45% OF FIRMS HAVE CUT PAY, SAYS ISME - The task force set up after Dell announced it was laying off 2,000 workers in Limerick has recommended that the Government reduce labour costs to make Ireland more competitive.

This is a feeling echoed in the findings of the bi-monthly pay and conditions survey by ISME, an organisation for small firms.

Other findings are that almost all small firms have introduced pay cuts or freezes since the beginning of the year.

ISME's Mark Fielding said 45% of small businesses had brought in pay cuts in the last six months, with an average cut of 13%, while 49% had implemented pay freezes. He said 50% of companies had reduced their working hours.

Mr Fielding said ISME would be looking for a cut of around 13% in wages generally, but he said there should be 'at least' a national pay freeze to address labour costs. He said energy costs and local charges such as waste charges, also needed to be addressed.

He said that for every job lost in a large company like Dell, around four jobs went in smaller companies which supported such companies. Mr Fielding added that Enterprise Ireland and County Enterprise Boards needed to be 'beefed up'' to help those who lost their jobs to set up their own business.

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NEWS IN BRIEF AND CURRENCIES - Bernie Madoff has given his fist interview since being put behind bars for 150 years. He is the 71-year-old financier convicted last month for Wall Street's biggest investment fraud.

Two lawyers suing him on behalf of some investors said he expressed remorse and talked candidly. And he said he was surprised his $65 billion Ponzi scheme was not uncovered sooner.

New figures from MABS, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, show that calls to its helpline were three times higher in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2008. More people called MABS between January and June than in the whole of 2008.

The majority of calls were from young couples with children, and people nearing retirement age. Most of the calls were to do with credit card debt, paying bills, paying rent, money lenders and living without work.

On the currency markets, having hit a two-month high last evening against the dollar, the euro is now trading at $1.4174 and 86.19p sterling.