Written answers

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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457. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she will amend the restart grant to include a cohort of businesses and groups that are currently excluded, for example, bed and breakfasts, small bus operators and community centres; and if not, if she will consider introducing a new grant to meet the restart needs of those excluded. [11507/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Restart Grant support is just one part of the wider €12bn package of supports for commercial firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, 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.

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.

On Friday 8th May, my colleagues Michael Ring TD, Minister for Rural and Community Development and Seán Canney TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Community Development, announced the launch of a €40 million package of supports for Community and Voluntary Organisations, Charities and Social Enterprises. The package includes 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 fundraising income drop significantly during the crisis.

Regarding any further targeted supports specifically aimed at the tourism sector, my colleague the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has formed a dedicated Tourism Recovery Taskforce, made up of leaders from varying sections of the industry, who will work together to deal with the many challenges ahead in a dynamic and innovative manner. It has been tasked with identifying measures required to enable Irish tourism to recover from the devastating effects of Covid-19.

For a full list of supports for business please see .

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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458. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the supports in place for businesses in the events industry which are facing an uncertain future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11511/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I and my Department officials are continuously working and responding to business needs, ensuring sufficient and tangible supports are being put into place as quickly as possible to assist all our SMEs across the country, in all sectors, including those businesses who operate in the events industry.

Supporting the promotion and sustainability of our SMEs has always been a high priority of mine. The current crisis reminds us of the importance of this objective amid the challenging circumstances which have been thrust upon our small business sector by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports which can be accessed by firms of all sizes, and across all industries, including those in the events industry, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for the weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see my Department's website at www.dbei.gov.ie.

In addition, my Department is currently operating a Business Support Call Centre to advise on the Government supports available to businesses and enterprises that are affected by COVID-19. The number to contact is 01 631 2002.

Please be assured that my Department and I will continue to engage extensively across Government and with business representative bodies and all other relevant stakeholders, with a view to ensuring an appropriate response to the COVID-19 pandemic that will protect and support Irish businesses across all sectors.

The Deputy will also be aware that my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, has responsibility for initiatives specific to the tourism sector and events and festivals, which of course is of significant importance to the events industry. In addition, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has established a Tourism Recovery Taskforce to examine bespoke supports for that sector.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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459. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the analysis carried out to determine the level of supports that will be needed in the coming months for small and medium businesses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11512/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I can assure the Deputy I am continually reviewing the range of supports needed by SMEs and micro enterprises in particular as the Covid-19 crisis evolves. The economic analysis undertaken by my Department has highlighted the challenges for SMEs arising from COVID-19 which have been immediate and heavily impactful on certain sectors. As highlighted in my two published reports, Economic Considerations for Reinstating Economic Activity Phase 1 and Phase 2, GDP is projected to decline by over 10% in 2020. The heightened risk of a hard Brexit at the end of 2020 could exacerbate the difficulties facing the economy and recovery prospects.

SMEs across all sectors are being impacted, with for example the Accommodation and Food sector continuing to be the hardest hit so far with over 90% of those in employment now receiving either the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) or the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS). The Wholesale and Retail sector, despite large elements continuing to trade, has some 58% of employees either on the PUP or TWSS. Personal services, construction and administrative and support services have also been heavily impacted. The manufacturing sector, FDI and globally traded sectors have had less severe impacts to date. However, it is too early yet to assess the impact on global trade and, given the important of these sectors, we will continue to monitor and keep under close review.

The impact of COVID-19 on the public finances has been significant with the total value of measures introduced to date (including expenditure and liquidity) standing at over €13 billion. Around 40% of those previously in employment are still on COVID-19 related income support payments.

In responding to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis, I and my Department has been actively engaged across all sectors and working closely with other government departments and a wide range of stakeholders in recent months. I chair the Enterprise Forum which comprises the main SME representative bodies including ISME, Small Firms Association and Chambers Ireland and will continue to review what new initiatives are required.    

I have tailored and developed a suite of supports to help businesses impacted by COVID-19 and minimise the extent of the economic damage caused by the pandemic. I have worked collectively with my Offices, Agencies and other government bodies to achieve maximum impact. This comprehensive suite of supports involves a mix of grants, vouchers, low-cost loans and credit guarantees, all of which, when combined with other supports, such as write-off of commercial rates, wage subsidies and deferred tax liabilities, will help to improve cash flow for businesses and help them to restart, reconnect and rehire staff. The details of all schemes are set out in our Guide to Supports for Businesses, which is available on our website.

I have also developed and put in place extensive information supports from an early stage in my Department. On 13th March I established a dedicated COVID-19 Business Call Centre to assist SMEs with information on the various new and existing schemes and financial supports available.  A new team, drawn from across the Department, was set up with a dedicated helpline phone number and email address. The team, all working remotely has now dealt with in excess of 5,000 calls to date across a wide range of issues. This Unit is also dealing with COVID-19 related representations and, in the week ending 5th June, have received a total of 803 reps, with 764 finalised. At an early stage, we also wrote to 230,000 companies advising them of the range of business supports on offer to assist firms in their COVID-19 response. We also published extensive information in our Guide to Supports for Businesses. This is a living document detailing the range of COVID-19 business supports and other Government supports available and we will continue to update the guide as we introduce new measures.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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460. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans for further supports for small and medium-sized businesses facing challenges in the months ahead; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11514/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities.

These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see .

The full range of Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and Údarás na Gaeltachta grant and advisory supports continue to be available to eligible firms to help with strategies to access finance, commence or ramp-up online trading activity, reconfigure business models, cut costs, innovate, diversify markets and supply chains and to improve competitiveness.

In that regard, Government will continue to examine additional measures needed for all enterprises, SMEs and micro-enterprises as they work through the challenges facing them, including through any additional mechanisms allowable through the EU’s state aid framework.

In terms of forthcoming schemes for SMEs, I would highlight in particular that the Government has agreed a new €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme as a further development of the existing Credit Guarantee Scheme already available from AIB, BOI and Ulster Bank. This Scheme forms a major component of the government’s strategy to aid SMEs in these difficult times by providing critical support to ensure businesses are facilitated in having access to credit facilities to assist a return to a more regular trading environment. It will provide an 80% guarantee on lending to SMEs until the end of this year, for terms between 3 months and 6 years. The guarantee will be able to be used for a wide range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million that have a maximum term of 6 years or less.

The Scheme will be available to all SME sectors, including primary producers. It will also have interest rates below current market rates. The implementation of this Scheme will require primary legislation, the drafting of which has been approved by Government, and my officials are working with the Office of the Parliamentary counsel on this drafting work.

Work is also under way to extend existing schemes in place to support access to finance for businesses to ensure that they can continue to offer support to businesses as they look towards reopening. These include the Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme and the Future Growth Loan Scheme.

The Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme makes lending available to eligible businesses that have been negatively impacted by issues arising from the outbreak of Covid-19 in Ireland as they seek to innovate, change or adapt in response to this disruption. Loans under this scheme are for up to three years and range from €25,000 up to €1.5 million (first €500,000 unsecured) with a maximum interest rate of 4%.

Future Growth Loan Scheme provides long term loans of 8-10 years to businesses at low interest rates. There has been significant demand for the scheme and the initial funding has been almost fully subscribed. This expansion will further support the needs of SMEs, including primary producers, impacted by COVID-19. This new funding will be released in tranches. The long-term nature of these loans is particularly important for businesses as they plan for recovery. Work is under way to deliver this funding as quickly as possible.

My Department is encouraging any affected business to take advantage of the LEO COVID-19 supports. The situation is still developing from day to day and the Government continues to respond to these developments in an effort to protect and support Irish businesses. The LEOs will continue to work with existing applicants and recipients of Business Continuity Vouchers (BCV) and their subsequent business continuity plans. The awarding of vouchers under the BCV scheme will naturally taper off in the coming weeks as the Local Enterprise Offices process the outstanding applications.

InterTradeIreland launched two new business supports, these are currently being targeted at companies who are already on one of their programs. E-merge enables companies to engage consultancy support & advice (to the value of £2,500/€2,800) to help them develop online sales & ecommerce solutions.

Emergency Business Solutions: Fully funded consultancy support & advice (to the value of £2000/€2250) to address key business challenges in areas such as emergency cashflow, loan applications and HR/People.

As the Deputy is aware the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the Irish and global economy. COVID-19 has emerged as a sudden and profound disruptor. Both globally and nationally, it is unclear how deep the impact will be or how long it will last. The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting significant challenges for SMEs, the impact of which varies by sector and region. Following a strong 2019 performance, companies focused on internationalisation and growth at the start of 2020 are facing new, and unplanned for, challenges.

My Department working with its agencies are continually reviewing the situation and I am informed that Enterprise Ireland is working with SMEs client companies to support the stabilisation of their business so that they can undertake a developmental programme focused on recovery and growth. To support companies the agency has:

- Developed and launched a suite of new funding supports utilising the additional flexibility permitted under Ireland’s Sustaining Enterprise Scheme supporting undertakings affected by the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 outbreak under the Temporary Framework for State Aid Measure to Support the Economy in the Current COVID-19 Outbreak.

- Set up a Business Response Hub to provide information to companies on what supports are available to assist with their specific needs. To date the agency has supported many companies through the Hub.

- As a first step, SMEs need to stabilise their business with key elements including business planning and accessing liquidity. Once a company has a financial and business continuity plan, Enterprise Ireland can provide funding for companies who have been impacted by COVID- 19, either through a reduction in turnover/profit or a significant increase in costs. The purpose of this funding is to enable the company to stabilise and implement a business sustainment plan, leading to a return to viability and contributing to the recovery of the Irish economy. New supports introduced to support this include:

Planning Supports

- Lean Business Continuity Support: This €2.5k grant supports companies to access training or advisory services related to crisis management, sustaining operations, moving to e-business/online and planning for resilience post crisis. Reflecting the practical and immediate nature of this support, company interest and demand has been strong.

- COVID-19 Business Financial Planning Grant: This grant of up to €5k provides 100 per cent funding for companies to access a financial consultant to prepare a financial plan to assist companies:

- understand their immediate financial position, secure the finance required to survive and provide a framework to sustain the business; and

- ensure they have a framework to identify and manage costs and gaps in funding.

- This is a critical support for a company to strengthen their position to identify funding needs and access required funding to implement their business plan.

- Liquidity Support

- Sustaining Enterprise Fund: The agency’s liquidity and medium-term financial supports are being delivered under the Sustaining Enterprise Fund. Support of up to €800,000 can be provided to companies, with different levels of support and funding instruments available, which are targeted at companies at different stages of development and growth (e.g. established companies, start-ups and small enterprises).

- The agency is actively working with companies to prepare applications for funding under the Sustaining Enterprise Fund.

In addition to the immediate COVID-19 response, Enterprise Ireland continues to strongly focus on supporting companies to invest in innovation, competitiveness and market diversification. These activities are critical to underpinning the long-term development and growth of Irish enterprise. As part of this, the agency:

- Is utilising its client engagement model to work with client companies on a one-to-one basis to establish company need and will tailor a support package utilising the full suite of supports offered by the agency.

- Is delivering non-financial supports, such as the market intelligence, available via the agency’s global network of 40 offices. This provides valuable insight for companies on markets which will be vital in informing a company’s internationalisation strategy.

Indigenous Irish companies are the backbone of the economy and I can assure the Deputy that the officials in my Department are working with all our agencies to monitor the needs of sectors and companies and provide new supports to meet changing company needs, as required.

The Restart Grant provides 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. Funding in respect to the Restart Grant is provided by my Department and is administered by the 31 Local Authorities.

Enterprise Ireland, working with my Department will continue to monitor the needs of sectors and companies as the situation evolves and provide new supports to meet changing company needs, as required. Indigenous Irish companies are the backbone of the economy and the agency is committed to helping these companies sustain their businesses.

I can assure the Deputy that I continue to work with my colleagues across Government to examine further appropriate supports to assist businesses impacted by Covid-19 and will continue to keep the supports provided for enterprise under review.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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461. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if supports or grants will be put in place for businesses that operate from privately-owned home premises in view of the fact the restart grant being issued by local authorities is inequitable as it only caters for businesses paying commercial rates. [11543/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Restart grant is designed to help small and micro commercial enterprises to re-launch their business and reconnect with their employees and customers. The grant is being paid using the Local Authorities Commercial Rates System as the most efficient means of delivery.

The grant is the amount of the 2019 rates assessment subject to a minimum grant of €2,000 and a maximum of €10,000. There are approximately 150,000 ratepayers in the system. It was necessary therefore to devise criteria that ensured that the most needy businesses would benefit. Many businesses working from their private residences were in a position to continue trading and would not have the same level of reopening costs that a business that was closed will incur. Businesses that operate from home and have employees can continue to benefit from the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the full range of supports are available from the Local Enterprise Offices.

To qualify for a Restart grant, an eligible business:

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

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

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

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

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

For a full list of supports for business please see .

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