EPUs). She also suggested exploring funding opportunities for so-called “social entrepreneurs”, as this group is becoming increasingly important.

Gerald Loacker (NEOS) said Austria was clearly lagging behind other European countries in the area of digitalization and online commerce. The shortage of skilled workers can also be explained to a certain extent by the fact that too little emphasis has been placed on training skilled personnel. Interestingly, the report shows an increase in the equity ratio of many companies, which in his view is an indication of massive over-subsidization in some cases, said the NEOS economic spokesman.

Erwin Angerer (FPÖ) agreed with Loacker and said that industry had partly poached skilled workers from SMEs instead of training them itself. He also raised the issue of planning security for companies and wanted to know what had become of a planned law to reduce regulatory hurdles and improve market access for companies, which was apparently lying in the drawer.

Economics Minister Kocher explained that better protection for EPUs was an important topic for his department. The shortage of skilled workers is to be countered by a major qualification package. This is also aimed primarily at the unemployed and part-time workers. Another important factor will be improving the compatibility of family and career. There can be no complete planning certainty in the current geopolitical situation, said the Economics Minister. Kocher said that the equity ratio of the companies had various causes, but he did not see over-subsidization as the most important cause. In principle, it is a positive sign that the equity capital of companies has remained largely stable, he said. The addressed law for the dismantling of bureaucratic hurdles is already in expert opinion and will be available soon, informed the minister FPÖ delegate Angerer.

Hardship Fund for the Self-Employed: Disbursement Reports of the Ministry of Economy

Together with the report on the situation of SMEs, the Economic Committee also discussed reports of the Ministry of Economy on the use of funds of the COVID-19 crisis management fund within the framework of the Hardship Fund for the Self-Employed. The reports for January (III-589 D.B.), February (III-610 D.B.), March (III-641 D.B.), and April 2022 (III-659 D.B.) were discussed. Accordingly, 2,353,066 applications had been received for the Hardship Fund for the Self-Employed by the end of April 2022, of which 2,035,712 had been positively settled, with disbursements of nearly €2.4 billion. The Hardship Fund is administered on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Digitization and Economic Location via the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKÖ). According to the report, funding recipients were primarily the commercial/craft, tourism/catering, trade and social/healthcare sectors.

In order to ensure proper processing and accounting of the Hardship Fund, the Federal Accounting Agency (BHAG) has been commissioned with the systemic audit of the processing of the Hardship Fund by the WKÖ. With an audit report on random checks attached in December 2021, the Accounting Agency states in the summary, among other things, that no deviations in the systemic processing could be found in any of the business cases drawn. According to the reports of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, all automated audit steps complied with the guidelines or the audit concept of the WKO.

SPÖ member of parliament Christoph Matznetter started with the audit of the subsidies and saw his criticism of the processing of the fund’s payments by the Economic Chamber confirmed. A bureaucratic monster had been created here, not only in the submission of subsidies, but also in the subsequent verification of eligibility for subsidies. For this, the WKO consulted an American auditing firm, which apparently only wanted to “annoy” the funding recipients with its extensive list of questions. These checks would have to become simpler and more effective. This demand was also raised by FPÖ economic spokesman Erwin Angerer.

Federal Minister Kocher said the decision for the form of the promotion completion had fallen before its term of office, when it concerned to bring fast assistance on the way. In the meantime, however, it had become clear that the disbursements via the Chamber of Commerce had worked very well. He could not see any excessive bureaucracy. The auditors’ checks are paid for by the Chamber of Commerce. His department evaluates the effectiveness of the support measures, as it is also a matter of learning for possible future crises and being better prepared for them. (Continued by Economic Committee) sox

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The article Wirtschaftsausschuss: Liability framework of the SME Promotion Act is expanded to one billion euros appeared first on TOP News Austria – News from Austria and around the world.

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