Minister for Business Heather Humphreys has announced further measures to help businesses cope with liquidity challenges posed by the Covid-19 restrictions. 

Among the developments is a €450m expansion of two loan schemes operated by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI). 

The Working Capital Loan Scheme, which provides liquidity support to businesses, will receive a further €250m, bringing the total fund to €450m. 

The Future Growth Loan Scheme, also operated by the SBCI, will receive an additional €200m that will be released in tranches to provide longer-term loans to firms that have been impacted by Covid-19. 

The expansion of the schemes will bring to €650m the amount that the SBCI can offer by way of supports to companies through the main banks here. 

At a press conference in Government Buildings this afternoon, the minister also launched a €180m Sustaining Enterprise Fund which will help companies in the manufacturing and international services sectors that are vulnerable but viable. 

Flagged by the Government a number of weeks ago, it was given state aid approval by the European Commission last week and launches today. 

It is open to firms that employ 10 or more full-time employees and will see them offered loans of up to €800,000.  

Among the other measures announced today is the extension of supports to get businesses trading online, worth €7.6m. 

These supports will be available to micro enterprises through the Department of Communications' existing €2,500 voucher scheme as well as to retailers that employ more than 10 staff through a new €2m Covid-19 Retail Online Scheme that will be operated by Enterprise Ireland. 

Funding to enable Microfinance Ireland to offer Covid-19 loans has also been increased by €13m to €20m, with rates interest reduced from 7.8% to 4.5%.

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Loans can be worth up to €50,000 with no interest or repayments for the first six months. 

Two new supports will also come on stream to help firms planning for the future. 

The first, the Business Financial Planning Grant, will come from Enterprise Ireland and offer up to €5,000 to help companies develop a Business Sustainment Plan and engage the services of an approved Financial Consultant

There will also be a new €2,500 LEAN Business Improvement Grant from Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to help companies access expert advice to review and optimise operations and identify key measures needed to ensure continued viability. 

The extra package brings to €1 billion the total amount of liquidity measures being made available for small and medium sized businesses here. 

"This package is a significant step-up in the supports available for all businesses in all sectors at this very difficult time," Ms Humphreys said. 

"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 added.

Business group Ibec welcomed the measures and said the working capital supports, as well as the credit guarantee and future growth supports would be of particular assistance to firms.

"It is also very positive to hear that Government plans to deliver further liquidity supports for business and to continue to enhance the suite of measures available," said Ibec's director of policy and public affairs Fergal O'Brien. "In particular, it will be important that measures of scale are rolled out for mid-sized firms as liquidity challenges are currently impacting on businesses of all sizes."

Enterprise Ireland has welcomed the new supports and said its €180m scheme was now open.

"Enterprise Ireland client companies have already seen a significant impact on their businesses from Covid-19," said CEO Julie Sinnamon.

"While their immediate focus has been on dealing with the welfare of their employees, they are also being impacted by a collapse in demand in certain sectors, supply chain disruption and cashflow challenges.

"My strong advice to companies is, if you haven't already done so, to prepare an assessment of your financial requirements and progress funding applications to the banks and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) immediately. Enterprise Ireland’s new Business Financial Planning grant will help companies to prepare a Business Sustainment Plan."

The supports to encourage firms to trade online have also been welcomed by Digital Business Ireland.

"Never before has the need for digital business been more acute," said founder Lorraine Higgins.

"The Covid-19 pandemic, which is engulfing our world, has brought to the fore the pressing need for an omnichannel, bricks and clicks approach to business."

"Consequently, it is only right that supports for this integrated business model is an elevated priority in policy-makers minds in order to offset the worst excesses of business disruption that we have seen in recent weeks".