Since the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, my Department and its agencies have put in place a wide range of Brexit supports for businesses. My Department's focus is on helping firms to improve their competitiveness and innovation, and to diversify markets.
My Department and its agencies are working to provide extensive supports, schemes and advice to ensure that businesses are prepared for Brexit. The suite of enterprise and finance supports now in place covers the spectrum of potential Brexit impacts and aims to assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and the practical preparatory actions to be taken over the coming months. I continue to prioritise the development and support for SMEs and entrepreneurs as part of my ongoing engagement with my colleague the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform in the preparation of Budget 2020.
These will build on the broad array of existing Brexit supports already in place. Since 2016, my Department and its agencies have been working to prepare Irish businesses for the potential challenges posed by Brexit by helping them to assess their preparedness and helping them to implement practical action plans in areas such as customs, supply chain and sourcing, and financial management. While we cannot yet know the form that Brexit will take, these measures aim to assist businesses in identifying and managing key risk areas and develop practical preparatory actions regardless of the circumstances of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The Government’s suite of Brexit supports includes preparedness vouchers, consultancy and mentoring supports, tariff advisory services, research on new markets and innovation supports through Enterprise Ireland, the Local Enterprise Offices and InterTradeIreland. Support and advice is also available from the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority, IDA Ireland, Revenue, Skillnet Ireland, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, Bord Bia and Fáilte Ireland.
The most immediate consequences of a hard Brexit are likely to be currency movements, supply chain constraints, delays, duties and tariffs. In the first instance, there will be a strain on the working capital position of businesses.
Of the Government’s suite of supports, the €300m Brexit Loan Scheme is designed to address working capital challenges brought about by Brexit. Under the scheme, loans of up to €1.5 million are available at a rate of 4% or less, with loans of up to €500,000 available on an unsecured basis.
As at 27 September, there have been 816 applications for eligibility under the scheme, of which 738 have been approved, and 194 progressed to sanction at bank level to a total value of €43.52 million. Of the approved applications, 153 were reapplications as eligibility expires after four months.
Similarly, the €300m Future Growth Loan Scheme is designed to support strategic long-term investment in SMEs in a post-Brexit environment. As at 27 September, there have been 1,353 applications for eligibility under the scheme, of which 1,283 have been approved, and 270 progressed to sanction at bank level to a total value of €43.8 million.
InterTradeIreland (ITI) 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 4,500 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory Service.
ITI offers Brexit Planning Voucher and Brexit Implementation Voucher schemes, which enable 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's Brexit Planning Vouchers are worth up to €2,250 (inclusive of VAT) each. 1,893 businesses have applied for a Brexit Planning Voucher, of which 1,630 have been approved. ITI’s Brexit Implementation Voucher provides financial support up to £5,000/€5,625 (inclusive of VAT), with InterTradeIreland paying 50%. This allows businesses to implement critical changes making them better prepared to deal with a new trading relationship.
In August, ITI launched a new advertising campaign and a new online resource to encourage and assist firms in preparing for Brexit. The online “Bitesize Brexit” resource is a one-stop-shop for cross-border traders, presenting information in easily digestible segments and includes specific actions businesses should take in preparing for Brexit.
Enterprise Ireland also recently launched twelve ‘Brexit Essential’ questions aimed at helping exporting businesses further prepare and take action ahead of the UK’s impending withdrawal from the EU. The Brexit Essentials campaign highlights the key questions and documentation that businesses need to address in order to trade successfully with the UK post 31 October.
The Irish Government, in association with key industry partners, also launched a new support measure 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. The new initiative called Clear Customs comprises of a training programme and a customs financial support to assist with the costs of recruiting and assigning new staff to customs roles.
In addition, the Government has held over 100 Brexit information seminars and events since last September. I also have been convening regular roundtable discussions with the main retail grocery and distribution players since December to better understand contingency planning within the sector on food supply. Revenue, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Dublin Port and relevant Government Departments also attend these meetings.
With the deadline for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU fast approaching, the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit continues to represent a significant challenge for businesses in Ireland. I want businesses, particularly those most impacted by Brexit, to know my Department and its agencies are here to help.