Ever since Brexit first became a possibility, my Department and its agencies have worked to ensure that supports are in place so that Irish businesses can prepare for Brexit. That process has been further complicated by the ongoing uncertainty around the process by which the UK will exit the EU, however there is a range of supports in place for businesses negatively impacted by that uncertainty. These supports include advisory resources, financial supports and training supports to ensure that businesses can take appropriate steps in the face of uncertainty.
Despite the ongoing uncertainty, the overall unemployment rate continues to decline. Moreover, B&A conduct a regular survey on behalf of my Department on the impact of Brexit on SMEs. In the most recent survey, conducted in October, when asked about staffing levels a significantly higher proportion were increasing employment than those reducing employment, and three quarters reported no change in employment.
My officials also hold regular meetings with representatives from key agencies and bodies to get up to date feedback on Brexit exposed sectors and businesses, and to monitor the work these bodies are doing to support and work with businesses as they seek to mitigate their exposure to Brexit-related uncertainty.
My Department has put a number of schemes in place to provide finance options for viable firms that may be negatively impacted as a result of Brexit. The Brexit Loan Scheme provides a fund of up to €300 million to businesses to facilitate innovation, change or adaptation in response to the impacts of Brexit. Already, 214 businesses have been approved for bank loans under the scheme, to a total value of €46.68 million. The Future Growth Loan Scheme facilitates longer-term investment, for terms of 8-10 years, for a post-Brexit environment. To date, 535 firms have been approved loans by Bank of Ireland, KBC and Ulster Bank, to a total value of €101.2 million. AIB recently began offering loans under the scheme and have a pipeline of applications from SBCI.
Beyond these, my Department has also worked to ensure that contingency measures are in place so that it can respond swiftly to changing circumstances if necessary. A Rescue and Restructuring Scheme has been developed to address businesses facing solvency issues where, without intervention, the business will almost certainly go out of business in the short or medium term. A Temporary Restructuring support is also in place for enterprises facing acute liquidity needs due to exceptional or unforeseen circumstances or which are in difficulty.
With this combination of supports, monitoring and contingencies, I hope that my Department and its agencies can respond in an appropriate manner to emerging issues arising as a result of Brexit-related uncertainty.