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NI health and hospitality sectors stand to gain as Treasury rolls out fresh Covid-19 funds


DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley

Fresh Treasury funding to help Northern Ireland weather the Covid crisis throughout the winter has spilt opinion over whether hospitality or the health service should receive the bulk of the financial aid.

It is not yet known how much extra funding Northern Ireland will be allocated, but further details are expected to be revealed in coming days.

The Treasury said the additional money is to be made available to all the devolved administrations to “provide greater certainty and allow them to plan as they tackle Covid-19 during the crucial weeks ahead”.

The emergence of the Omicron variant has raised questions over whether more severe restrictions will have to be imposed in order to manage its spread here.

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley said he hoped the financial package could be used to help the hospitality sector, which has been hit hard by restrictions. His party leader and First Minister Paul Givan has already said that Stormont cannot afford another lockdown.

“We welcome all support for struggling businesses and others that have been through a difficult time with the introduction of Covid passports,” said Mr Buckley.

"Essentially what has been done is that businesses have been told they can stay open but we’re going to cut footfall and there’s no financial support.

"What needs to happen now is to put in place robust financial packages for those that are still feeling the impact, whether that’s restrictions or Covid in general.”

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said there is an “immediate need” for a cash injection for the sector.

"We need the Government to target it, and target it where it’s been most hit,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“We’re open but we’re not profitable and we’ve had the threat of more restrictions coming.”

Alliance MLA and health committee member, Paula Bradshaw, said that given the Covid certification scheme has been introduced to help tackle the spread of the virus, the funding should be earmarked to help the health service instead.

"I do think there’s still so many pressures in our hospitals; it might be better for the money to be pivoted towards it, as well as health and social care,” said the South Belfast MLA.

“I think the Covid passes were about keeping hospitality open and busy. Our concern as a party is that closer to Christmas, more and more people will be socialising and that could lead to a surge in our hospitals.”

Ms Bradshaw added: “We really do need to protect our health service as much as possible and providing it with as much financial support as we can.”

The Government has already provided the devolved administrations with an extra £12.6bn through the Barnett formula this year — taking the total funding this year to £77.6bn.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Throughout this pandemic, the UK has stood together as one family, and we will continue to do so.

"We are working with the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to drive the vaccine rollout to all corners of the United Kingdom and ensure people and businesses all across the country are supported.”