Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements
I have three questions but as I am very short on time I will ask them as quickly as possible. The first concerns the future growth loan scheme. It is working well because there is longer tenure than the credit guarantee scheme, which is not going as well. Since expanding in July, there have been 4,000 applications but only 2,000 loans approved. I am told AIB and Bank of Ireland is fully subscribed and the Department has said Ulster Bank is still accepting loan applications. We have been told by businesses that it is fully subscribed as well, however, so businesses cannot access credit for six months. Will the Tánaiste give an update on what is left in the envelope of the future growth loan scheme and will he consider expanding the scheme, as it should be expanded?
The second matter is Ulster Bank, which was raised earlier. One cannot overestimate the impact this will have, particularly on small businesses that rely on credit. If their loans are sold or transferred there is no guarantee the new entity will have the same risk profile to allow for overdrafts or credit. Does the Government have a contingency plan? It is fine being briefed on this but is there a plan to use the likes of Permanent TSB, which does not have a business book, to step into that gap?
The final question concerns business interruption. I received correspondence from the Central Bank yesterday and I am glad it has looked at 250 different types of policies from over 30 insurers. It is pushing back against insurers that are refusing to pay out on policies. We know a limited number have started to pay out already. The regulator in Britain has a system where a small or medium enterprise can test a policy on the Financial Conduct Authority website to see if it provides adequate cover. Here, businesses have no idea what is happening or the view of the regulator on the business interruption insurance they hold.
We need to find a way to bring certainty to business because we are nearly a year on from these claims being made. What is the Tánaiste's view on how we can bring that transparency and certainty to bear? Should the Central Bank be communicating with businesses that it thinks may have policies covered by business interruption insurance?