Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Questions (360)

Frank O'Rourke


360. Deputy Frank O'Rourke asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the specific actions that will be taken to assist the SME sector to prepare for Brexit, in particular food companies such as those based in County Kildare, following the publication of the national development plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9389/18]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

The long-term response to Brexit is for companies across all sectors to become more competitive, more innovative and to diversify their export footprint into more international markets. The agencies under my Department have a wide range of supports available to enable companies to consolidate market share within the UK, and also to become more resilient by broadening their sales to other international markets.

Enterprise Ireland (EI) and the Local Enterprise Office’s (LEOs) are actively supporting their clients to achieve this. My Department provided additional monies in 2017 to enable EI and the LEOs to ramp up their supports in light of Brexit to drive improvements in:

- market consolidation and diversification,

- productivity,

- innovation,

- management capability and leadership skills.

At the centre of EI’s strategy, Build Scale, Expand Reach 2017 – 2020, are strategic targets focused on. Growing the annual exports of client companies by €5bn to €26bn per annum.

In support of this, EI is implementing extensive trade mission and event schedules focussed on global and sectoral opportunities, further developing in-market expertise and networks, placing greater focus on identifying new sectoral opportunities and stimulating demand for Irish products and services through international marketing campaigns. In 2017, EI launched a new Eurozone Strategy to increase exports to Eurozone countries by 50% by 2020.

EI has introduced a number of Brexit specific programmes to help Irish companies remain resilient in the face of uncertainty. One of these measures is an online “Brexit SME Scorecard” to help all Irish businesses self-assess their exposure to Brexit. The Scorecard generates a report on weak areas and suggests some initial next steps. 1,909 companies had used the Scorecard by mid-December of 2017. In addition, a €5k “Be Prepared Grant” is available for SMEs to help support the costs involved in preparing a plan to mitigate risks and optimise opportunities arising from Brexit.

The Local Enterprise Offices are supporting their clients by providing information, training and mentoring on Brexit related issues as well as advice on other sources of support.

The Irish Food Sector is one of the most important sectors of the Irish Economy and remains Ireland’s biggest exporter.  Despite the uncertainty arising from UK’s decision to exit the European Union, we believe that the UK market will continue to be a natural priority market for Irish food exporters due to its geographical proximity, a common language and similar food consumption culture in food and trade.  We are encouraging and supporting our food client companies to sustain its existing business in the UK, to look for new UK business opportunities, as well as looking at business growth opportunities through diversifying into new food products and markets.

In the immediate term, the key impact on Irish exporters is likely to be around exchange rate volatility and that companies as a first step should seek financial advice relating to hedging and managing associated risks.  We will also be intensifying our efforts to support companies respond to the new situation and implement medium term market diversification plans.

My Department recently announced a €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme to provide affordable working capital financing to Irish businesses that are either currently impacted by Brexit, or will be in the future. The Scheme, which is due to open at the end of March, will be delivered by SBCI through commercial lenders to get much needed working capital into Irish businesses. The scheme will be open to both State Agency clients and those businesses that do not have any relationship with State Agencies.

To support the potential of each region to start and grow new enterprises, and as part of the Government’s strategic response to Brexit, additional funding of up to €60m is being rolled out by EI over the next 4 years. The Regional Enterprise Development Fund will support the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative projects that can sustain and add to employment at a national, regional and county level.  Twenty-one successful applicants representing all regions of the country have secured up to €30.5m for their projects in the first competitive call.  County Kildare Community Network Company was one entity that received funding under the scheme. I intend to launch the second call at the end of March.