Tánaiste announces major change for small Irish companies

Government agrees to extend mandate of Local Enterprise Offices

Thousands more Irish companies will now be eligible for Government export grants in a move that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said will fill a crucial gap and help strengthen Ireland’s indigenous SMEs.

The Government has decided to extend the mandate of the Local Enterprise Offices to target new exporters by providing direct grants to firms who employ more than ten and are operating in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sectors. In future years, it is intended to further expand the range of advisory services available to all companies with up to 50 employees, including those operating in the locally traded sector.

The decision fulfils a Programme for Government commitment to ensure a continuation of support for enterprises that have grown above ten staff.

It builds on the new Enterprise Ireland strategy which sets out a commitment to ensure a continuation of assistance for enterprises that have grown to 10 or more employees, as appropriate to their stage of development and internationalisation ambition. The strategy also commits Enterprise Ireland to working with the LEOs, to ensure that companies of all sizes are assisted on their development journey, maximising their growth and job creation potential.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said:

“This extension of the LEO mandate will fill a gap in state supports for those businesses with greater than ten employees. Working closely with Enterprise Ireland, it will allow the LEOs to provide grants to help firms to have the ambition to export. Our broader vision is to further expand the advisory role of the LEOs in a way that gives them a consistently broader reach into the business community across all regions and this will be reflected in our White Paper on Enterprise Policy.

“Since 2014 the network of 31 Local Enterprise Offices has grown and they are now well established as the first stop shop for all businesses and entrepreneurs. They have evolved in the provision of services including direct grant aid to microenterprises that wanted to grow internationally and training and advisory programmes to a broader cohort of companies including those trading locally. The assistance they provide will be critical to helping firms to be more productive, to digitise and to reduce their carbon footprint – key priorities for the Government and for business.”

The Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation, Dara Calleary said:

“The LEO network provides vital financial and advisory support to local businesses right across the country. It is a terrific network of dedicated and insight-led teams who help small and micro businesses day in day out to grow and thrive. The announcement today of the extension of their mandate to financially assist export-oriented companies that have grown to beyond ten employees will help many businesses who are looking to expand into exciting new markets. This is essential to the resilience of our economy and is one of the key priorities of the SME and Entrepreneurship Taskforce which Minister English and I chair.”

Commenting on the announcement, Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail Damien English said:

“I am extremely encouraged by the appetite of the talented business development teams in our Local Enterprise Office network to grow their engagement and support for the SME community throughout Ireland.  Over the last number of years, the Government has responded quickly and effectively to the challenges faced by small firms, whether it is COVID-19, access to credit, Brexit or the energy crisis. However, we need to build the foundations for a stronger advisory service for all businesses, including domestically focused firms, and the LEOs will have a key role to play in this regard. As a Government, we are committed to developing the capacity of the network to work with more small businesses in this area so that we can drive the broad-based and regional growth that Ireland needs.”

Note for editors

The pilot framework to extend the LEO mandate will:

  • expand the role of the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), so they can go further in helping local job creation and allow them to provide direct grants to businesses with more than 10 employees
  • put in place the structures to enable a seamless transition from LEO to Enterprise Ireland, so that ambitious and high-performing companies, regardless of size, are assisted in scaling and achieving their potential
  • streamline the process when applying for LEO or Enterprise Ireland assistance, so that SMEs have a clear roadmap of progression 

These programmes include:

  1. Feasibility Grant
  2. Priming Grant
  3. Business Expansion Grant
  4. Technical Assistance for Micro Exporters Grant
  5. Green Start

Over the medium to longer term, training, mentoring and development programmes will be more open to locally traded sectors of the economy, subject to a feasibility study that will evaluate the amount of resources to be allocated based on a full cost benefit analysis, and the overall strategic direction of policy which will be set out in the White Paper on Enterprise.

In 2023 the LEO network will also pilot a programme that will provide capital grants to small firms to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. There is a clear rationale for the capital grant scheme as the Government is committed to helping all businesses of all sizes with their rising energy costs and to make them more sustainable through longer and medium-term investments.

The Small Firms Investment in Energy Efficiency Scheme will provide a grant through the LEO network to companies to encourage investment in energy efficiency technologies or processes that reduce carbon emissions and overall energy costs. The scheme will follow on from the LEO Green for Micro Scheme which currently provides advice and technical assistance to firms on energy efficiency and reducing their carbon footprint.