I can assure the Deputy that since the outcome of the UK Referendum in 2016, Government has been actively preparing for Brexit to make sure that Irish citizens and businesses are as ready as possible for all Brexit scenarios. Preparations and contingency measures by Government were set out in December 2018 in the Government’s Contingency Action Plan for a No Deal Brexit and subsequently updated in July 2019.
In the case of my own Department I secured, in budgets 2017, 2018 and 2019, significant additional resources for my Department and the enterprise and regulatory agencies under my remit to ensure that they can work with businesses to prepare for Brexit.
Preparations for a No Deal Brexit occupy the highest priority across Government and Budget 2020 is based on the assumption of a No Deal Brexit. From a business perspective, the focus is on providing targeted, temporary measures for the most impacted sectors and regions i.e. those in vulnerable but viable employment. But there should be no doubt that while the Government has put a range of mitigation measures in place, there will be serious disruption in a No Deal Brexit.
In my own Department, through our enterprise agencies, we have put in place a full range of supports, schemes and advice to ensure that businesses across the country are prepared for the UK’s exit from the EU.
Key business supports include a range of assistance programmes available through the Local Enterprise Offices, including Technical Assistance for Micro-Enterprises; the Lean for Micro Programme; the Innovation and Investment Fund; and a Brexit Mentoring Programme. The LEOs also provide Customs Training Workshops that provide businesses with a better understanding of the potential impacts, formalities and procedures to be adopted when trading with a country which is outside the Single Market and Custom Unions.
Enterprise Ireland are key providers of a range of supports – through their SME Scorecard, Be Prepared Grants, Act on Programme and Market Discovery Fund, amongst other supports.
InterTradeIreland helps companies to prepare for Brexit through a range of supports and services suited to all businesses no matter what stage they are at with their Brexit plans. Key measures include Brexit Planning Vouchers, Implementation Vouchers and a range of Brexit advisory services.
The Department, working with other key stakeholders has also put in place a range of Brexit specific measures to enhance access to finance through, for example, the Brexit Loan Scheme (which provides affordable working capital to firms impacted by Brexit); the Future Growth Loan Scheme which provides a longer-term facility to support capital investment; and the Rescue and Restructuring Scheme which is available to provide restructuring support to undertakings in severe financial difficulties as a result of Brexit.
In addition, responding to the needs of businesses trading with the UK, we have put in place the Clear Customs initiative which offers eligible customs agents, customs intermediaries and affected businesses a free training programme to build capacity in the customs sector. Additional support of €6,000 per trainee will be available through Enterprise Ireland to participating eligible companies to assist with the costs of recruiting and assigning new staff to undertake training and take up new customs roles.
The Department is also leading negotiations with the European Commission DG Competition, together with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and other colleagues, on relevant State Aid issues.
We continue to enhance the resources of the Department’s regulatory agencies, to ensure that they are sufficiently resourced to fulfil their mandates, which are vital to the efficient functioning of the economy and which are essential to the maintenance of the Single Market.
Of course while Government can put in place support measures for businesses, there are specific actions too that firms must take themselves. With just over three weeks until 31 October, there are 9 steps that businesses, large and small, should take and these are outlined in a booklet entitled “Getting Your Business Brexit Ready: Practical Steps” which was launched in September 2019. The booklet provides a comprehensive overview for businesses on the core steps they should take to prepare for Brexit and is available at https://www.gov.ie/brexit.
To further assist firms, my own Department developed a checklist of the key actions for businesses to consider to be Brexit prepared. The checklist is available on my Department’s website at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Brexit-Preparedness-Checklist.html.
To promote and build awareness of the need for businesses to prepare for Brexit, working in collaboration with the Accountancy Bodies of Ireland, I held four Brexit briefing events in July and September, covering a number of counties in the border regions that are likely to be most impacted by Brexit. These Brexit events covered a broad range of important topics to help businesses prepare for Brexit such as customs, supply chain, cashflow and product conformity.
In addition, the enterprise and regulatory agencies under my Department have been working closely with businesses for months through their own engagement campaigns and client clinics. These include Enterprise Ireland, the Local Enterprise Boards, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), the Health and Safety Authority, the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB), the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission as well as InterTrade Ireland.
As the Brexit deadline of 31 October 2019 draws nearer, I am very conscious of the urgent need for businesses to take action to prepare and plan for Brexit, despite continuing political uncertainty.
I recently asked my officials to contact over 220,000 companies listed with the Companies Registration Office (CRO) to advise them of the array of supports and the organisations available to assist them with their Brexit preparations. This latest initiative through the CRO was just one of the many channels and campaigns that my Department has been engaged in to communicate with businesses to get out the key messages in terms of steps to take to prepare for Brexit.