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Dodds: Hard-hit NI firms must be priority for £200m Treasury cash


Economy Minister Diane Dodds

Economy Minister Diane Dodds

Economy Minister Diane Dodds

An extra £200m for Northern Ireland should be devoted to helping struggling businesses, Diane Dodds has told the First and Deputy First Ministers.

The money is a consequence of recent Treasury spending announcements.

The Economy Minister wrote to Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill on Friday.

She said: "I identified a very full range of supports that are needed for Northern Ireland, including for those who have been excluded so far, manufacturing, microbusinesses, further discretionary funds for councils and the need for an economic recovery fund."

A scheme designed to save jobs was outlined by Rishi Sunak last week and begins on November 1. For businesses forced to close in England, the Chancellor announced an increase in grants - with up to £3,000 a month paid every fortnight. The Treasury said the devolved administrations will receive increased funding allowing them to bring in similar measures if they choose to.

The Stormont Executive lacks the financial firepower to support locked down businesses at the level seen last spring, the Economy Minister warned.

A total of £75m every week was supplied by the Treasury to keep Northern Ireland's employees furloughed, Mrs Dodds added.

She warned fresh coronavirus restrictions could kill off the green shoots of recovery seen in some industries.

"Any of the subsequent schemes announced by the Chancellor sees a restriction of the support and certainly won't support jobs in Northern Ireland at that level," she said.

"We simply won't be able to do it in the way that we have done, therefore I urge caution in the way that we proceed."

A scheduled meeting of the Stormont Executive on Thursday has been brought forward to enable ministers to give urgent consideration to new Covid-19 restrictions.

The issue appears to have created tension at the heart of the executive. Mrs Dodds told the Assembly yesterday she feared the impact of new measures.

"The Northern Ireland Executive does not have the financial firepower to actually support businesses in the way that we were supporting them in March, April and May of this year," she said.

The job retention furlough scheme helped retain staff on employers' books during the shutdown.

But Treasury schemes to protect businesses during future coronavirus restrictions do not go far enough, a senior trade unionist said. Any decision taken to further hibernate the economy must be coupled with the full original furlough scheme as announced by the Chancellor in late spring, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said.

Assistant general secretary Owen Reidy said: "The Chancellor's most recently announced schemes are not sufficient to protect jobs and livelihoods for hard-pressed working people and their families.

"Many jobs will not qualify and will fall through the cracks and others will not be sustained without appropriate funding."

He said the furlough scheme guaranteed the wages of workers of up to 80% of their pay, up to a maximum of £2,100 per month.

Mr Reidy added: "If it is determined that the conditions require such a lockdown for a short period of time, then the mitigations to protect employment and the economy must also apply in full."

Belfast Telegraph