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Business rates holiday extended for a year as £213m extra support given to Northern Ireland firms

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Finance Minister Conor Murphy during the daily media broadcast at Stormont yesterday

Finance Minister Conor Murphy during the daily media broadcast at Stormont yesterday

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Finance Minister Conor Murphy during the daily media broadcast at Stormont yesterday

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has announced a £213m rates support package for businesses hit by coronavirus restrictions.

Pubs, hotels, restaurants, sports facilities, cinemas, entertainment venues and airports are among those which will enjoy rates relief until the end of March next year.

The Sinn Fein minister stressed the importance of the pathway to recovery from Covid-19 being coordinated across Ireland.

He said that he wanted to protect livelihoods and jobs and that the rates relief extension would help sustain the viability of many businesses.

Translink has secured £30m emergency funding to address pressures caused by coronavirus, and councils £20m. Farms and horticultural businesses are getting £25m, while £15m has been released for charities and £4m for substitute teachers' pay.

A total of £10m is to help vulnerable people live independently and £1.4m is for a university students' hardship fund.

Retailers - small local shops, large department stores on high streets and out-of-town centres - will also pay no rates this financial year. The exception is medium to large food stores and off-licences which have continued to trade.

Childcare providers have also secured special relief. Mr Murphy said: "Together, this represents a £213m rates support package for businesses.

"It brings the total support for businesses from rates relief and grants to over £700m, demonstrating the Executive's determination to protect livelihoods and jobs.

"The economy is still in the early stage of recovery. Businesses and trade unions are still in the process of ensuring that the economy can operate in a way that is safe for workers and for the general public."

Noting that airports would be badly affected by coronavirus for some time, Mr Murphy said: "It is vital that they are maintained through this crisis and are still able to function after the pandemic passes.

"That is why Belfast City, Belfast International and City of Derry will also receive 100% rate relief until 31 March 2021."

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said: "What the Executive has done with rates relief for businesses is more generous than what has happened in Great Britain and is a great example of devolution responding to local needs and working to the benefit of many businesses who have been hurt by the impact of the coronavirus on our economy."

UUP leader Steve Aiken said he welcomed the "continued support from London for the local economy", which came to £1.2bn over the past six weeks.

He said: "The continued and targeted support for our small businesses, the hospitality and tourism sectors, our councils, the transport sector and the support to our fantastic NHS, is vital to helping us get through this crisis and to prepare for the recovery.

"However, now is the time for the Executive to produce a joined-up recovery plan.

"We are expecting a much overdue report from the Economy Minister, we still haven't heard about the establishment of the fiscal council, and regrettably we seem once again to be approaching our future in a piecemeal and disjointed manner."

Welcoming the package announced by Mr Murphy, DUP Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: "I have advocated for these measures for some time now because they will offer much-needed breathing space to thousands of businesses across Northern Ireland and those sectors who have suffered the worst financial impact as a result of Covid-19.

"Although we are now beginning to look towards planning for recovery, this support will allow businesses to direct their resources to where they need them most. It will help not only to stave off the worst impacts of the crisis but help create a foundation to rebuild."

Meanwhile, Mr Murphy has described those who expect power-sharing to work without dispute as naive.

There have been differences between the DUP and Sinn Fein over testing. The Finance Minister said that all those at the Executive table wanted to save lives and livelihoods.

He said huge challenges faced ministers which nobody had envisaged when power-sharing was restored in January.

"To expect that a five-party coalition would embrace these issues without any disputes amongst us was probably naive," he said.

Mr Murphy said he had "a very strong working relationship" with UUP Health Minister Robin Swann, of whom his party vice-president Michelle O'Neill has been critical.

Belfast Telegraph