I propose to take Questions Nos. 84 and 86 together.
My Department is working constantly to help Irish businesses to assess and address the challenges of Brexit and to help firms to identify ways to become more resilient, innovative and encouraging diversification into new international markets. While the Copenhagen Economics report of 2018 prepared for my Department estimated up to 20,000 jobs could be at risk, my focus is on ensuring businesses at risk and their employees are prepared and resilient for whatever form Brexit may take. Enterprise Ireland (EI) and the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the main agencies for supporting new start-up businesses across every region of the country.
A key strategic priority of Enterprise Ireland has been to increase the diversification of client companies exports into new markets, with two-thirds of exports to go beyond the UK by 2020. The proportion of exports to the UK has reduced by 10% over the last ten years, reflecting the success Irish companies are having in substantially increasing and broadening their exports to other international markets which has resulted in strong export and employment growth. Exports by EI supported companies have doubled to markets outside the UK since 2008.
EI client company exports increased in 2018 to a record €23.8 billion, representing a 6% increase on 2017. In addition, exports to the UK were up 4% in 2018 when compared with 2017, to €7.9bn. However, due to the increase in exports to other jurisdictions the overall dependency of Irish exporters to the UK declined to 33%, a target EI had set to reach by 2020.
To be resilient to economic shocks, such as Brexit, Irish exporting companies need to be innovative, competitive and have a diversified global footprint. In delivering on this, new supports have been introduced, others streamlined and a Global Ambition campaign launched.
My Department will continue to work with businesses in all regions and sectors, and to help them to identify potential markets for their products and services.
My Department also continues to promote high level international events including trade missions which support the goal of securing high level market access for Irish companies.
New Business Supports
When it comes to identifying vulnerabilities, the Brexit SME Scorecard is an interactive online platform which can be used by all Irish companies, not just EI client companies, to self-assess their exposure to Brexit under six business pillars. As of 27th September 2019, over 6,585 companies have utilised this Scorecard.
The Be Prepared Grant that supports the costs of SME clients up to €5k in preparing a plan to mitigate risks and optimise opportunities arising from Brexit. As of 27th September 2019, a total of 216 companies have been approved for support under this initiative.
In December 2018 my Department launched the new Customs Insights to help companies understand key customs procedures, documents and concepts, and the actions needed to prepare for Brexit.
My Department has also run a €60m competitive fund through the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) in 2017 over two calls to support step change Enterprise Development projects in each region with funding of between €250k and €5m/project. The first Call was launched in April 2017 and the second call in May 2018. In Call One a total of 21 projects were approved funding of €30.5m with a further 38 Feasibility Projects supported. In Call Two a further 21 projects were approved funding of approximately €29m approximately in November 2018. These 42 successful projects are at various stages of implementation and execution of their plans at present.
Call Three of the regional Enterprise Development Fund was launched by Minister Humphreys on 24th June along with a Feasibility Scheme. Assessment and evaluation of applications is expected to take place in October.
In terms of utilising new technologies to mitigate some of the negative effects of Brexit, technological innovation is at the heart of this Government’s vision for the Irish economy. For example, the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund, or DTIF, is an Irish Government Fund recently launched as part of Project Ireland 2040 and the National Development Plan. It is implemented through the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and its agencies with a resource allocation of €500 million over the period 2018-2027 consisting of an initial Exchequer allocation of €180 million to 2022. As a first tranche, €20 million will be allocated during 2019.
Informed by the Research Priority areas, the Fund is competitive and is seeking investment in the research, development and deployment of disruptive technologies and applications on a commercial basis. It will drive collaboration between Ireland’s world-class research base and industry as well as facilitating enterprises to compete directly for funding in support of the development and adoption of these technologies.
A total of 27 projects have been announced from the first tranche of funding, worth €75m to 2021. All projects include collaborations between start-ups, SMEs, multinationals and academic institutions. Every project involves at least one SME, and many are led by an SME. The second call has just closed for applications, with successful applicants expected to be announced in December 2019. Over the next ten years a total of €500 million will be allocated through the fund, which was announced as part of Project Ireland 2040.