Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (30)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

30. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if further legislation will be required to address issues of aid to businesses that may be affected by Brexit; the state aid restrictions that would limit such support; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11042/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Across Government Departments, significant work is ongoing including legislative changes, to ensure all necessary supports will be available to enterprise regarding a wide variety of Brexit implications.

My Department included amendments to the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998 provisions in the recent Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019.

This amendment will enable EI to provide loans to client companies as a development support and to maintain the value of the State's investments through follow on share investment and loans. It will also increase the ability of Enterprise Ireland (EI) to support greater R&D activity in its client companies in several critical sectors in order that Irish firms can be as competitive as possible on EU and world markets.

In terms of State aid, in November 2017 a Technical Working Group on State Aid, comprising representatives from DG Competition, the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation, Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, was established. The objective of the Group is to scope and design schemes to support enterprises impacted by Brexit in line with State Aid rules. The most recent meeting of the Group was in Brussels at the end of February this year.

Much has been achieved by this Working Group. It has examined and explored a range of opportunities within State Aid rules including the development of the Future Growth Loan Scheme under GBER rules, and the expansion of Ireland’s Rescue and Restructuring Scheme to include Temporary liquidity aid, and to increase the budget for the Rescue & Restructuring Scheme to €200 million. Through the mechanism of the Technical Working Group Ireland has fully utilised the provisions of the State aid framework to enable the investment by Enterprise Ireland of €74 million in Brexit impacted businesses in 2018.

The Group is currently working closely with DG Agriculture to explore the range of opportunities under the Agriculture and Forestry State aid guidelines, and as part of this State Aid approval was received in February for capital investment by Enterprise Ireland in an Irish cheese producing company, Carbery Food Ingredients Ltd, to help the company towards financing a €65m diversification project to mitigate the impacts of Brexit.

On 24th January 2019, I met with Commissioner Vestager. The focus of the meeting centred around 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.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (31, 48)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

31. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to help businesses in the Border region prepare for Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11178/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

48. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to assist companies in the Border counties to be prepared for Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10959/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 48 together.

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 over the coming weeks.

Brexit was one of my top priorities in the allocation of funding for my Department in Budget 2019, and I have allocated further funding to Brexit-related support from the agencies and offices of my Department. An additional €5 million capital funding has been allocated to the Local Enterprise Offices, which represents an increase of 22%, and a further €1 million allocated to InterTrade Ireland to help SMEs prepare for the particular North-South challenges associated with Brexit. I have allocated an additional €3m to Enterprise Ireland and €2m to IDA Ireland to expand their global footprints and drive the diversification of trade and investment. Additional resources have also been distributed across Science Foundation Ireland and the Health and Safety Authority and the NSAI for 2019 to support enterprises adjust to the new relationships with the UK and pursue new opportunities.

Informed by detailed research, my Department has put in place a package of measures in response to the needs of businesses affected by Brexit-related uncertainty.

I allocated an additional €1million to InterTradeIreland (ITI) as part of Budget 2019. ITI 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 provides a focal point for SMEs working to navigate any changes in cross-border trading relationships arising as a result of Brexit. As part of this service, 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, which enables businesses to get professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. This support helps businesses obtain advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services. ITI vouchers are worth up to €2,250 (inclusive of VAT) each. Companies are finding the vouchers very useful and there has been strong demand which can be attributed to the media campaign conducted by ITI across a range of platforms. As of its most recent report and the end of November 2018, 811 businesses have applied for a Brexit Start to Plan voucher, of which 657 have been approved. In addition, on Monday this week, I launched for ITI a further financial support - £5,000 in matched funding which will support companies in implementing a change identified in their Brexit action plan.

The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the first-stop-shop for anyone seeking guidance and support on starting or growing their business. The LEOs have organised various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit. In addition, 471 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. As of February 2019, the LEOs are also offering customs training workshops to support in businesses trading with third countries in advance of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The LEOs engage in a number of other schemes to help companies prepare for Brexit. Technical Assistance Grants for Micro Export are offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities, as of February 2018, 419 LEO clients were approved assistance under the grant. Also, additional capital funding of €5 million was announced in Budget 2019 for local enterprise development.

In addition, the six LEOs in the Border region are 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.

In December 2018, I announced a further €30 million in funding for successful projects under Call 2 of the competitive Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF).

In April 2017, I asked all the Regional Action Plan for Jobs Implementation Committees to start a process to refresh and refocus all Regional Plans to ensure their relevance and impact out to 2020. This will ensure that the Plans remain effective and that they continue to deliver jobs across the country, in all regions, and can be robust in addressing the challenges we face, including Brexit. As a result, both the North-West and the North-East will both have their own plans in the new iteration and Brexit will be an ongoing priority area for both Committees. These plans are being finalised and will be published in February.

The €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme provides relatively short term working capital, 1-3 years, to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. The scheme is open to eligible businesses from all regions of the country, including those in the Border counties. 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.

The scheme was launched in March 2018 and, as at close of business on 1st March, there have been 479 eligibility applications received of which 430 have been approved and 82 loans progressed to sanction at bank level to a value of €17.35m.

The Future Growth Loan Scheme was announced in Budget 2019. The scheme will provide 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 is jointly funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Loans of €50,000 to €3m will be available, with loans of under €500,000 being provided on an unsecured basis. The scheme 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. The SBCI has completed the open call process for this scheme, and it is expected that this Scheme will be operational in early 2019.

Enterprise Ireland 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 4,400 businesses have used Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit Scorecard to date and 85% of EI client firms are now taking actions, while 168 applications for the Be Prepared grant have been approved. 190 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 13 Brexit Advisory Clinics.

EI also recently launched a new Customs Insights Online course which 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.

In order to help build the enterprise capability, under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) EI invested in seven successful projects in the Border region with a total funding allocation of more than €10.6 million. This funding will drive enterprise development and job creation in the Border Region.

Enterprise Ireland will continue to engage with its clients to ensure they have the supports required to prepare for any kind of Brexit.

My Department and I have been very active in the 'Getting Ireland Brexit Ready' public information campaign. This campaign includes workshop events throughout the country aimed primarily at business and people most impacted by Brexit. A ‘Getting Ireland Brexit Ready’ event was recently held in Monaghan in October and I was delighted to welcome many businesses from the Border Region. Officials from my Department and agencies also participated in the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready event in Letterkenny in Donegal on 30 November 2018, which included Enterprise Ireland, IDA, the LEOs, NSAI and the HSA.

While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, not everyone is engaging. With Brexit around the corner, I want businesses, particularly those around the Border counties to know my Department and agencies are here to help. My Department and its agencies are providing extensive supports, schemes and advice to ensure that businesses are prepared for any Brexit scenario.

Regional Enterprise Development Fund

Ceisteanna (32)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

32. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when the next round of the regional enterprise development fund will open for applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11161/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The Government has made a significant commitment under Project Ireland 2040 to target €4 billion to support the key priorities of rural renewal, urban regeneration, the achievement of climate action objectives, and the development of new technologies. These funds will also act as key enablers for regional growth over the coming years.

I will be looking particularly at the REDF in the context of the full range of new funds available under Project Ireland 2040, with a view to identifying where there may be remaining gaps in funding provision for regional enterprise development. Following the success of the first two calls under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) with 42 projects approved for funding of up to €60m, my officials are now assessing the impact of the scheme to date, key gaps and needs and how best to focus future calls. Further funding calls will be launched over the coming months based on this wider review of the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) by my Department.

Work Permits Applications

Ceisteanna (33)

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

33. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if her attention has been drawn to the impact the delay in processing employment permits for non-EU nationals is having on business; the steps she is taking to address the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11151/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

It is currently taking 3 weeks to process applications for trusted partners and 13 weeks for standard applications. My Department is continuing to take steps to improve these processing times. The main reason for the delays is the current high level of demand for employment permits, due to our economic success, growing labour market and reduced labour surplus.

During 2018 some 16,800 applications were received which were approx. 30% higher than 2017. This strong demand has continued into 2019 with an 18% increase in applications received to date (2,530 applications received at end of February).

During 2018 some 13,400 permits were granted representing an almost 20% increase over last year. Quarter 4 in 2018 saw the highest number of permits issued in any quarter in the previous 10 years. The high levels of permits being issued has continued into 2019 with a 42% increase in permits issued (2,760 permits issued at end of February).

There are currently approximately 1,930 permit applications in the processing queue down from a peak of 3,230 in September 2018. Through a combination of increased resources, staff working overtime and ICT and operational improvements, processing times are reducing with further improvements anticipated for standard applications in the coming weeks.

As well as the short-term measures introduced to date, the development of a new IT system is being explored which will take advantage of all the new technologies available, including full digitisation. In parallel with this new development, my Department is determined to continue to reduce processing times and is engaging extensively with stakeholders to ensure that they are fully aware of the situation.

Job Creation Data

Ceisteanna (34)

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

34. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the additional jobs created in 2018 in the south-east region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11234/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The recently published Q4 2018 CSO Labour Force Survey employment figures are overall very positive. Figures show that overall, employment continues to grow strongly with 50,500 jobs created in the year from Q4 2017 to Q4 2018. This brings total employment to 2,281,300, the highest number at work ever recorded.

The South-East regions have shown very good progress in employment levels since the launch of the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017.

From Q1 2015 (baseline year) to Q4 2018, a total of 18,500 more people are in employment in the South East to Q4 2018. There were 4,300 more people in employment in the South-East region in 2018.

From Q1 2015 (baseline year) to Q4 2018 unemployment has reduced from 11.7 percent to 7.7 percent in the South-East but remains over one percent above the State average of 5.4 percent.

We remain committed to achieving an overall jobs uplift of between 10 and 15 per cent in each region by 2020 and to bring and/or maintain unemployment levels in each region to within at least one percentage point of the State average.

To that end, in April 2018, I asked all the Regional Action Plan for Jobs Implementation Committees, including in the South-East region, to start a process to refresh and refocus all Regional Plans to ensure their relevance and impact out to 2020, so that they continue to deliver jobs across the country, in every region, and can be robust to address the challenges we face, including Brexit.

The outcome of this refresh process is nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, which build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. I am currently in the process of launching the new Plans, with eight Plans launched to date, including for the West and Midlands.

Shaped from the ‘bottom-up’ by regional stakeholders, and overseen by my Department, the new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020 complement national level policies and programmes emanating from the ‘top-down’ and, there is strong alignment with Ireland’s national enterprise policy, Enterprise 2025 Renewed and the forthcoming Future Jobs Ireland initiative.

The principle behind the Regional Enterprise Plans is collaboration between regional stakeholders on initiatives that can help to realise the region’s enterprise development potential so that all regions can meet and exceed the regional job creation targets set to 2020. These stakeholders include: the Local Authorities, the LEOs, the enterprise agencies, the Regional Skills Forum, tourism bodies, private sector ‘enterprise champions’, and others.

It is also important to note that as well as meeting the numerical targets, it is also about creating jobs that are of good quality and sustainable over the longer term.

The Government is focused on this agenda at the national level through the Future Jobs Ireland initiative, and we are focused on this agenda through these new Regional Enterprise Plans.

Electronic Commerce

Ceisteanna (35)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

35. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the supports available through her Department and agencies under her remit to help businesses trade online; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11162/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

I am convinced that all businesses, regardless of size or sector, in today’s competitive environment need to take steps to build their online capability. The agencies of my Department offer a range of supports to assist businesses to trade online.

The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the first-stop-shop front line service assisting in delivering business growth and jobs for the small & micro-enterprise sector. The LEOs are the first port of call for anyone who wishes to start or expand a business, in terms of advice, training, sign posting to other support providers and, in certain circumstances, grant support. The LEOs undertake a number of activities to encourage businesses to build their online presence and compete in the online market place.

The LEOs nationwide actively promote the Trading Online Voucher Scheme (TOVS) on behalf of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The TOVS offers matched financial assistance of up to €2,500, along with training and advice, to micro companies (10 or less employees) who want to establish an online presence for the first time, or who wish to expand a basic existing website to incorporate a more substantive online trading capacity.

Since the start of the scheme in July 2014 to date over 5,000 micro companies have availed of the TOVS including 1,103 LEO client companies.

The LEOs also offer a wide range of short training programmes to support their clients in building their online presence and to compete in the online marketplace. These programmes are focused on different elements which aim at maximising outputs from investment in online trading such as:

- Marketing, focused mainly on development of an online/mobile marketing strategy

- Social Media, with the majority of programmes focused on educating the client base on how to use the different social media platforms to support their business

- eCommerce Sales Strategy, including how to convert website visits into sales

- Search Engine Optimisation, including web analytics and video optimisation for web.

As Chair of the Retail Consultation Forum, I have prioritised supporting the retail sector to develop their online capability in order for them to expand their market reach nationally and internationally and enhance their competitiveness. In 2017, data from the CSO showed that 66% of Irish enterprises in the Wholesale and Retail Sector reported having a website or homepage, with only 28% able to facilitate online ordering.

In support of this, I introduced a new pilot Online Retail Scheme administered by Enterprise Ireland, the first call of which opened on 24th October 2018 and closed on 5th December 2018. I announced the eleven successful applicants on 1st March 2019 in Skibbereen, Co. Cork. A second call will issue later this year.

The Online Retail Scheme will support retail businesses of 20 employees or more who are ready to strategically grow their online capability. Eligible expenditure under the Scheme includes activities such as research, strategy development, implementation and training. The Scheme launched with a fund of up to €625,000, which was later doubled to €1.25m as part of the Department’s 2019 Budget.

In recognition of the strong role the retail sector plays in supporting regional development and vibrant communities, at least 50% of the total number of grants awarded under the Scheme will be prioritised for retail SMEs with their headquarters outside of county Dublin, subject to applications meeting the minimum standards required.

As we move towards 2020 Enterprise Ireland’s focus is to assist client companies build on the strength of their 2018 performance by supporting them to start, innovate, be competitive and to diversify their global footprint. The ability to conduct businesses trade online is vital for business and provides one of the most cost-effective ways to develop an export market. Enterprise Ireland is focused on helping export focused clients across all sectors to exploit the Internet as a route to market and to assist them in developing a strategy that will shape how they do business online.

To support this, Enterprise Ireland’s Internet Marketing Unit provides grant support and non-financial support such as guidance, workshops and seminars to companies. In addition, under Enterprise Ireland’s Business Process Improvement Grant, client companies can apply for grant support to undertake an e-Marketing Improvement Assignment. This support is designed to assist senior managers in client companies to maximise the opportunities presented by the Internet as a business development channel. Using one-to-one training and action-based learning, consultants/ trainers work with clients to plan and implement an eMarketing strategy.

Regional Aid

Ceisteanna (36)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

36. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the beneficiaries of the EU regional aid status of Kells and north County Meath granted in 2014; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11269/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Regional development - whether in north Meath or further afield - remains an absolute priority of mine. I am focused on both supporting and sustaining existing employment levels in regional Ireland while also working to create new economic opportunities and jobs in every county of Ireland.

Significant progress has been made in recent years in creating new jobs and economic opportunities outside of our main cities. 58% of all IDA-supported employment, for example, is now outside of Dublin. The IDA is focused, as am I, on increasing that percentage further in 2019.

With regard to IDA activity in Meath in particular, the Agency regularly engages with key stakeholders on the ground in the county, including with local authorities, public bodies, the education sector and companies from both its own client base but also from the indigenous sector. The Agency also owns sites in Meath that are actively marketed to its clients through its network of offices in Ireland and overseas. I am confident that the ongoing work by the IDA in the county will lead to more investment and job creation for the wider area in due course.

In terms of recent performance, Meath has seen a 4% increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) employment in the last year. There are now 19 IDA-supported client companies in the County employing over 1,600 people. Meath continues to maintain a strong contingent of overseas firms in the financial services, manufacturing and biotechnology sectors with key clients such as ArcRoyal, International Fund Services and Alltech performing well in the County. The client base there shows that the area remains an attractive destination for FDI and overseas firms.

While progress has been made in helping to generate new economic opportunities in Meath, the Government remains determined to achieve more. That is why work is continuing to unlock further the economic potential in the county. The IDA remains pivotal to this and the Agency is engaging with its clients and with other enterprise agencies to create jobs and source new investment there.

As regards beneficiaries of grant support in County Meath, Enterprise Ireland has supported a number of projects there under the relevant state aid guidelines. In the period 2014 – 2018, clients of that Agency there received €1.7 million in payments. In regard to the relevant state aid guidelines, due to the number of companies involved and commercial sensitivities, Enterprise Ireland is not able to provide further information on those payments at this time.

IDA Ireland Portfolio

Ceisteanna (37)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

37. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to instruct IDA Ireland to examine the possibility of making properties available from their portfolio of properties in rural areas for the development of digital hubs to be run by Enterprise Ireland particularly in view of the delay in the roll-out of rural broadband; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10961/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Collaborative working spaces known as digital hubs, or “eHubs”, are envisaged under Project Ireland 2040 as part of an ongoing suite of measures to encourage greater levels of collaboration between entrepreneurs in accessing available supports and assistance in helping to make their businesses grow. These future eHubs will play an important role in facilitating remote working which offers many benefits to businesses and to individuals while contributing to balanced regional employment. There are a number of cross-departmental efforts which will assist in the development of eHubs, including the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund and the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.

I recently announced allocations under the second call of the REDF administered by Enterprise Ireland. A number of the projects that have been offered funding are already prototype digital Hubs and should develop throughout the duration of their project into sustainable eHubs.

As for the transfer of IDA properties to Enterprise Ireland, it is the case that the two Agencies already work very closely and effectively with one another on property-related matters. Whilst the IDA is primarily focused on helping find property solutions for overseas firms, it also supports EI clients seeking to identify an appropriate site or building. The IDA and EI will continue to cooperate on property issues into the future.

More broadly, I want to emphasise that creating jobs in the regions is a priority for both the IDA and my Department. I am focused on doing everything I can to deliver the fairest possible spread of investment across the country. The energy and resources we have invested into regional growth is, as the evidence illustrates, now helping produce results. In 2018, for example, the IDA delivered 113 regional investments with 56% of net new jobs created outside Dublin. The last four years have seen 44,500 new FDI jobs created outside the capital. We will continue to do our utmost to encourage further such job growth across all parts of Ireland in the time ahead.

Regional Enterprise Development Fund

Ceisteanna (38)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

38. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the regional enterprise plans; her views on the way in which they will benefit County Sligo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11160/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

In April 2018, I asked all the Regional Action Plan for Jobs Implementation Committees to start a process to refresh and refocus all Regional Plans to ensure their relevance and impact out to 2020, so that they continue to deliver jobs across the country, in every region, and can be robust to address the challenges we face, including Brexit.

The outcome of this refresh process is nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, which build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. I am currently in the process of launching the new Plans, with eight Plans launched to date.

Shaped from the ‘bottom-up’ by regional stakeholders, and overseen by my Department, the new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020 complement national level policies and programmes emanating from the ‘top-down’ and, there is strong alignment with Ireland’s national enterprise policy, Enterprise 2025 Renewed and the forthcoming Future Jobs Ireland initiative.

They are two-year, focused Plans, which are also ‘live’ documents, so new initiatives can be adopted during their operation by the regional stakeholders working together.

The principle behind the Regional Enterprise Plans is collaboration between regional stakeholders on initiatives that can help to realise the region’s enterprise development potential. These stakeholders include: the Local Authorities, the LEOs, the enterprise agencies, the Regional Skills Forum, tourism bodies, private sector ‘enterprise champions’, and others.

I launched the new Regional Enterprise Plan for the North-West region, which covers Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo, on the 25th February in Drumshanbo.

The Regional Enterprise Plan for the North-West is focused around six ‘Strategic Objectives’ and each of the six Objectives involves a focus on Co. Sligo as part of the North-West region; as follows:

1. Identify and enhance the visibility of skills available to employers and potential investors in the North-West;

2. Achieve a step-change in the level of entrepreneurship in the North-West;

3. Harness the potential of the blue economy and the North-West coastline as a source of new employment generation;

4. Maximise the potential of the Wild Atlantic Way and tourism for the North-West;

5. Develop a regional network of landing spaces to support co-working; and

6. Support the digitalisation of SMEs in the North-West.

The Strategic Objectives and actions in the North-West Plan are set out alongside the Enterprise Agencies’ (Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland) and the LEOs’ core activities in Co. Sligo and the wider region. In this way the new Plans add value and support the work of the Agencies on the ground in the North-West, through a collaborative approach.

It is encouraging that the unemployment rate in the Border region, which includes Co. Sligo (along with Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, and Monaghan) has reduced from 8.5 percent in Q1 2015 to 3.8 percent in Q4 2018, currently the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

The focus for Co. Sligo and the North-West over the period to 2020 under the new Regional Enterprise Plan will be to maintain an emphasis on employment growth, aiming to outperform the rate of growth achieved since 2015 to date and to ensure that sustainable, quality jobs are created and maintained in the region. The collaborative strategic objectives and actions in this Plan, along with the core activities of the various Agencies and Bodies involved in supporting enterprise development over the coming two-year period will support this.

Finally, it is important to note that the Government has put several funding streams in place to support regional development, and the North-West has seen many successes through these ongoing initiatives. They include my Department’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund; the Rural and Urban Regeneration and Development Funds under Project Ireland 2040; and the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.

Under the €60 million competitive Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), the North-West region has secured total funding of over €5.2 million to date under the two completed Calls - one of these projects, the development of a new enterprise centre at Strandhill involves an investment of just over €1.9 million.

Guided by this new Regional Enterprise Plan, the region and Co. Sligo is well positioned to build on this success and to continue to see the benefits and results of collaborative and innovative initiatives that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the region.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (39)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

39. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if her Department and the agencies under her remit have ongoing contact with their counterparts in Northern Ireland for the protection of business and employment in the Border region, both North and South, due to the uncertainties that have arisen due to Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11232/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Minimising the impact of Brexit on cross-border trade and employment is a key priority for the Government. We are doing our utmost to protect the interests of those companies that are engaged in business activities on both sides of the border.

InterTradeIreland (ITI) – one of the six North/South Implementation Bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement – is jointly funded by my Department and its counterpart in Northern Ireland, the Department for the Economy (DFE). Given its mandate to develop North South Trade, ITI is particularly well-placed to assist businesses in preparing for the challenges associated with Brexit, and officials in my Department are in regular contact with their DFE counterparts to ensure the body is supported and equipped to carry out this important work. My Department provided an additional €1 million to ITI this year, which will enable the body to engage with more companies seeking support through its Brexit Advisory Service, as well as meeting demand for existing programmes which are all designed to promote and support cross-border trade.

Enterprise Ireland (EI) have a longstanding collaboration with their equivalent agency in Northern Ireland, Invest Northern Ireland (INI). There is regular contact between the two agencies on a range of policies and initiatives that support business and employment in the two jurisdictions. Over the past two years there has been more specific contact and cooperation on Brexit supports. In addition, EI, INI and ITI meet regularly to facilitate inter-agency coordination and cooperation.

IDA Ireland and INI, meanwhile, are competitors for foreign direct investment, which therefore makes practical opportunities for ongoing cooperation more limited. However, the two bodies do cooperate with another in the context of regional and all-island economic development.

More broadly, the Government is focused on maintaining mutually beneficial relationships on enterprise development and trade with our counterparts in Northern Ireland. We continue to work towards an outcome that will maintain the closest and most positive possible trading relationship between the UK and Ireland following Brexit.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (40, 49)

John Curran

Ceist:

40. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the uptake of all Brexit supports under the remit of her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10955/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

49. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the take-up of Brexit preparedness courses, materials, grants and information to date in quarter 1 of 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11164/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 49 together.

Brexit represents a significant challenge for businesses in Ireland, which cannot be underestimated. That’s why my Department started developing supports for businesses from the time when Brexit first became a possibility. Government’s priority is to ensure that businesses around the country can manage risks and avail of any opportunities. This has informed the range of advisory and financial supports that are in place.

The €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme launched last year is open to eligible businesses of up to 499 employees which have been demonstrably impacted by Brexit, or which will be in the future. The Brexit Loan Scheme provides working capital funding to businesses to innovate, change or adapt in response to Brexit-related challenges. Loan amounts range from €25,000 up to €1.5 million, for terms of up to three years and at a maximum interest rate of 4%. Loans of up to €500,000 are available unsecured. This may be useful for businesses whose cashflow has already been impacted by Brexit.

Beyond this, my Department and its agencies are fully engaged in preparing Irish businesses for Brexit and have participated in the Government of Ireland’s series of Getting Ireland Brexit Ready events in Cork, Galway, Monaghan, Dublin, Limerick and Donegal. As part of awareness-raising activities, Enterprise Ireland continues to roll out regional Brexit Advisory clinics. To date, these clinics have been held in Letterkenny, Tralee, Portlaoise, Claremorris, Cootehill, Charleville, Dublin, Galway, Dundalk, Waterford and Limerick. Further events are planned in Galway, Cork, Letterkenny and Dublin ahead of the withdrawal date.

EI has also been running a PrepareforBrexit communications campaign, featuring the Brexit SME Scorecard and the PrepareforBrexit.ie website, which offers information on the likely impacts of Brexit on Irish businesses and how these impacts might be mitigated. The Brexit SME Scorecard is an interactive online platform that can be used by all Irish businesses to self-assess their exposure to Brexit.

Funding to the Local Enterprise Offices has been increased by 22% and they, along with InterTradeIreland, are offering a range of Brexit-focused supports to companies, including those engaged in cross-border trade with Northern Ireland. InterTradeIreland continues to offer its Brexit: Start to Plan voucher scheme, which makes available financial support of up to €2,250 towards professional advisory services to address Brexit-related challenges.

The LEOs offer Brexit supports to micro and small businesses through the 31 LEOs nationwide, including tailored mentoring to address Brexit-related business challenges, and targeted training on specific Brexit challenges.

The InterTradeIreland 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. As part of the service, 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.

ITI also offers a Brexit Start to Plan voucher scheme, which enables businesses to get professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. This support helps businesses obtain advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services. ITI vouchers are worth up to €2,250 (inclusive of VAT) each. Companies are finding the vouchers very useful and there has been strong demand which can be attributed to the media campaign conducted by ITI across a range of platforms. ITI have just launched a further financial support - £5,000 in matched funding which will support companies in implementing a change identified in their Brexit action plan.

While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, not everyone is engaging. With Brexit around the corner, I want businesses, particularly those around the Border counties to know my Department and agencies are here to help. My Department and its agencies are providing extensive supports, schemes and advice to ensure that businesses are prepared for Brexit.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (41)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

41. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the level of state aid that will be made available in the event of a no-deal hard Brexit; the provision provided for same in the Revised Estimates; if she has sought permission from the European Commission for aid to specific sectors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10636/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Across Government Departments significant work is ongoing to ensure all necessary supports will be available to enterprise regarding a wide variety of Brexit implications. Provision in the revised estimates for financial support is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Finance.

In relation to State aid, my Department and its agencies have been working closely with the EU Commission and DG Competition since November 2017 through the Irish/EU Technical Working Group on State aid. The objective of the Group is to scope and design schemes to support enterprises across various sectors, impacted by Brexit in line with State Aid rules. Much has been achieved by this Working Group. It has examined and explored a range of opportunities within State Aid rules including the development of the Future Growth Loan Scheme under GBER rules, and the expansion of Ireland’s Rescue and Restructuring Scheme to include Temporary liquidity aid, and to increase the budget for the Rescue & Restructuring Scheme to €200 million. Through the mechanism of the Technical Working Group Ireland has fully utilised the provisions of the State aid framework to enable the investment by Enterprise Ireland of €74 million in Brexit impacted businesses in 2018.

The Group is currently working closely with DG Agriculture to explore the range of opportunities under the Agriculture and Forestry State aid guidelines, and as part of this State Aid approval was received in February for capital investment by Enterprise Ireland in an Irish cheese producing company, Carbery Food Ingredients Ltd, to help the company towards financing a dairy diversification project to mitigate the impacts of Brexit. The Group met most recently in Brussels at the end of February last to review progress on a range of initiatives.

On 24th January 2019, I met with the European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager. The focus of the meeting centred around the severe challenges that Irish businesses will face when the UK leaves the EU 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 implication become known. The Commissioner emphasised that the Commission stands ready to act urgently in mitigation against the impacts of Brexit on Irish firms

Departmental Reviews

Ceisteanna (42)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

42. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if regular reviews are carried out of the amount allocated for the purpose of supporting businesses through IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland; if she makes policy decisions on the way in which funds should be divided; if there is a different approach at different points in the economic cycle; the extent to which indigenous companies are prioritised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11043/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The Deputy will be aware that decisions in relation to the funding allocated to Government Departments and their Agencies are determined through the annual budgetary and estimates process. The Deputy will also be aware of the recent reforms that have been undertaken in relation to the budgetary cycle, not least the rolling programme of Spending Reviews which commenced in 2017. The Spending Review process allows for the systematic examination of existing expenditure programmes to assess their effectiveness in meeting policy objectives and also provides for a robust evidence base on key expenditure issues to inform discussion in the course of the budgetary and estimates process.

Insofar as my Department is concerned, as part of the Spending Review process, my Department in conjunction with the Irish Government Economic Evaluation Service of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has conducted a comprehensive programme of evaluations of supports to enterprise by the Department's Enterprise Agencies, including supports provided to enterprise by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. These evaluations have included discrete reviews of EI/IDA supports in the following areas:

- Supports for Start Up and Entrepreneurship

- Supports for Research, Development and Innovation

- Supports for Business Development

The evaluation of these programmes show that the enterprise agency’s financial supports are aligned with enterprise policy objectives. The analysis completed by the Evaluations Unit in my Department provides a comprehensive bank of evidence that is helping to improve the overall system for design and delivery of supports to enterprise by IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

In addition to aforementioned Spending Review evaluations, the allocations to my Department’s Enterprise Agencies also reflect the commitments agreed under the Programme for a Partnership Government. In this regard the Deputy will be aware of the commitment under the Programme for Partnership Government to create 200,000 new jobs by 2020, 135,000 of which are to be located outside of Dublin and the roles identified for EI and IDA in the Programme to achieve this commitment.

In addition to the aforementioned evaluations and Programme for Partnership Government commitments, the Deputy will also appreciate that budgetary discussions in the course of the estimates process are clearly informed by a variety of other factors not least, the position of the public finances, the economic cycle and emerging challenges, the most recent of which clearly is Brexit.

The Deputy will appreciate, therefore, that the allocations to my Department’s Enterprise Agencies, which have been significantly increased in recent years, have been informed by the evidence of the aforementioned evaluations of the value of EI/IDA supports in promoting enterprise and employment, the employment and regional development commitments under the Programme for a Partnership Government and the need to prepare enterprises for emerging challenges such as Brexit.

Regional Enterprise Development Fund

Ceisteanna (43)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

43. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the regional enterprise plans; her views on the way in which this will benefit County Louth and the north-east; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11177/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

In April 2018, I asked all the Regional Action Plan for Jobs Implementation Committees to start a process to refresh and refocus all Regional Plans to ensure their relevance and impact out to 2020, so that they continue to deliver jobs across the country, in every region, and can be robust to address the challenges we face, including Brexit.

The outcome of this refresh process is nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, which build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. I am currently in the process of launching the new Plans, with eight Plans launched to date.

Shaped from the ‘bottom-up’ by regional stakeholders, and overseen by my Department, the new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020 complement national level policies and programmes emanating from the ‘top-down’ and, there is strong alignment with Ireland’s national enterprise policy, Enterprise 2025 Renewed and the forthcoming Future Jobs Ireland initiative.

They are two-year, focused Plans, which are also ‘live’ documents, so new initiatives can be adopted during their operation by the regional stakeholders working together.

The principle behind the Regional Enterprise Plans is collaboration between regional stakeholders on initiatives that can help to realise the region’s enterprise development potential. These stakeholders include: the Local Authorities, the LEOs, the enterprise agencies, the Regional Skills Forum, tourism bodies, private sector ‘enterprise champions’, and others.

I launched the new Regional Enterprise Plan for the North-East region, which covers counties Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, on the 25th February in Cootehill.

The Regional Enterprise Plan for the North-East is focused around five ‘Strategic Objectives’ and each of the five Objectives involves a focus on Co. Louth as part of the North-East region; as follows:

1. Leverage the full extent of talent residing in the North-East to drive new enterprise investment and growth;

2. Implement a holistic approach to workforce development in the North-East, matching workers’ skills to needs in the region’s enterprises and further developing the knowledge, skills and competencies of those currently in the workplace;

3. Strengthen SME resilience in the North-East to achieve development and growth in the face of external challenges;

4. Drive a higher level of economic success in the North-East by building on niche strengths and fostering clustering amongst enterprises;

5. Strengthen the attractiveness of the North-East as a destination to visit.

Initiatives in the new Plan that are of particular significance to Co. Louth include the focus on business clustering in sectors such as financial services, payments and precision engineering; and more intensive engagement between DKIT and the Regional Skills Forum on meeting emerging sector specific skill set needs regionally.

The Strategic Objectives and actions in the North-East Plan are set out alongside the Enterprise Agencies’ (Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland) and the LEOs’ core activities in Co. Louth and the wider region. In this way the new Plans add value and support the work of the Agencies on the ground in the North-East, through a collaborative approach.

It is encouraging that the unemployment rate in the Border region, which includes Co. Louth (along with Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Sligo) has reduced from 8.5 percent in Q1 2015 to 3.8 percent in Q4 2018, currently the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

The focus for Co. Louth and the North-East over the period to 2020 under the new Regional Enterprise Plan will be to maintain an emphasis on employment growth, aiming to outperform the rate of growth achieved since 2015 to date and to ensure that sustainable, quality jobs are created and maintained the region. The collaborative strategic objectives and actions in this Plan, along with the core activities of the various Agencies and Bodies involved in supporting enterprise development over the coming two-year period will support this.

Finally, it is important to note that the Government has put several funding streams in place to support regional development, and the North-East has seen many successes through these ongoing initiatives. They include my Department’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund; the Rural and Urban Regeneration and Development Funds under Project Ireland 2040; and the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.

Under the €60 million competitive Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), the North-East region has secured total funding of over €5.4 million to date under the two completed Calls.

Guided by this new Regional Enterprise Plan, the region and Co. Louth is well positioned to build on this success and to continue to see the benefits and results of collaborative and innovative initiatives that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the region.

Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement

Ceisteanna (44)

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

44. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the new powers proposed for the corporate enforcement authority; if she is satisfied the new agency will have strong enough powers to robustly tackle white collar crime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11149/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

One of the actions in the Government's package of Measures to Enhance Ireland’s Corporate, Economic and Regulatory Framework, published in November 2017, is the establishment of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) as a stand-alone agency.

The General Scheme of the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2018 to establish the ODCE as a stand-alone agency was published on 4 December 2018. The General Scheme is currently subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

In terms of the statutory powers of the Agency, the Companies Act 2014 provides substantial and wide-ranging powers for the Director of Corporate Enforcement. The General Scheme of the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2018 provides that the current range of powers that the ODCE has will be carried over to the new Authority, with some new investigative tools added. These include:

- Enhanced search and entry powers to meet the changes arising from technological advances and to allow the Authority to get a search warrant that enables it to search for electronic records that a company may hold on a server that is remote from the company or to be able to use its own equipment (Head 46);

- A provision on the admissibility of written statements (Head 45);

- Power for the Authority to request that a person acting as a liquidator provide evidence to the Authority that he or she is qualified to act as a liquidator in accordance with the requirements of the Companies Act 2014 (Head 41);

- New grounds to apply to the Courts for an Order to restrict a person from acting as a director in winding-up situations (Head 38). This is intended to address the situation where a director does not conduct an orderly winding up of a company.

Alongside these provisions in the General Scheme, my Department is working with the Department of Justice and Equality with a view to giving the new Authority a power under the forthcoming Communications (Retention of Data) Bill to apply directly to the courts to retain specified telecommunication records for an investigation.

Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement Reports

Ceisteanna (45)

Billy Kelleher

Ceist:

45. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when the full ODCE report into the collapse of the trial of a person (details supplied) will be published. [11169/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The advice of the Attorney General was sought on the publication of the Report of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) prepared under section 955(1)(a) of the Companies Act 2014.

Because of section 956 of the Companies Act 2014 the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation is prohibited from publishing reports prepared pursuant to Section 955 of the Act.

The Companies Act 2014 contains strict confidentiality obligations on information in the possession of the Director. This is because there is a public interest in ensuring that ongoing and future investigations are not compromised by the disclosure of details of an individual investigation and the investigative process itself.

However, while it is not possible to publish the report itself, an account of the investigative shortcomings identified by Judge Aylmer, in so far as they relate directly to the role of the ODCE, was published on 4 December 2018 on the website of my Department. The account sets out the factors which led to the investigative shortcomings, including the need for a broader skills base, a greater range and depth of knowledge and experience of criminal prosecutions within the Office and a greater appreciation of the necessity to employ appropriate procedures and manage risk.

Now that we know the factors that led to the shortcomings, our focus has shifted to ensuring we use the lessons of this investigation, note the steps already taken to address them and identify further measures to enhance the capacity of the ODCE to tackle corporate wrongdoing.

Since the time of the investigation, the Director has implemented multiple reforms within the ODCE, including staffing and procedural reforms that address many of the issues that led to the investigative shortcomings outlined by Judge Aylmer. Further measures to be taken include the establishment, as announced by Government in November 2017, of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement as an agency, to provide it with greater autonomy in relation to staffing resources and ensure it is better equipped to investigate increasingly complex breaches of company law.

The General Scheme of a Bill to establish the ODCE as an Agency was published on my Department’s website on 4 December 2018. The General Scheme is currently subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (46)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

46. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to expand uptake in the Brexit scorecard scheme, particularly in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11268/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Enterprise Ireland has introduced a number of Brexit specific programmes to help Irish companies remain resilient in the face of uncertainty. One of these measures is an online “Brexit SME Scorecard” to help all Irish businesses self-assess their exposure to Brexit. As of 4 March 2019, 4,692 Brexit Scorecards have been completed.

The Scorecard generates a report on weak areas with suggested actions and resources, and information on events for companies to attend, to prepare for Brexit. While the Brexit Scorecard is available to all companies, Enterprise Ireland client exporting companies that utilise the Scorecard will then be able to engage with the agency’s experts both domestically and through the overseas offices in global markets for support in devising a strategy. Enterprise Ireland will continue to promote the Brexit Scorecard as part of the agency’s campaign to drive the awareness and preparedness of companies to Brexit.

I should also point out that the Brexit Scorecard is only one of a wide range of supports offered by my Department and its Agencies to help businesses prepare for Brexit.

For example, at the Brexit Advisory Clinic held in Cork on 27 February 2019, Enterprise Ireland had 7 expert desks around the areas of Strategic Sourcing, Currency and Financial Management and Customs & Logistics. These meetings generated 54 one to one meetings between clients and the EI panel of experts across the day.

Allied to that, the Local Enterprise Offices have also commenced the national roll-out of customs training workshops. The next series of workshops will take place on the 8th March in Cork, followed by events in Dublin on the 13th March and Portlaoise on the 21st March.

Electronic Commerce

Question No. 48 answered with Question No. 31.

Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 40.

Ceisteanna (47)

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

47. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the supports available through her Department, and the agencies under the remit of her Department, to help businesses trade online; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11203/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

All businesses, regardless of size or sector, in today’s competitive environment must ensure to build their online capability. The agencies of the Department offer a range of supports to assist businesses to trade online.

The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the first-stop-shop front line service assisting in delivering business growth and jobs for the small & micro-enterprise sector. The LEOs are the first port of call for anyone who wishes to start or expand a business, in terms of advice, training, sign posting to other support providers and, in certain circumstances, grant support. The LEOs undertake a number of activities to encourage businesses to build their online presence and compete in the online market place.

The LEOs nationwide actively promote the Trading Online Voucher Scheme (TOVS) on behalf of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The TOVS offers matched financial assistance of up to €2,500, along with training and advice, to micro companies (10 or less employees) who want to establish an online presence for the first time, or who wish to expand a basic existing website to incorporate a more substantive online trading capacity.

Since the start of the scheme in July 2014 to date over 5,000 micro companies have availed of the TOVS including 1,103 LEO client companies.

The LEOs also offer a wide range of short training programmes to support their clients in building their online presence and to compete in the online marketplace. These programmes are focused on different elements which aim at maximising outputs from investment in online trading such as:

- Marketing, focused mainly on development of an online/mobile marketing strategy

- Social Media, with the majority of programmes focused on educating the client base on how to use the different social media platforms to support their business

- eCommerce Sales Strategy, including how to convert website visits into sales

- Search Engine Optimisation, including web analytics and video optimisation for web.

As Chair of the Retail Consultation Forum, I have prioritised supporting the retail sector to develop their online capability in order for them to expand their market reach nationally and internationally and enhance their competitiveness. In 2017, data from the CSO showed that 66% of Irish enterprises in the Wholesale and Retail Sector reported having a website or homepage, with only 28% able to facilitate online ordering.

In support of this, I introduced a new pilot Online Retail Scheme administered by Enterprise Ireland, the first call of which opened on 24th October 2018 and closed on 5th December 2018. I announced the eleven successful applicants on 1st March 2019 in Skibbereen, Co. Cork. A second call will issue later this year.

The Online Retail Scheme will support retail businesses of 20 employees or more who are ready to strategically grow their online capability. Eligible expenditure under the Scheme includes activities such as research, strategy development, implementation and training. The Scheme launched with a fund of up to €625,000, which was later doubled to €1.25m as part of the Department’s 2019 Budget.

In recognition of the strong role the retail sector plays in supporting regional development and vibrant communities, at least 50% of the total number of grants awarded under the Scheme will be prioritised for retail SMEs with their headquarters outside of county Dublin, subject to applications meeting the minimum standards required.

As we move towards 2020, Enterprise Ireland’s focus is to assist client companies build on the strength of their 2018 performance by supporting them to start, innovate, be competitive and to diversify their global footprint. The ability to conduct businesses trade online is vital for business and provides one of the most cost-effective ways to develop an export market. Enterprise Ireland is focused on helping export-focused clients across all sectors to exploit the Internet as a route to market and to assist them in developing a strategy that will shape how they do business online.

To support this, Enterprise Ireland’s Internet Marketing Unit provides grant support and non-financial support such as guidance, workshops and seminars to companies. In addition, under Enterprise Ireland’s Business Process Improvement Grant, client companies can apply for grant support to undertake an e-Marketing Improvement Assignment. This support is designed to assist senior managers in client companies to maximise the opportunities presented by the Internet as a business development channel. Using one-to-one training and action-based learning, consultants/ trainers work with clients to plan and implement an eMarketing strategy.

Question No. 48 answered with Question No. 31.
Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 40.