The Restaurants Association of Ireland has insisted that €1.2bn set aside by the Government to help small and medium-sized businesses cope with soaring energy costs “does not go far enough”.
While Retail Ireland, a unit of Ibec, welcomed the measures, it said ongoing support will be required to help businesses tackle their spiralling energy costs.
Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe said in his Budget speech that the money was being made available as one of a suite of measures designed to help insulate households and businesses from the worst effects of runaway electricity and gas prices.
The measure for businesses is called the Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme (TBESS).
“Whilst the announcement of the Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme to support SMEs is welcome, covering 40pc of the increase in electricity or gas bills, up to a maximum of €10,000 per month per business, it does not go far enough,” insisted Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland.
“The devil will be in the detail on this and we are calling for Revenue to open and administer the scheme immediately – some businesses are already struggling to pay the bills coming in through their doors,” he added.
The scheme will operate for six months.
Food Drink Ireland (FDI), the Ibec group representing the food and drink sector, welcomed the energy supports as a step in the right direction but called for larger supports over a longer time period.
The Government said the objective of the TBESS is to provide financial assistance to firms that have seen large increases in their energy bills.
The scheme will be administered by the Revenue Commissioners and will operate on a self-assessment basis. Businesses will be required to register for the scheme and to make claims within the required time limits.
For an individual firm, its energy costs must have increased by more than 50pc compared to the same period last year. It will give eligible firms funding of up to 40pc of the increase in their energy bill relative to the same period in the previous year, up to a ceiling of €10,000 a month.
The Government expects that the cost of the support scheme will be met, at least in part, by windfall energy revenues collected from “either domestic or international sources”.
The scheme is being designed to be compliant with the EU State Aid Temporary Crisis Framework and will need to be approved by the EU Commission in the advance of making payments, said Mr Donohoe.
“Energy supports are now central to the sustainability of many food and drink businesses as they will determine their ability to remain competitive in export markets like Great Britain where they also face the headwinds of a weakened sterling exchange rate,” said FDI director Paul Kelly.
The Ibec group has also called for the energy supports for businesses to match those in other key EU export markets so that food and drink businesses can maintain their market positions.
Catriona Allis, the head of accountancy body ACCA Ireland, said it is essential that the energy scheme confirmed yesterday is “administered at pace” to help businesses.