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More cash needed to help small firms deal with pandemic, councils say

Support should be broader than just the clients of Government jobs creation agency Invest NI, councils told a Stormont committee.

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More cash is needed to help small businesses in Northern Ireland deal with the coronavirus pandemic, council chiefs said (Liam McBurney/PA)

More cash is needed to help small businesses in Northern Ireland deal with the coronavirus pandemic, council chiefs said (Liam McBurney/PA)

More cash is needed to help small businesses in Northern Ireland deal with the coronavirus pandemic, council chiefs said (Liam McBurney/PA)

More cash is needed to help small businesses in Northern Ireland deal with the coronavirus pandemic, council chiefs have said.

Support should be broader than just the clients of Government jobs creation agency Invest NI, a group of councils told a Stormont committee on Tuesday.

An extra £20 million was recently allocated by the Communities Department to help local authorities support those in need and provide essential services.

Suzanne Wylie, Belfast City Council chief executive, said: “There is not sufficient finance to help the small and micro-businesses.

“Recovery funding packages are being put in place through Invest NI, primarily for their clients, not for the small businesses out there which employ so many of our population.”

She said a funding package needed to be put in place for towns and villages to help reskilling and invest in digital infrastructure for the future recovery.

She said councils were facing significantly reduced incomes and acknowledged the Communities Department had announced its multi-million pound package of support.

Businesses have also enjoyed special support grants and rates relief as well as the UK-wide furloughing scheme.

Representatives from the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE NI) gave evidence to Stormont’s Economy Committee on Tuesday morning.

They said councils have been at the forefront of providing small business support during the coronavirus crisis.

Stephen Moutray, from NILGA, said councils only hold 5% of the public purse yet will be on the “front line” of the economic rebuild.

“Economic development teams across the country are responding quickly to business needs and concerns, but their resources and capacity are stretched.

“The coronavirus presents a serious danger to local businesses and the vitality of towns and villages across Northern Ireland.

“Government interventions like offering rates relief to most businesses for 12 months, amending and extending the furlough scheme for a longer period and widening the self-employment support scheme would be enhanced measures to protect our local economies.”

PA