Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Trade Promotion

10:40 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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53. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the funding provided under the online retail scheme to date by county; if further funding rounds are being considered as part of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43381/21]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I am interested in the online retail scheme and I have asked for the breakdown of the scheme by county. I am curious to know whether there was more take-up in some parts of the country than in others and if further rounds are being considered as part of the scheme?

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Stanton for raising this question. We would see encouraging people to go online as a very important response to the current sutuation in retail. As the largest private sector employer, retail is a key element in providing for the needs of society and other sectors of the economy and it is vital that it continues to develop capability and remain competitive both on the high street and online to avail of all of those other customers that it can reach.

Trading online is a very important route for retail businesses to grow and improve and will be an important element in their recovery over the longer term. I welcome the significant progress made by the retail sector in Ireland to move to online commerce over the past 18 months.

To enable retailers to increase their customer base and build a more resilient business, my Department initially launched a pilot online retail scheme, in 2018. Some 40 retailers across Ireland were provided with €894,636 in funding over two calls of the pilot scheme with grants of between €10,000 and €25,000 on a 50% matched fund basis.

In 2020, my Department launched the Covid-19 online retail scheme in response to the Covid-19 crisis and the urgent need for retail companies to increase their online capability. The Covid-19 online retail scheme is helping companies in the indigenous retail sector that have already started an online journey to enhance and strengthen their existing online presence. This will help them to respond to both domestic and international consumer demand competitively.

To date the Covid-19 online retail scheme has provided funding of €18.2 million to 503 retailers under three calls, bringing the total approved to over €19 million. I have provided the Deputy with the full amount of the online retail scheme funding approvals per county as part of the background to the answer to this question but the Deputy will see for the record that Cork will be second on the table at just over €2 million. I am sure that the Deputy will not be surprised at the success of retail in Cork. Dublin now leads the field at over €5 million.

We are committed to supporting the needs of the retail sector through the retail forum, which I chair and which will meet again tomorrow, in developing their online capability and enhancing their competitiveness. The online retail schemes to date are being reviewed and it is my intention to open a further round of applications for funding later this year and to build on that success in the years ahead as well.

Deputy Stanton will also be aware of the trading online voucher scheme, administered by the Local Enterprise Office network on behalf of my Department. This scheme was transferred into our Department at the start of this year and has allocated funding of €2.3 million to meet 2021 demand. This included a capital carryover of €10.2 million to meet outstanding liabilities from 2020. For the record, more than 13,000 applicants drew down that scheme last year. This year it will be a little less with 4,000 or 5,000 applicants, because of the big push last year. We have been discussing that scheme for years in here and in other places in trying to get businesses to take it up and during Covid-19 there was probably time to address it but also-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Minister of State and call Deputy Stanton.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. He mentioned in his response that a review is going to take place. Who is carrying out that review? Does the Minister of State feel that the scheme has been a success and if so how has such a success been measured? Is it the Minister's intention to to expand this scheme further to support businesses in this way in a further round? Has any analysis been carried out as to whether, now that shops are open, this may have an adverse effect on the high street and that businesses might actually move online more and more to the detriment of the footfall on the high street, which will obviously also impact on restaurants and other establishments?

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy has raised an important point in that this is something we are trying to get the balance right on. We believe that the success and the future growth of the retail sector is to develop a sustainable online retail business as well as to continue with the high street presence. As a Government, under the programme for Government, our intention is to support both elements of that. The online trading vouchers are to enable those who already have a digital presence to expand that and to increase their sales and rather than to just sell to people in Cork or their local county, they can sell from Cork to Belfast, the UK, to France and so on. A big part of the work of this scheme which is administered by Enterprise Ireland is to try also to encourage that internationalisation of their business. There is great potential there.

We carry out a review after each round and make changes to the scheme to address that. The overall area of these schemes and the online trading voucher is being reviewed again to see how we can best enable here. Part of this is encouragement to invest in the digital online presence and to help with the skills and the marketing, to build on that and not just to have the presence. We see a great deal of potential here.

To put it in figures, at this moment in time more than 70% of online sales in this country are still purchases from abroad. We believe that that is the opportunity to develop the retail sector, to make it more sustainable to complement the on-the-street presence.

10:50 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I again thank the Minister of State for his response. Has he any indication as to what kind of business was done as a result of the online retail scheme? What increase occurred? Was there any value on that? Again, if there is a review, who will carry it out and what metrics will be used when it is being carried out?

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I do not have those figures on me but I will certainly get them for Deputy Stanton. What we generally see is that any business that invests in the digitalisation agenda increases its sales as well as driving its innovation or its business. To allay concerns about online versus high street, the town centre first principal and approach is highly recommended in the programme for Government, and the framework to enable that work, which involves our Department, under the guidance of the Tánaiste, along with the Departments responsible for housing and rural affairs, will be ready for publication in the very near future. Deputy Stanton will have seen in the Housing for All document published just recently a drive towards town centre first. That will support housing, people living in our towns and villages and the development of retail and other businesses there. We really are committed on a regional basis, as well as addressing the difficulty in our cities now, to driving that town centre approach, which means people will be asked to spend money locally in the economy. That framework will assist, but I believe the combination of the two are required if we are to have a sustainable retail sector that can challenge, grow and create jobs. We know that prior to Covid there were nearly 300,000 jobs in the sector. We want to build on that. That can only happen with a physical presence as well as an online presence.