Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
48. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her main concerns in relation to the Brexit readiness of businesses here; if she is concerned in relation to a particular sector; if so, the measures she is undertaking to ensure the sectors increase preparedness; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20356/19]
I am aware the Minister already answered a question of Brexit readiness. I commend our officials who are preparing the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready materials and sending out updates and communicating as much as possible with the public and business about the steps needed to get us Brexit ready. Is the Minister happy with the level of uptake of these materials and of the various schemes by businesses? The Minister sent us on details of InterTradeIreland, the local enterprise offices, LEOs, and the Brexit loan schemes. How do these numbers fit in with the overall number of companies that will be affected?
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.
My Department is engaged in ongoing research to assess the extent of Brexit preparation among Irish businesses. Over the last two years, my Department has worked to raise awareness of the key Brexit challenges which include supply chain, tariffs, customs, regulatory standards, working capital and movement of labour, goods and services to build business preparedness levels and to put a comprehensive set of supports in place for business.
My Department's ongoing engagement with businesses indicates that the proportion of businesses preparing for Brexit is increasing, particularly among those businesses identified as most exposed to Brexit-related impacts and that awareness of the key Brexit challenges is increasing.
Earlier this year my Department published a Quick Brexit Guide for business to answer many of the questions that Irish businesses may have and to provide information on the practical steps they can take to deal with Brexit.
In addition to these events, Enterprise Ireland has rolled out a series of Brexit advisory clinics to help businesses across the country and has established a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, as well as an online Brexit SME Scorecard to help Irish businesses self-assess their exposure to Brexit and a Be Prepared grant to support SME clients in planning to mitigate risks arising from Brexit.
In addition, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices, LEOs, have developed an online customs insights course.
InterTradeIreland, ITI, works with SMEs on an all-island basis. 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. InterTradeIreland also offers a Brexit planning voucher worth up to €2,250 and an implementation voucher, which offers 50% financial support of up to £5,000 towards implementing critical changes in relation to Brexit matters.
The Brexit loan scheme makes available relatively short-term working capital to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. Similarly, the future growth loan scheme, which was launched at the end of March, makes available longer-term capital to support investment in a post-Brexit environment.
While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the delays to Brexit may have led businesses to defer their immediate planning. However, the UK’s exit from the EU will mean changes for Irish businesses. I want businesses to know that my Department and its agencies are here to help.
Effectively, the postponement towards October has had an impact in making people less anxious to get ready by availing of the various schemes. Recently, InterTradeIreland did a survey of companies in Belfast and there were some dismal reports about investment plans being postponed. People were very worried about what would happen at the Border, regarding employment, etc.
The Minister gave me a very thorough list a number of months ago of the various supports, including the Brexit loan scheme for which 479 applications have been received, of which 430 have been approved; the Enterprise Ireland Brexit Scorecard, of which 4,500 have been completed; the Be Prepared grant for which 168 applications have been received; the Market Discovery Fund in respect of which there are 251 projects; and 13 Brexit advisory clinics, one of which was attended by 1,000 people. I noticed the LEOs, in which Deputies have a strong interest in their constituencies and throughout the regions, had 419 clients for the micro schemes. I mention the InterTradeIreland Brexit advisory service.
What kind of take-up do the figures the Minister gave represent in terms of all the companies which could have applied for each of those schemes?
We have identified a number of categories of businesses that are particularly exposed to Brexit-related difficulties, including businesses in the agrifood sector, in the Border region and engaged in export and import to, from and through the UK. The Getting Ireland Brexit Ready public information campaign included workshop events throughout the country aimed primarily at businesses and people most affected by Brexit. Enterprise Ireland has also launched a eurozone strategy to help SMEs broaden their export footprint beyond the UK. We continue to go on trade missions to the Far East and across the globe. We bring companies with us so that they can find and diversify into new markets on a global basis. Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs help businesses look at customs for the first time, to understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes. InterTradeIreland works with the SMEs and an all-island basis.
The Deputy mentioned companies in Belfast. I recently visited companies there through the Confederation of British Industry, CBI, and it is clear they are very concerned about Brexit. I took the opportunity in budget 2019 to increase the funding to InterTradeIreland by a further €1 million, which represented a 17% increase in its budget. InterTradeIreland does not just help companies south of the Border but it helps companies north of the Border as well and it was very much welcomed by it. It has been able to move on to issue implementation vouchers of up to £5,000.
The Minister said recently that there has been much-enhanced take-up of the two voucher schemes. She should be commended on launching those financial supports and encouraging the cross-Border traders. There seems to be grave anxiety among companies in Belfast, which is evident from the survey done by InterTradeIreland.
I think the Minister for Finance has sanctioned an extra 400 Revenue staff for customs and so on. Has there been any contact between the Minister and her UK counterpart on a possible customs arrangement? We sometimes hear in the media that the UK thinks technological solutions will enable a no-border situation and the backstop, which we must maintain. Has the Minister and her Department been involved in any discussions or have any proposals been put to her by the comparable Department in the UK as to trade between here and the UK?
As the Deputy knows, all negotiations on Brexit issues are done through the EU. I had the opportunity last year to meet Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Trade in the UK, and he talked about technological solutions. I was not very clear about how they would work. For somebody who lives on the Border, I am still not clear how they are going to work.
Businesses, both large and small, should undertake to register with Revenue for a customs number; make contact with their own UK suppliers; check to see if their suppliers use the UK as a landbridge; review their supply chain; check if their business relies on products or services that are certified for compliance with EU standards by a UK body; engage with any trade representative body of which they are a member; and avail of the Government's range of advisory and financial supports. There is more information at www.gov.ie/brexit. Businesses need to be aware of the risks that Brexit poses to them and to mitigate against those risks. There is a responsibility on businesses to engage with the supports that are there.
As the Deputy stated, there are a lot of supports and the staff in my Department have worked extremely hard to put a full suite of supports in place, including the Brexit working capital loan facility, the Brexit loan scheme and the future growth loan scheme.
Although Brexit as an issue may not be as immediate as it was leading up to 29 March this year, I encourage businesses to engage in this process and be ready.