Sligo’s Fiona Candon addresses Europe-wide business conference

Sligo business owner and deputy president of Chambers Ireland Fiona Candon took part on Monday (November 16th) in the high-profile European SME Assembly 2020, praising the resilience of businesses and the importance of Government Covid-19 supports.

Fiona, the former Sligo Chamber president, is a director of project management consultancy First Western. She was elected deputy president of Chambers Ireland in June.

Speaking today at the opening of the 2020 SME Assembly, Europe’s largest gathering of SMEs, entrepreneurs, business chambers and associations, Fiona said that ‘important measures have been taken to support European SMEs covering their fixed costs.

“Rolling these back too quickly would jeaopardise the recovery,” she added.

Fiona was joined in the opening session of the SME Assembly by entrepreneur and  SMEunited board member and policy VP Matilda Mieland in a debate moderated by Irish journalist and Euronews broadcaster Shona Murray.

Ms. Mieland said digital transformation demanded appropriate digital infrastructure to allow SMEs across Europe to embrace e-commerce, digitize processes and remote working.

Fiona told the audience about her business First Western. “My company specialises in project management, supplying 200 plus expert companies and individuals to deliver development solutions and innovations that help organisations, sectors and destinations grow. We do this in the main for the tourism industry currently and provide full project management services to agencies, authorities, and the private sector.

“We have been lucky and have been extremely busy over the past nine months. Agility and quickness to adapt and respond to client needs has been tough, but our team and suppliers have worked through it. No two days have been the same, and like many other businesses we have just had to get on with it and do our very best.”

Speaking about her role as Deputy President of Chambers Ireland, Fiona outlined the key measures Chambers in Ireland and across the Eurochambres network have taken to help businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Businesses, particularly smaller ones, gravitate towards those they know and trust in times of crisis and chambers have been closer than ever with their member companies over recent months. Here in Ireland Chambers Ireland and my own local Chamber, Sligo Chamber, have provided clear on-going guidance to all SMEs on the ever changing supports landscape; while as SMEs we have been supporting Chambers Ireland in their hugely effective dialogue at government level to inform and shape policies and supports for us – in summary; listening, advocating and communicating; a major impact we had was convincing the Irish Government that grant support, not just loans, would have to be provided to companies worst affected.”

Fiona praised local chambers across Europe for providing similar support and said EUROCHAMBRES, the European association, had galvanised the network during the crisis. It has enabled chambers to work together to tackle issues that go beyond the national economy, like barriers to cross-border movement and supply chain disruption. Chambers are also working closely with the Commission and national authorities to ensure that the Next Generation EU recovery plan mentioned delivers real added value.

She added: “It is really important that chambers are part of the discussions on the national Recovery and Resilience Plans if they are going to help SMEs recover and contribute to the revival.”

In terms of cashflow, Fiona said EU and national authorities had taken many measures since March to help businesses cover their fixed costs and avoid redundancies and these have been welcomed.

She added: “We recognise that they cannot go on forever, but at the same time, we must be conscious that if we’re back to a similar situation in the spring in many EU countries, the debt burden is if anything getting larger for a lot of businesses. That’s why it would be dangerous to roll back the grant aid and employment support schemes too quickly.”

Fiona said both commercial and emotional resilience are required by owners and managers right now, supporting both they themselves and looking at creative ways for them to support staff who may be busier now more than ever in the case of some businesses or staff who have been without work for a period of time and are returning to the workplace.

She added: “We will need to build brave leaders where resilience and survival will be key. With many SMEs having had to diversify training and development will be required too at the level of operations especially in businesses where the service they are delivering now is very different than before. Retraining will also be a huge factor in our economy and the importance of opportunities from the Green Deal and its Just Transition Mechanism cannot be overstated.”