My Department and its agencies are working to provide extensive supports, schemes and advice to ensure that businesses are prepared for Brexit. These measures aim to assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and the practical preparatory actions to be taken in the coming weeks. Brexit is one of my top priorities and was central to my decision-making on the allocation of the additional €14.2 million in current and €65 million in capital funding I secured as part of budget 2019. For example, I provided an additional €5 million to the local enterprise offices, LEOs, €3 million to Enterprise Ireland, €2 million to IDA Ireland, €1 million to InterTrade Ireland, ITI, and extra staff for regulatory bodies of my Department to help businesses prepare for Brexit, together with funding for the new future growth longer-term loan scheme and the new IDA Ireland regional property programme.
The €300 million Brexit loan scheme, which was launched in March 2018, provides working capital facility of one to three years to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges.
The future growth loan scheme was announced in budget 2019. Its purpose is to provide a longer-term facility of eight to ten years in order to support strategic capital investment for a post-Brexit environment. This €300 million scheme is jointly funded by my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Loans of between €50,000 and €3 million will be available to eligible Irish businesses, including those in the primary agriculture and seafood sectors, to support strategic, long-term investment in a post-Brexit environment.
In May 2018, the rescue and restructuring scheme was extended to include temporary restructuring support for those enterprises with acute liquidity needs.
Enterprise Ireland, EI, has established additional supports including a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, an online Brexit SME scorecard, a Be Prepared grant and a new eurozone strategy to help SMEs broaden their export footprint beyond the UK. In addition, the agile innovation fund provides up to 50% in support up to €300,000. EI also recently launched a customs insights online training course to help all businesses understand how customs work.
To help build the enterprise capability under the regional enterprise development fund, EI invested in seven successful projects in the Border region, with a total funding allocation of more than €10.6 million.
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As part of budget 2019 I also allocated an additional €10 million to the IDA Ireland regional property programme, which will prioritise investment in the Border region, with new advanced units to be built in Dundalk, Monaghan and Sligo.
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. ITI has organised a series of awareness 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 4,000 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit advisory service.
ITI also offers a Brexit Start to Plan voucher scheme worth up to €2,250, which enables businesses to obtain professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, with advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services.
The LEOs are the first stop for anyone seeking guidance and support on starting or growing a business. They have organised various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit. In addition, 402 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring focused solely on Brexit.
The LEOs engage in a number of other schemes to help companies prepare for Brexit, including technical assistance grants for micro-export, which are offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities. Furthermore, additional capital funding of €5 million was announced in budget 2019 for local enterprise development.
The majority of these schemes are open to all SMEs and not just EI agency clients.
On state aid, in November 2017, a technical working group was established, comprising representatives from the Directorate General for Competition in the European Commission, my Department, EI and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The objective of the group is to scope and design schemes to support enterprises affected by Brexit in line with state aid rules.
Much has been achieved by the working group, including the development of the future growth loan scheme and the expansion of Ireland’s rescue-and-restructuring scheme to include temporary liquidity aid. The group is working on opportunities to support enterprises in the food sector.
On 24 January 2019, I met the European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, in my Department. The focus of the meeting was the severe challenges that Irish businesses, especially SMEs, will face when the UK leaves the European Union and the need for appropriate and timely State supports. It was agreed that Irish officials will continue to work closely with the Commissioner’s team in addressing any state aid issues that may arise to ensure a rapid and appropriate response as the ultimate shape of Brexit and its firm-level implications become known. The Commissioner emphasised that the Commission stands ready to act urgently in mitigation against the impacts of Brexit on Irish firms.