My Department and its agencies have put in place extensive supports, schemes and advisory resources to ensure that businesses nationwide are prepared for Brexit. While we cannot yet know the form that Brexit will take, these measures aim to assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and practical preparatory actions regardless of the circumstances of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
InterTradeIreland’s [ITI] Brexit Advisory Service provides a focal point for SMEs working to navigate any changes in cross-border trading relationships arising as a result of Brexit. As part of this service, ITI has organised a series of awareness-raising events focused on improving knowledge of customs processes and procedures and identifying actions that can be taken in areas such as logistics and supply chain management. As of 8 November, more than 5,300 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory Service this year.
ITI’s Brexit Planning Voucher aims to enable businesses to seek professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for Brexit. This support helps businesses obtain advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, and regulatory and customs issues. Vouchers are worth up to €2,250 (inclusive of VAT) each. To 8 November, 2,054 applications have been submitted for the Voucher, 1,747 of which have been approved.
ITI has also launched a further financial support in the form of the Brexit Implementation Voucher, which offers financial support up to £5,000/€5,625 (inclusive of VAT), with InterTradeIreland paying 50% towards implementing critical changes in relation to Brexit matters. As of 8 November, there have been 54 applications, of which 40 have been approved.
The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the first-stop-shop for anyone seeking guidance and support on starting or growing their business, including businesses in the border counties. The LEOs have organised various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit. As of 8 November, 1,198 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. Since February, the LEOs have also been offering customs training workshops to support businesses trading with third countries in advance of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. To 8 November this year, there have been 1,456 training participants.
The LEOs also engage in a number of other schemes to help businesses prepare for Brexit. The Technical Assistance Grant for Micro Export is offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities. As of 8th November, 800 LEO clients have been approved assistance under the grant.
In addition, the six LEOs in the Border region are working together with their Northern Ireland counterparts under the EU Co-Innovate Programme. The aim of Co-Innovate is to give SMEs from the manufacturing and tradable services sectors in the eligible regions the tools and tailored support to help them to innovate, differentiate and compete successfully. This month, it was announced that over €1 million of R&D funding has been awarded through Co-Innovate.
The Brexit Loan Scheme was launched in March 2018. It provides relatively short-term working capital, up to three years, to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. The scheme is open to eligible businesses from all regions of the country, including those in the Border counties. Dublin aside, the most recent quarterly report shows that the border region is the most active region in terms of eligibility applications for the scheme. As of 18 November, there have been 892 eligibility applications received, of which 804 have been approved and 212 loans progressed to sanction at bank level to a value of €46.6 million. It should be noted that 159 of total applications received relate to repeat/duplicate applications, as eligibility expires after six months.
The Future Growth Loan Scheme opened for eligibility applications in April 2019. This scheme provides a longer-term facility, 8-10 years, of up to €300m to support strategic capital investment for a post-Brexit environment at competitive rates. This scheme has been jointly funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to make available loans of €100,000 (€50,000 for primary agriculture) to €3 million, with loans of under €500,000 being provided on an unsecured basis. The scheme is open to eligible Irish businesses, including those in the primary agriculture and seafood sectors, to support strategic, long-term investment in a post-Brexit environment. As of 18 November, there have been 2,031 eligibility applications received, of which 1,925 have been approved and 595 loans progressed to sanction at bank level to a value of €122.5 million.
Enterprise Ireland [EI] has established a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, as well as an online “Brexit SME Scorecard” to help Irish businesses self-asses their exposure to Brexit and a “Be Prepared Grant” to support SME clients in planning to mitigate risks arising from Brexit. It has also launched a new Eurozone Strategy to help SMEs broaden their export footprint beyond the UK.
EI’s Customs Insights course helps businesses looking at customs for the first time to understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes. The course advises on the key actions companies can take to prepare for Brexit and highlights the various supports available. To 8 November, there have been 1,916 Customs Insights Course participants.
In quarter one of this year, I launched nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, including Plans for the North East and the North West. These Plans build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. The new Plans will ensure that regional stakeholders continue to work together to help achieve the Government’s 2020 targets for regional employment taking account of new and emerging opportunities and challenges, including Brexit.
In order to help build enterprise capability, under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) Enterprise Ireland invested in seven successful projects in the Border region with a total funding allocation of more than €10.6 million. This funding will help drive enterprise development and job creation in the Border Region. Enterprise Ireland will continue to engage with its clients to ensure they have the supports required to prepare for any kind of Brexit scenario.
In June, at a visit to the recently opened Cavan Digital Hub, I announced that a further €45 million is to be made available under a new third call of the REDF. The closing date for submission of eligible projects under this latest call was 25 September 2019. On 20 October 2019 an Evaluation Panel comprised of representatives from EI, my Department and other public and private bodies began to evaluate eligible projects. The evaluation of eligible projects has now been completed and the selected projects by the Evaluation panel will be recommended for funding to EI’s Investment Committee/Board for approval and I intend making an announcement on the successful projects before the end of the year.
My Department and I have also participated in the whole-of-Government 'Getting Ireland Brexit Ready' public information campaign. This campaign features workshop events throughout the country, aimed primarily at the businesses and people most impacted by Brexit, including events in Monaghan and Donegal. In addition to these events, Enterprise Ireland has rolled out a series of Brexit Advisory Clinics to help businesses across the country, including events in Dundalk, Letterkenny and Cootehill. In the last few weeks, the LEOs have held Brexit related events in Monaghan, Drogheda and Cavan.
While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the lasting uncertainty around the Brexit process may be leading businesses to defer their Brexit preparations. The UK’s exit from the EU will bring change for Irish businesses and I want businesses, particularly those around the Border counties to know my Department and agencies are here to help.