Since 2016, my Department has worked with the enterprise development agencies, businesses and representative bodies to ensure we have the appropriate mix of supports for businesses to prepare and manage through whatever Brexit we may face over the coming period.
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, this will put a strain on the working capital position of businesses. I am progressing legislation to increase the amount which Microfinance Ireland can lend from €25k to up to €50k, which increases support to any microenterprise employing 10 or less. This will support an additional 1,000 enterprises with short term loans.
For higher working capital challenges, the €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme provides loans of up to €1.5 million at a rate of 4% or less and approval is valid for 4 months. I would advise businesses to secure approval now, to be ready for any scenario.
For longer term loan requirements, the Future Growth Loan Scheme, is another €300 million for investment by SMEs, primary agriculture and seafood business. Both Government Schemes are administered by the SBCI and delivered through the banks.
Most recently, the joint Skillnet and Enterprise Ireland Clear Customs Scheme was launched on 7th August to help customs agents, intermediaries and affected Irish businesses deal with additional customs requirements. This is a free customs training programme delivered nationwide by Skillnet coupled with €3 million funding which I allocated to Enterprise Ireland for a support payment of up to €6,000 per employee to help with extra costs to manage customs compliance.
The large suite of supports available also include the Brexit Scorecard, Grant aid, Consultancy, Mentoring, Advisory Clinics, Agile Innovation Fund, Operational Excellence Offer and Market Discovery Fund. These supports help companies consider various risks such as supply chain vulnerabilities and act to mitigate against them.
All of these supports are critical for businesses in the highly vulnerable border areas and for exporters who are heavily exposed to the UK market in sectors such as construction, engineering and food.
I recently collaborated with the Accountancy Bodies of Ireland on four breakfast Brexit briefing events between July and September covering a number of counties in the border regions that are likely to be most impacted by Brexit. The events took place in Cavan (4 July), Monaghan (8 July), Donegal (25 July) and Louth (23 September), with over 500 in attendance.
These Brexit events covered a broad range of important topics to help businesses prepare for Brexit such as customs, supply chain, cashflow and accreditation. The events provided an opportunity for me to speak directly to companies impacted by Brexit in the border region, and for these companies to hear first-hand from a large number of Government Agencies about the range of supports available to assist them with their Brexit preparations. Representatives from the Local Enterprise Offices, Enterprise Ireland, InterTrade Ireland, the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine attended the events to engage with businesses.