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 assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and practical preparatory actions regardless of the circumstances of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
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.
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, 641 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. Technical Assistance Grants for Micro Export are offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities. 602 LEO clients have been approved for the Technical Assistance Grant.
The Local Enterprise Office interactive one day Prepare Your Business for Customs workshop helps businesses understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes required to succeed in a post Brexit environment. 468 Participants have so far attended this Customs Training.
InterTradeIreland also plays a major role as part of Ireland’s Brexit response and offers Brexit-related advisory services to eligible businesses. So far this year, more than 3,000 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory Service.
ITI offers a Brexit Start to Plan voucher and Brexit Implementation Voucher schemes, which enables businesses to get professional advice on how best to plan, prepare and implement for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. These supports help businesses obtain advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services.
ITI Brexit Start to Plan vouchers are worth up to €2,250 (inclusive of VAT) each. 1,587 businesses have applied for a Brexit Start to Plan voucher, of which 1,391 have been approved. ITI new Brexit Implementation Voucher provides financial support up to £5,000/€5,625 (inclusive of VAT), with InterTradeIreland paying 50%. This will allow businesses to implement critical changes making them better prepared to deal with a new trading relationship.
The Brexit Loan Scheme, launched in March of 2018, provides relatively short-term working capital, 1 to 3 years, to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them to innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. 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.
As at 21 June, there have been 656 applications for eligibility under the scheme, of which 596 have been approved to date by SBCI. 144 of those applications have progressed to sanction at bank value, to a total value of €31.73 million.
The Future Growth Loan Scheme makes up to €300 million of loans available with a term of 8-10 years. This scheme is available to eligible businesses in Ireland and the primary agriculture (farmers) and seafood sectors to support strategic long-term investment. The Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, the scheme operator, opened for eligibility applications on 17th April and up to 21st June it received 365 eligibility applications and issued 340 eligibility letters.
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 5,300 business have used Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit Scorecard to date and 85% of EI client firms have a plan in place, while 199 applications for the Be Prepared grant have been approved. 258 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 16 Brexit Advisory Clinics.
EI also launched a Customs Insights Online course at the beginning of the year. This 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. There have been over 1,250 Customs Insights Course participants.
While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the delays to Brexit may have led businesses to defer their immediate planning. However, the UK’s exit from the EU will mean changes for Irish businesses. I want businesses to know that my Department and its agencies are here to help. The existing supports, schemes and advice are in place to ensure that businesses are prepared for any Brexit scenario.