I propose to take Questions Nos. 727 and 728 together.
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. That is why 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 promote the understanding and, where appropriate, to assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and practical preparatory actions regardless of the circumstances of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
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. 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 business and people most impacted by Brexit. In addition to these, Enterprise Ireland has also rolled out a series of Brexit Advisory Clinics to help businesses across the country to better understand their exposure to Brexit and the mitigating actions available to them.
My Department's ongoing engagement and research indicate 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 a survey done by B&A on behalf of my Department in February suggest that planning for Brexit is increasing with almost 50% of SMEs reporting having taken some form of active engagement (up from 42% in 2018) in the form of planning or any other mitigating steps.
Among the most impacted businesses, progress is also being made, for example more than half of exporters indicate that they have a Brexit plan while 70% of exporting and importing companies have taken mitigating actions to address possible Brexit challenges. Among Enterprise Ireland clients, 85% have taken action in respect of Brexit.
The Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI), which operates the Brexit Loan Scheme and the Future Growth Loan Scheme, continues to actively promote these schemes, both at its own events and through participation in other Brexit-related events. In 2019, SBCI has also met with over 400 tax advisers through the Institute of Taxation annual road show at which they have promoted the Brexit Loan Scheme.
Enterprise Ireland has established a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign. This portal also features an online “Brexit SME Scorecard” to help Irish businesses self-asses their exposure to Brexit and an online customs training tool aimed at businesses dealing with customs for the first time.
InterTradeIreland 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 serves as a focal point for SMEs working to navigate the 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 providing knowledge of customs 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.
At the beginning of August, I launched, in association with key industry partners, a new support measure named Clear Customs to help customs agents, intermediaries and affected Irish businesses develop the capacity to deal with the additional customs requirements due to the UK’s departure from the EU, notably under No Deal.
The initiative run by Skillnet in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland is being made available immediately to customs agents, intermediaries and eligible businesses free of charge. It comprises of a custom training programme and a custom financial support payment to assist with the costs of recruiting and assigning new staff to customs roles from Enterprise Ireland. Subject to terms and conditions for eligibility, this payment is up to €6,000 per employee that completes the training programme, up to maximum of 10 employees per company.
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.