Written answers

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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438. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to reinstate the continuity vouchers scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11279/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Business Continuity Voucher scheme was launched on 26th March. The purpose of the scheme was to provide expert guidance and advice to SMEs employing up 50 people and enable business owners make informed decisions about what immediate measures and remedial actions could be taken at the outset of this crisis, to protect staff and sales and eventually help the business recover.

The scheme was a resounding success in terms of uptake due to it being an appropriate response and support to recognised business needs for that point in time. The Business Continuity Voucher provided up to €2,500 in consultancy costs, to develop short and long-term strategies to respond to the initial pandemic and to plan for the eventual recovery and reopening of the economy.

As the reopening of the economy proceeds, more and more businesses are transitioning from the planning to the implementation phase as we progress through the remaining stages of the Government Roadmap. It is in this context that the Business Continuity Voucher was phased out and is now closed to new applicants. In recognition of this new stage, the new €250m Restart Grant was introduced to assist micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and re-employing workers following COVID-19 closures.

The LEOs will continue to work with existing applicants and recipients of Business Continuity Voucher vouchers and their subsequent business continuity plans. The awarding of vouchers under the Business Continuity Voucher scheme will naturally taper off in the coming weeks as the Local Enterprise Offices process the outstanding applications. 

The Restart Grant is available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m employing up to 50 people, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% projected reduction in turnover to the end of June 2020. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, or a minimum grant of €2,000, with a maximum grant of €10,000. The Online application forms can be accessed at the following website: .

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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439. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation when funding will be made available to local authorities to issue restart grants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11280/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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On Friday, 15 May 2020, the Government decided to establish a new €250m Restart Grant providing direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and re-employing workers following COVID-19 closures.

The funds for the Restart Grant were transferred by Enterprise Ireland to all local authorities on Wednesday 10 June and the payments are now being dispersed to applicants. As of Friday 12th June 2020, funding of €17.12m had issued to businesses under the scheme.

Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online directly to local authorities.

Further information on how to apply is available at: .

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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440. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the reason for the exclusion of commercially rated businesses within community and sports centres from the business restart grant scheme; her plans to provide supports to assist these businesses to reopen; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11320/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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On Friday, 15 May 2020 the Government announced details of the new €250m Restart Grant providing direct grant aid to micro and small businesses. The grant is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers.

To avail of the Restart Grant, applicants must be a commercial business and be in the Local Authorities’ Commercial Rates Payment System, and:

- have a turnover of less than €5m and have 50 or less employees.

- have suffered a projected 25%+ loss in revenue from 1 April 2020 to 30th June 2020.

- commit to remain open or to reopen if it was closed.

- declare the intention to retain employees that are benefitting from the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme  (TWSS).

The primary objective, therefore, is to get funding into small businesses that:

- Are reliant solely on local trading income;

- Are financially independent from any group structure;

- Have suffered significant financial losses;

- Have had to bear ongoing fixed costs or faced costs associated with re-opening the business;

- Provide local paid employment.

In that context, sporting and community organisations are not eligible because they are not primarily commercial organisations and have sources of income other than commercial sales for example, membership fees.

The Restart Grant support is just one part of the wider €12bn package of supports for commercial firms of all sizes, which includes grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities, all of which will help those businesses to continue trading and to maintain employment.

For a full list of supports for business please see .

In relation to support for community centres, my colleagues Michael Ring TD, Minister for Rural and Community Development and Seán Canney TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Community Development, on Friday, 8th May announced the launch of a €40 million package of supports for Community and Voluntary Organisations, Charities and Social Enterprises. The package consists of a €35 million ‘COVID-19 Stability Fund’ which will provide a level of support to qualifying organisations who are most in need and have seen their trading and/or fund-raising income drop significantly during the crisis.

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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441. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she will provide details of the total number of applications received to date in the Covid-19 business loan scheme administered by Microfinance Ireland; the number of applications which have been made by businesses in the agrifood sector; the number of same that have been approved and refused, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11321/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Covid-19 Loan, available from Microfinance Ireland (MFI), was introduced as a support to microenterprises to help them access funding arising from the Covid-19 crisis.

These loans are available for eligible microenterprises responding to Covid-19-related difficulties, the negative impact of which must be a minimum of 15% of actual or projected income or profit. Loans up to €50,000 are available with terms that include a six months interest free and repayment free moratorium, with the loan to then be repaid over the remaining 30 months of the 36-month loan period.

MFI provides vital support to microenterprises by filling the lending gap in the market by lending to business that cannot obtain loans from other commercial lenders. It lends to business that do not meet the conventional risk criteria applied by commercial lenders and applies interest rate charges for its lending which are not reflective of its credit risk.

Standard loans from Microfinance Ireland have interest rates of between 6.8% and 7.8%. Given the cost burden to businesses even with these subsidised rates of interest I decided to apply a substantial reduction in the interest rate to 4.5% on the Covid-19 loans provided by MFI. This reduced rate is available to all micro-enterprises where the application is made through the Local Enterprise Network or referred by a bank or Local Development Committees. The new rate for direct applications to MFI is reduced to 5.5%.

A table of the supports that are available to assist businesses address the challenges posed by the COVID -19 crisis, together with details of uptake of such supports, is available on , . This list is updated every week in consultation with Business Units with the updated table published on the Department's website by lunchtime on Mondays.

There were 103 applications received from the agrifood sector, of which 19 were refused and 84 were approved for a value of €2,224,833.

I can assure the Deputy that I continue to work with my colleagues across Government to examine further supports to assist businesses impacted by Covid-19.

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