Thursday, 12 October 2017
Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 35 together.
I am very conscious of the challenges as a result of Brexit faced by SMEs operating in close proximity to the border, many of which trade freely on both sides.
My Department has been working with the Department of Finance, Enterprise Ireland (EI), Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) and the Department of Agriculture and others to develop potential supports to respond to the needs of businesses impacted by Brexit.
In Tuesday’s Budget, a new Brexit Loan Scheme was announced which will provide affordable working capital financing to Irish businesses that are either currently impacted by Brexit, or will be in the future. The Scheme will be delivered by the SBCI through commercial lenders to get much needed working capital into Irish businesses. The Scheme aims to make up to €300 million available to SMEs and Small Mid Caps Funds.
My Department’s enterprise development agencies all have clear Brexit plans in place.EI is running a series of Brexit roadshow events featuring expert speakers throughout the country – including border counties - to promote the Brexit Scorecard and encourage companies to prepare for Brexit. EI’s current “#Prepare for Brexit” campaign includes a Brexit Scorecard available to all companies to self-assess their preparedness for Brexit across all aspects of their business and which generates a report suggesting appropriate responses. A €5,000 ‘BePrepared’ grant is also available to clients to prepare a Brexit action plan.
The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are providing Brexit specific information sessions for both core and non-core clients in all counties, an online Brexit SME Scorecard that LEO clients can complete to self-assess their readiness for Brexit, and a Lean4Micro programme, which was designed to encourage clients to adopt Lean business principles in their organisation to increase performance and competitiveness, particularly in relation to being Brexit-ready. In addition, the LEOs are now offering a new funding programme to assist micro-enterprises affected by Brexit by helping clients find new markets and exports.
InterTrade Ireland (ITI), given its experience in promoting and strengthening North-South trade, is especially well positioned to assist businesses in Ireland address the particular commercial challenges that Brexit may present for cross-border commerce. That is why the Government provided €250,000 in additional funding to ITI this year to allow it to undertake a range of initiatives aimed at better preparing Irish SMEs for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. This included the introduction of a Brexit readiness voucher scheme, strengthening the body's capacity to deliver expert advice and a series of events focused on building awareness amongst SMEs of Brexit-related challenges. The extra financial resources provided brought my Department's total funding of ITI to €7.9 million in 2017.
From a regional perspective, the Regional Action Plan for the North East/North West Region aims to support the creation of 28,000 jobs across Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan, and Louth by 2020 and to reduce the unemployment rate to within 1 percentage point of the State average.
The North East/North West Action Plan for Jobs is the key policy response for supporting employment growth in the Border region, with public and private stakeholders actively engaged in delivering a range of innovative and practical actions set out in the Plan. Sectors targeted as part of the plan include traditionally strong sectors for the region like agri-food, manufacturing/engineering and tourism.
There has been a substantial improvement in the North East / North West region since the commencement of the National Action Plan for Jobs in 2012, with an additional 22,200 in employment in Q2 2017 compared to Q1 2012. There are now 6,000 more people in work in the region since the launch of the Regional Action Plan initiative in Q1 2015.
Moreover, the unemployment rate in the Border region has fallen from 10.2% in Q1 2015 to 6.6% in Q2 of this year, which is within the target of one percentage point of the State average.
These latest figures are be welcomed and demonstrate that, while there are still challenges to surmount in bringing them down further, the overall trend for the Border region is one of steady improvement.
External shocks, such as Brexit, may impact on regional job delivery in the future, however the Plans are flexible and dynamic and can be adapted to address Brexit challenges and opportunities arising within the regions.
The implications of the Brexit vote and the challenges and opportunities that the decision poses for all Irish Regions, including the Border region, continue to be considered by all Regional Action Plan for Jobs Implementation Committee.