Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, has announced a major expansion of supports for all businesses impacted by COVID-19. The package is now worth €1 billion in liquidity measures including a new €180 million Sustaining Enterprise Fund for firms in the manufacturing and international services sectors. Free mentoring and online training are also available for all SMEs. The announcement of measures may help those working in heritage sector impacted by COVID-19.
Minister Humphreys said: “This package is a significant step-up in the supports available for all businesses in all sectors at this very difficult time. The measures have been developed to meet the varying needs of Irish enterprise and they are very specifically targeted by size, sector and need.”
The Minister continued: “The impact of COVID-19 presents unprecedented difficulties for businesses who have already spent the past three years preparing for the possible consequences of Brexit, but those preparations will stand to us.
“I want to reiterate to firms that we will continue to use all available tools at our disposal to support them and keep money flowing through the economy in the difficult months ahead.”
Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, added: “Businesses are experiencing unprecedented difficulty of varying degrees. Many have let staff go, many have retained staff through the Government’s Wage Subsidy Scheme and many are shifting their model to adapt to new circumstances. This package of measures being announced today is designed to offer supports to businesses of all hues, from start-ups to more established companies. It is vital that traders examine what is on offer, apply for schemes and loans, many of which are available at reduced rates, to give themselves the best chance of survival during this difficult time.”
Commenting on the Trading Online Voucher Scheme for microenterprises, one of two online trading schemes to receive additional funding today worth a combined €7.6 million, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Richard Bruton, said: “Trading Online Vouchers are a key government grant to help small and micro enterprises get online. The changes which we are announcing today will help companies, working with their Local Enterprise Office, to get online during this difficult period. This is particularly important when so many small businesses are closed. However, the value of the Trading Online Voucher will stand to your company for years to come, will boost your revenue, and will help you sustain and create jobs into the future.”
Minister Humphreys announced that an additional €450 million of lending will be provided through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) for SMEs in all sectors including agri-food. This will provide much needed liquidity for firms and bring total SBCI COVID-19 lending capacity up to €650 million with loans available through the pillar banks.
(a) Firstly, the €200 million SBCI COVID-19 Working Capital Loan Scheme will increase by €250 million to €450 million. The Scheme is providing essential liquidity support to businesses with over 1,400 applications received by the SBCI so far. Loans can be between €25,000 and €1.5 million at a maximum interest rate of 4%. Loan terms range from one year to three years and loans can be unsecured up to €500,000. Interest-only repayments may be available at the start of the loans.
(b) Secondly, she announced an additional €200 million in COVID-19 funding for the Future Growth Loan Scheme, which will be released in tranches, to provide longer-term loans to COVID-19 impacted businesses. Loan amounts will range €100,000 to a maximum of €3,000,000 per applicant. Loan terms range from 8 to 10 years and loans of up to €500,000 can be unsecured. Interest-only repayments may be available at the start of the loans. The maximum interest rate will be 4.5%.
In addition, the new €2,500 Business Continuity Voucher, available through Local Enterprise Offices, is designed for businesses across every sector that employ up to 50 people. The voucher can be used by companies to develop short-term and long-term strategies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These measures are in addition to the €150m of funding capacity in the Government’s Credit Guarantee Scheme, which Minister Humphreys encouraged businesses to avail of.
Microenterprises (under 10 employees)
The supports also include an additional €30 million for microenterprises through the 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) comprising additional funding for Microfinance Ireland and Trading Online Grants for those businesses that are in a position to do business online while complying with the public health guidelines.
Firstly, Microfinance Ireland (MFI), which is administering special COVID-19 Loans, will receive an additional €13 million in capital support bringing its total lending capacity up to €20m for the coming period.
The Minister also announced a substantial reduction in interest rates on these loans from 7.8% to 4.5%. Loans can be made up to €50,000 with no repayments required and no interest charged in the first six months.
This reduced rate will be available to all micro-enterprises from retail and tourism, to software and transport, with less than 10 employees, where the application is made through the LEOs or Local Development Committees. The new rate for direct applications to MFI will also be reduced to 5.5%.
Secondly, the Minister is increasing support for two trading online initiatives to a total of €7.6 million – the first for microenterprises in partnership with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton and the second for retailers with over 10 employees.
This is a very important route for businesses to grow and improve their business in the current crisis, and an important element in their recovery over the longer term. The LEOs have reported an increased interest from companies in accessing Trading Online Vouchers and other supports, for example, for businesses that want to provide takeaway services while their restaurants are closed or provide online courses.
The first online initiative is an expansion of the €2,500 Trading Online Voucher Scheme for microenterprises, in agreement with Minister Bruton. An additional €3.3 million is being provided to the scheme bringing the total available to €5.6 million. The Ministers also announced new flexibilities with the €2,500 Trading Online Vouchers, allowing businesses to apply for a second voucher of up to €2,500 where they have successfully utilised their first one; and allowing subscriptions to low-cost online retailing platform solutions to quickly establish a retailing presence online.
Businesses with over 10 employees
The second online trading support will be available exclusively for indigenous retail businesses with over 10 employees. The Minister is making a new €2 million COVID-19 Retail Online Scheme available through Enterprise Ireland.
Today the Minister also announced a further two new supports to assist companies planning for the future, a Business Financial Planning Grant from Enterprise Ireland to the value of €5,000 to assist companies to develop a Business Sustainment Plan and to engage the services of an approved Financial Consultant, and a new €2,500 LEAN Business Improvement Grant from Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to help companies quickly access expertise to review and optimise operations at a time of crisis and identify the key measures needed to ensure continued viability.
In the manufacturing and international services sectors, which employ over 460,000 people directly and a similar number of indirect employees, Minister Humphreys announced a major new Sustaining Enterprise Fund of up to €180 million. This is specifically aimed at all firms with 10 or more employees impacted by COVID-19 that are vulnerable but viable. The Fund will be operated by Enterprise Ireland, providing repayable advances of up to €800,000 as agreed with the EU under new State Aid rules and, together with leveraged lending from the financial markets, should see up to €500m of additional investment in vulnerable but viable firms. These grants will only be repayable if and when a business returns to financial good health.
Government will continue to explore funding potential at EU level including through the European Regional Development Fund.
Finally, access to equity continues to be an important part of the supports for start-up and scaling firms. Therefore, the Minister encouraged early stage firms to apply for a new €750,000 Competitive Start Fund (CSF) now available from Enterprise Ireland. This is in addition to a new €30 million Seed and Venture Capital call for proposals to support early stage and scaling firms through Enterprise Ireland under the Government’s €175m Seed and Venture Capital Initiative.
Denise Maguire Editor of Irish Construction Industry Magazine