My Department and its agencies have put in place extensive supports, schemes and advisory resources to ensure that businesses are prepared for Brexit. Brexit is my top priority at this time and was central to my decision-making on the allocation of the additional €14.2m Current and €65m Capital funding I secured as part of Budget 2019. For example, this year, I provided an additional €5m to the network of LEOs, €3m to Enterprise Ireland, €2m to IDA Ireland and €1m to InterTradeIreland to help businesses prepare for Brexit, together with funding for the longer-term Future Growth Loan Scheme and the IDA Regional Property Programme. I also provided extra staff for the regulatory bodies of my Department.
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. This scheme, co-funded with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and at least 40% of the total funding will be made available to food businesses. In addition, the €300 Future Growth Loan Scheme provides a longer-term loan facility of up to €3m over 8 to 10 years.
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 the Agile Innovation Fund provides grant support of 50% up to €300,000. EI approved grant support of €74m for Brexit impacted firms in 2018 and have launched a Customs Insights Online training course.
The suite of supports available from the LEOs includes tailored mentoring to address the specific Brexit challenges facing businesses and targeted training on Brexit-related issues. 641 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring focused on Brexit. The LEOs also provide a one-day Prepare Your Business for Customs workshop and Technical Assistance Grants for clients to explore 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. 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 and a Brexit Implementation Voucher, which provides financial support up to €5,625 to allow businesses to implement critical changes.
In relation to State Aid, 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.