While the 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. As the Brexit deadline of 31 October 2019 draws nearer, I am very conscious of the urgent need for businesses to take action to prepare and plan for Brexit, despite current uncertainties.
I am working in collaboration with the Accountancy Bodies of Ireland and relevant State agencies organising Brexit briefing events in the Border areas that are likely to be most impacted by Brexit. These Brexit events cover a broad range of important topics to help businesses prepare for Brexit. Most recently, this month, I hosted information and advisory events in Cavan, on 4 July, and in Monaghan, on 8 July, to help businesses further prepare for Brexit.
As well as agencies from my Department, I am delighted that a number of other State agencies are participating in these events to provide hands on assistance to businesses taking part in the events. Agencies participating include the Local Enterprise Offices, Enterprise Ireland, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), InterTrade Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and Microfinance Ireland.
In addition to these events, my Department and I have been active in the promotion of schemes and supports through participation in different campaigns, including 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. This included an event in the Four Seasons Hotel, Monaghan Town, on 19 October, at which I was joined by an Tánaiste and Minister McEntee. This event included information on Brexit supports available and discussion of the likely impacts of Brexit on specific sectors.
The network of 31 LEOs is 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.
The LEO in Cavan completed customs training workshops on 25 February and 16 July, with two further courses planned for September and November. LEO Monaghan completed customs workshops on 23 April and 18 June, with more customs workshops to be held in Castleblayney in July and September. These are in addition to Enterprise Ireland's series of 16 Brexit Advisory Clinics, which also included an event in Cootehill. The LEOs also offer one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. To date, 84 businesses from Cavan and 46 businesses from Monaghan have benefitted from this mentoring.
InterTrade Ireland plays a major role as part of Ireland’s Brexit response and offers Brexit-related advisory services to eligible businesses. ITI also provides SME-focused Brexit events that aim to provide advice and information on Brexit and to help you plan, act and engage for the new trading relationships in a post-Brexit environment, including an event in Monaghan in November of last year and another on 4 March 2019, at which I was present.
My Department's ongoing engagement with businesses indicates that the proportion of businesses preparing for Brexit is increasing, particularly among those businesses identified as most exposed to Brexit-related impacts, and that awareness of the key Brexit challenges is also increasing. Almost 60% of Irish SMEs report a good understanding of the likely implications of Brexit impacts that are relevant to their business. The findings of our latest research suggest that planning for Brexit is increasing with almost 50% of SMEs taking some form of active engagement (up from 42% in 2018) in the form of planning or any other mitigating steps. While information is not available on a per-county basis, the figure for the Border region is 47%. Among the most impacted businesses, progress is also being made, for example more than half of exporters indicate that they have a Brexit plan. Among Enterprise Ireland clients, 85% have taken action in respect of Brexit.
Over the last two years my Department has worked to raise awareness of the key Brexit challenges which include supply chain, tariffs, customs, regulatory standards, working capital and movement of labour, goods and services; to build business preparedness levels; and to put a comprehensive set of supports in place for businesses.
While there is little clarity on the means by which the UK will leave the EU in October, my Department and its agencies are working to provide extensive supports to ensure that businesses across the country are prepared for the UK’s exit from the EU, whatever the circumstances of its departure. Evidence now shows a marked increase in the number of impacted businesses preparing for change, which is both encouraging and welcome but I am conscious that the delays to Brexit may have led some businesses to defer their immediate planning. However, the UK’s exit from the EU will mean changes for Irish businesses and I want businesses to know that my Department and its agencies are here to help.