I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.
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 €25,000 up to €50,000, which increases support to any microenterprise employing ten workers or fewer. This is open to everyone from hairdressers to hauliers. 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 four months. I advise businesses to secure approval now to be ready for any scenario. The overdraft facility can be in place but will only be paid for when it is used.
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 Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and delivered through the banks.
The joint Skillnet and Enterprise Ireland clear customs scheme was launched on 7 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 that 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. Two weeks ago, I saw first-hand one of these courses in Cavan.
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 on four Brexit briefing events between July and September, covering several counties in the Border regions that are likely to be most impacted by Brexit. The events took place in July in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal and in September in Louth with over 500 people in attendance. These Brexit events covered a broad range of important topics to help businesses prepare for Brexit such as supply chain, cashflow and accreditation. The events provided an opportunity for me to speak directly to companies impacted by Brexit in the Border region.
I acknowledge Deputy Brendan Smith’s work on Brexit as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. I am from the Clones area and Deputy Brendan Smith’s home is not far from Belturbet, Bawnboy and Ballyconnell, towns which bore the brunt of the Troubles when a hard border was in place. We do not want to go back to those days. That is why everything the Government is doing is focused on ensuring we do not have a hard border on this island. In recent months, Deputy Brendan Smith has brought delegations and parliamentarians to the Border region to highlight the impact Brexit would have.
It is important to acknowledge that the joined-up approach to Brexit we have seen to date in this Parliament is in stark contrast to what we have seen at Westminster.