My Department and its agencies have put in place extensive supports, schemes and advisory resources to ensure that businesses are prepared for Brexit. While we cannot yet know the form that Brexit will take, these measures aim to assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and practical preparatory actions regardless of the circumstances of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme provides working capital (1-3 years) to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. As part of the eligibility application process, businesses must complete a business plan demonstrating the means by which they plan to innovate in response to the challenges posed by Brexit.
The Future Growth Loan Scheme, which opened to eligibility applications in April of this year, provides a longer-term loan facility of 8-10 years. This €300m scheme is also jointly funded by my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Loans of €100,000 (€50,000 for primary agriculture) to €3 million are available to eligible Irish businesses, including those in the primary agriculture and seafood sectors, to support strategic, long-term investment in a post-Brexit environment.
Enterprise Ireland has established additional supports including a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, an online Brexit SME Scorecard, a Be Prepared grant and a new Eurozone Strategy to help SMEs broaden their export footprint beyond the UK. In addition, the Agile Innovation Fund provides grant support of 50% of up to €300,000. EI has also launched a Customs Insights Online training course aimed at businesses that will be engaging with customs for the first time.
Local Enterprise Office (LEO) funding has been increased by 22% in 2019, and this increase is being used to assist micro-enterprises in becoming more competitive and better able to cope with the changing environment in which they are operating. The suite of supports available from the LEOs includes tailored mentoring to address the specific Brexit challenges facing businesses, as well as targeted training on Brexit-related issues, various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit. In addition, 641 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. The Local Enterprise Office interactive one day Prepare Your Business for Customs workshop helps businesses understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes required to succeed in a post Brexit environment.
The LEOs engage in a number of other schemes to help companies prepare for Brexit including Technical Assistance Grants for Micro Export which are offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities.
The majority of the schemes outlined are open to all SMEs, not just agency clients.
InterTradeIreland’s Brexit Advisory Service provides important support for SMEs working to navigate any changes in cross-border trading relationships arising as a result of Brexit. ITI has organised a series of awareness events focused on improving knowledge of customs processes and procedures, and identifying actions that can be taken in areas such as logistics and supply chain management. To date, more than 7,000 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory Service.
ITI also offers a Brexit Planning Voucher worth up to €2,250, which enables businesses to get professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services. In March, it launched a Brexit Implementation Voucher, which provides financial support up to €5,625 with InterTradeIreland paying 50%. This will allow businesses to implement critical changes making them better prepared to deal with a new trading relationship. InterTradeIreland’s Tariff Checker allows SMEs to view, filter and print the cross-border tariffs and charges related to their business. This enables businesses to evaluate the potential impacts that Brexit may have on their supply chain.
EU State aid approval has been secured for a €200 million Rescue and Restructure Scheme which can be used to support businesses in the event of a sudden shock.
Regarding State aid, in November 2017 a Technical Working Group was established comprising representatives from DG Competition, my Department, Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The objective of the Group is to scope and design schemes to support enterprises impacted by Brexit in line with State Aid rules. Through the mechanism of the Technical Working Group, Ireland has fully utilised the provisions of the State aid framework to enable the investment by Enterprise Ireland of €74 million in Brexit impacted businesses in 2018. Options available through the Agriculture Guidelines are also being developed to support large food companies.
Earlier this year I met with the European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager and at that meeting she assured me that the Commission stands ready to act urgently in mitigation against the impacts of Brexit on Irish firms.
While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the continuing uncertainty around the withdrawal process may have led businesses to defer their Brexit preparations. The UK’s exit from the EU will bring change for Irish businesses. I want businesses to know my Department and agencies are here to help.