As the precise nature of the UK's departure from the EU still remains to be determined, Brexit continues to represent a significant challenge for businesses in Ireland, one which cannot be underestimated. That is why my Department started developing supports for businesses from the time when Brexit first became a possibility.
My Department and its agencies have put in place extensive supports, schemes and advisory resources to ensure that to ensure that businesses around the country are prepared for Brexit, including those in counties Cavan and Monaghan. While we cannot yet know the form that Brexit will take, these measures aim to assist businesses in identifying and managing key risk areas and developing practical preparatory actions regardless of the circumstances of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
My Department’s total exchequer allocation increased by 9.1% year on year, up from €871m to €950.2m. This is made up of a record €620m in capital and €330.2m in current funding, which includes an increase of €65m in capital – up 11.7% on last year’s allocation of €555m; and, an increase of €14.2m in current – almost 4.5% more than our 2018 allocation of €316m. I also provided extra staff for the regulatory bodies of my Department to ensure they are properly resourced to address the additional demands that Brexit will create.
I allocated an extra €5m to the 31 Local Enterprise Offices [LEOs], up 22% on 2018. The LEOs are the first-stop-shop for anyone seeking guidance and support on starting or growing their business, and they have a presence in every county. The LEOs are there to support businesses in preparing for Brexit, to ensure that businesses are informed and have plans in place to manage the new trading relationships on the island and with the UK more generally. The LEOs have organised and contributed to various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit, including events in Cavan and Monaghan. LEO Cavan has just completed a customs training workshop on 16 July, with two further training courses planned for September and November. Further LEO customs, export and import procedures workshops will be held in Castleblayney in July and September.
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. 531 Participants have so far attended this Customs Training.
In addition, 673 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. Technical Assistance Grants for Micro Export are offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities. 631 LEO clients have been approved for the Technical Assistance Grant.
The six LEOs in the Border region are also 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 tradable services sectors in the eligible regions the tools and tailored support to help them to innovate, differentiate and compete successfully.
As part of my Department’s response to Brexit, I allocated €3 million in additional resources to Enterprise Ireland [EI] in budget 2019. EI 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 5,300 business have used EI’s Brexit Scorecard to date and 85% of EI client firms have a plan in place, while 202 applications for the Be Prepared grant have been approved. 270 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. EI has also hosted 16 Brexit Advisory Clinics, including an event in Cootehill.
EI also launched a Customs Insights Online course at the beginning of the year. This is a new online training support to help all businesses understand how customs work including the documentation and process required to operate and succeed post Brexit. The Customs Insights course explains in clear and simple terms the main customs rules and included the key actions companies can take to prepare for customs after Brexit and the options from Revenue that are available to make the customs process more efficient. This will be available for any company to use whether they are importers or exporters and also whether they are agency clients or not. There have been over 1,270 Customs Insights Course participants.
Funding to InterTradeIreland has been increased by 18%. InterTradeIreland plays a major role as part of Ireland’s Brexit response and offers Brexit-related advisory services to eligible businesses. So far this year, more than 3,200 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory Service.
ITI also offers Brexit Planning and Brexit Implementation voucher schemes, which enable businesses to get professional advice on how best to plan, prepare and implement for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. These supports help businesses obtain advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services.
ITI’s Brexit Planning vouchers are worth up to €2,250 (inclusive of VAT) each. 1,629 businesses have applied for a Brexit Planning voucher, of which 1,433 have been approved. ITI’s new Brexit Implementation Voucher provides financial support up to £5,000/€5,625 (inclusive of VAT), with InterTradeIreland paying 50%. This will allow businesses to implement critical changes making them better prepared to deal with a new trading relationship.
The Brexit Loan Scheme, using a combination of Irish Exchequer and EU guarantees, has leveraged up to €300 million of lending at a maximum interest rate 4% at a cost to the Exchequer of €23 million - €14 million provided by my Department and €9 million provided by Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The Brexit Loan Scheme provides relatively short-term working capital, 1 to 3 years, to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them to innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. Businesses can confirm their eligibility with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) and, if deemed eligible, can apply to one of the participating finance providers for a loan under the scheme.
As at 12 July, there have been 678 applications for eligibility under the scheme, of which 608 have been approved to date by SBCI. 155 of those applications have progressed to sanction at bank value, to a total value of €34.16 million.
Uptake figures on a per county basis are available in the quarterly reports on the scheme. As of the most recent quarterly report, dated 31 March, 34 applications had been approved under the Brexit Loan Scheme from Cavan and Monaghan. The next quarterly report is expected in the coming weeks.
A Rescue and Restructuring scheme has also been put in place for “Undertakings in Difficulty” and operates under the EU Rescue and Restructuring Guidelines. Under the scheme, an undertaking is considered to be in difficulty when, without intervention by the State, it will almost certainly be condemned to going out of business in the short or medium term.
This scheme was developed as it was considered prudent to have contingency measures in place so that my Department can respond swiftly to changing circumstances, as necessary. However, there are many other supports in place that enterprises can avail of which should prevent them from reaching the point where they are in severe difficulty and at risk of going out of business. However, we also recognise the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit and therefore this scheme is part of a belt and braces approach to supporting enterprise.
The Rescue and Restructuring scheme was originally approved by the EU Commission in November 2017 and was subsequently extended in May 2018 to include Temporary Restructuring Support for enterprises experiencing acute liquidity constraints. Temporary Restructuring provides for earlier intervention than is allowable under Rescue and Restructuring, thus increasing our flexibility to provide targeted support to SMEs as required.
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 businesses and people most impacted by Brexit, including an event in Monaghan. I also hosted an event in Cavan on 4 July and one in Monaghan on 8 July to help businesses further prepare for Brexit.
While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the delays to Brexit may have led businesses to defer their immediate planning. However, the UK’s exit from the EU will mean changes for Irish businesses, and particularly for those in the border region. I want businesses to know that my Department and its agencies are here to help. The existing supports, schemes and advice are in place to ensure that businesses are prepared for any Brexit scenario.