Brexit remains my top priority, and my Department and its agencies have put in place an extensive suite of supports, schemes and advisory resources to ensure that businesses are prepared for Brexit.
Working with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, my Department and its agencies are using a broad range of channels through which to promote awareness of these support measures, including radio and digital media campaigns and a dedicated Brexit page on my Department’s website. Officials have also put together Brexit Loan Scheme and Future Growth Loan Scheme information packs, which are available through this website. These sit alongside publications like the Quick Brexit Guide for Business and Currency Risk Management for Irish SMEs.
To raise awareness among Irish businesses of the suite of Government supports available to the, in July this year my Department published a report detailing the supports available to indigenous enterprises, including Brexit supports such as the Brexit Loan Scheme and Future Growth Loan Scheme and disseminates this at events, through the enterprise agencies, and through industry representative bodies.
As of 6 December, there have been 6,763 participants at the Brexit Information LEO events and 5,402 SMEs have directly engaged with the InterTradeIreland Brexit Advisory Service in 2019. This is in addition to the 4,175 engagements in 2018.
A recent survey of SMEs, which was undertaken by my Department, indicates that businesses are increasingly aware of and preparing for Brexit, with 77% of SMEs discussing Brexit at management level.
Brexit was central to my decision-making in the allocation of the additional €14.2m Current and €65m Capital funding I secured as part of Budget 2019.
In 2019 for example, I provided an additional €5m to the network of Local Enterprise Offices, €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 regulatory bodies of my Department to ensure they are properly resourced to address the additional demands that Brexit will create.
Local Enterprise Office (LEO) funding was increased by 22% in 2019, and this increase is being used to assist micro-enterprises in becoming more competitive and better able to cope with the changing environment in which they are operating. The LEOs, which have a presence in every county, are working with the broad range of small and micro indigenous enterprises across sectors to ensure that they are informed about Brexit and have plans in place to manage the new trading relationships on the island and with the UK more generally. This includes a customs training programme for all businesses, exporters and importers, rolled out in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland.
I was also pleased to announce an additional capital allocation of €2.75m to Enterprise Ireland to start developing regional innovation and technology clusters with Institutes of Technology right across the country, positioning them as drivers of world-class start-ups and growth enterprises and helping businesses adjust to market changes, including Brexit.
To enable retailers to increase their customer base and build a more resilient business, I introduced a new pilot Online Retail Scheme in 2018 administered by Enterprise Ireland. The scheme, with a fund of up to €1.25m over two calls, provided funding to 40 retailers across Ireland, with grants of between €10,000 and €25,000 on a 50 percent match fund basis. This scheme follows through on my commitment to increase the scale and internationalisation of indigenous enterprise; increase productivity in high-employment sectors; and encourage Brexit readiness. The Pilot Online Retail Scheme concluded this year and my Department and Enterprise Ireland will review its effectiveness.
Funding to InterTradeIreland (ITI) was increased by 18% between 2018 and 2019 and it, along with the LEOs, is offering a range of Brexit-focused supports to businesses, including those engaged in cross-border trade with Northern Ireland. ITI offers a Brexit Planning Voucher worth up to €2,250, which enables businesses to get professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services. In March, it launched a Brexit Implementation Voucher, which provides financial support up to €5,625 with ITI paying 50% of total expenditure. This allows 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, 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 Future Growth Loan Scheme opened for applications through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland in April of 2019. The 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 is jointly funded by my Department (€37.2 million) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (€24.8 million) at a total cost to the Exchequer of €62 million.
The results from the UK election held on 12 of December 2019 present a further evolution of the Brexit context, and the Government and my Department are ready to support businesses, however events unfold.
In the coming year, I will continue to focus on proactively responding to the ongoing challenges presented by Brexit and be prepared for all Brexit scenarios.
The definitive allocations for my Department for the year 2020 will be determined as part of the normal estimates process, and the 2020 Revised Estimates Volume is set to be finalised and published in the coming days.
However, I can say at this point that compared to the 2019 allocation an additional €8.8m in current expenditure and €12m in capital expenditure is being allocated in 2020. The increase to the Department’s current expenditure will allow for additional resources to be provided to my Department’s regulatory bodies and its enterprise agencies to continue to prepare for Brexit, in whatever form it may take, by expanding and further developing the suite of available supports and by progressing the Global Footprint Initiative.
The first table sets out the uptake of Brexit preparedness supports available through my Department and its agencies as at 6 of December, 2019.
The second table sets out the respective exchequer increases in allocations to ITI, EI, IDA and the LEOs between 2018 and 2019, and the cost/expenditure of Brexit-related supports to date. Whilst these increases are not all due to Brexit, they are mainly provided to assist the enterprise agencies in their responses to the challenges posed by Brexit.
Brexit preparedness supports - expenditure and allocation
Brexit preparedness supports - uptake of available schemes