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.
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.
An additional €5 million capital funding has been allocated to the Local Enterprise Offices, which represents an increase of 22%, and a further €1 million allocated to InterTradeIreland to help SMEs prepare for the particular North-South challenges associated with Brexit. I have also allocated an additional €3m to Enterprise Ireland and €2m to IDA Ireland to expand their global footprints and drive the diversification of trade and investment. Additional resources have been distributed across Science Foundation Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority and the NSAI for 2019 to support enterprises as they adjust to the new relationship with the UK and pursue new opportunities.
InterTradeIreland [ITI] works with SMEs on an all-island basis and is particularly well-placed, given its remit to develop cross-border trade, to help SMEs prepare for the particular North-South challenges associated with Brexit. The ITI Brexit Advisory Service provides a focal point for SMEs working to navigate any changes in cross-border trading relationships arising as a result of Brexit. As part of this service, ITI has organised a series of awareness-raising 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 scheme, which enables businesses to seek professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. This support helps businesses obtain advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services. Brexit Planning Vouchers are worth up to €2,250 (inclusive of VAT) each. Businesses are finding the vouchers very useful and there has been strong demand which can be attributed to the media campaign conducted by ITI across a range of platforms. As of its most recent report, there have been 1,587 applications for the Brexit Planning Voucher, of which 1,391 have been approved.
In March, ITI launched a further financial support in the form of the Brexit Implementation voucher, which offers financial support up to £5,000/€5,625 (inclusive of VAT), with InterTradeIreland paying 50% towards implementing critical changes in relation to Brexit matters.
The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the first-stop-shop for anyone seeking guidance and support on starting or growing their business, including businesses in the border counties. The LEOs have organised various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit. So far, 641 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. As of February 2019, the LEOs are also offering customs training workshops to support businesses trading with third countries in advance of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The LEOs engage in a number of other schemes to help businesses prepare for Brexit. Technical Assistance Grants for Micro Export are offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities. As of June 2019, 602 LEO clients were approved assistance under the grant. Also, additional capital funding of €5 million was announced in Budget 2019 for local enterprise development.
In addition, the six LEOs in the Border region are working together with their Northern Ireland counterparts under the EU Co-Innovate Programme. The aim of Co-Innovate is to give SMEs from the manufacturing and tradeable services sectors in the eligible regions the tools and tailored support to help them to innovate, differentiate and compete successfully.
During February and March this year, I launched nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, which build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. The new Plans will ensure that regional stakeholders continue to work together to help achieve the Government’s 2020 targets for regional employment taking account of new and emerging opportunities and challenges, including Brexit. Implementation of the Regional Enterprise Plans for the North East and the North West has already commenced. Earlier this week on 24th June I launched my Department's new Regional Enterprise Development Fund Call 3 for €45m in competitive funding which has a strong emphasis on building resilience in our enterprise base in the context of Brexit.
The Brexit Loan Scheme provides relatively short-term 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. The scheme is open to eligible businesses from all regions of the country, including those in the Border counties. Dublin aside, the most recent quarterly report shows that the border region is the most active region in terms of eligibility applications for the scheme.
The scheme was launched in March 2018 and, as at close of business on 21 June, there have been 656 eligibility applications received, of which 596 have been approved and 144 loans progressed to sanction at bank level to a value of €31.73 million.
The Future Growth Loan Scheme opened for eligibility applications in April 2019. This scheme provides a longer-term facility, 8 to 10 years, of up to €300m to support strategic capital investment for a post-Brexit environment by business at competitive rates. This scheme has been jointly funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to make available loans of €100,000 (€50,000 for primary agriculture) to €3 million, with loans of under €500,000 being provided on an unsecured basis. The scheme is open 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 a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, as well as an online “Brexit SME Scorecard” to help Irish businesses self-assess their exposure to Brexit and a “Be Prepared Grant” to support SME clients in planning to mitigate risks arising from Brexit. It has also launched a new Eurozone Strategy to help SMEs broaden their export footprint beyond the UK.
Over 5,000 businesses have used Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit Scorecard to date and 85% of EI client firms are now taking actions, while 199 applications for the Be Prepared grant have been approved. 258 EI clients have received funding under its “Act On” programme, which supports the engagement of a consultant to help clients identify weaknesses and improve resilience.
Enterprise Ireland’s Customs Insights course helps businesses looking at customs for the first time to understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes. The course advises on the key actions companies can take to prepare for Brexit and highlights the various supports available. This course is available for any company to use whether they are importers or exporters and also whether they are agency clients or not.
In order to help build enterprise capability, under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) EI invested in seven successful projects in the Border region with a total funding allocation of more than €10.6 million. This funding will drive enterprise development and job creation in the Border Region. Enterprise Ireland will continue to engage with its clients to ensure they have the supports required to prepare for any kind of Brexit. On 24 June, at a visit to the recently opened Cavan Digital Hub, I announced that I will be making a further €45 million available under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF).
My Department and I have participated in the whole-of-Government 'Getting Ireland Brexit Ready' public information campaign. This campaign features workshop events throughout the country, aimed primarily at business and people most impacted by Brexit, including events in Monaghan and Donegal. In addition to these events, Enterprise Ireland has rolled out a series of Brexit Advisory Clinics to help businesses across the country, including events in Dundalk, Letterkenny and Cootehill.
While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the lasting uncertainty around the Brexit process may be leading businesses to defer their Brexit preparations. The UK’s exit from the EU will bring change for Irish businesses and I want businesses, particularly those around the Border counties to know my Department and agencies are here to help.