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Stormont announces new measures to soften blow of Covid-19 on businesses

Economy minister Diane Dodds announced the start date for a £25,000 grant scheme.

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Stormont Economy minister Diane Dodds (David Young/PA)

Stormont Economy minister Diane Dodds (David Young/PA)

Stormont Economy minister Diane Dodds (David Young/PA)

Further financial steps to support businesses impacted by Covid-19 have been outlined by Stormont.

Economy minister Diane Dodds announced the start date for a £25,000 grant scheme for companies in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors.

The initiative, which was announced by the executive last month, will open to applications on Monday April 20.

Mrs Dodds said applications would take around 15 days to progress.

In another move, the minister announced that manufacturing companies that qualify for industrial de-rating will now be eligible to apply for the already opened Small Business Support Grant Scheme, which provides grants of £10,000.

The scheme was initially only available to companies that qualify for small business rates relief.

Many manufacturing companies that received rates discounts through the industrial derating mechanism has raised concern they were not eligible

Mrs Dodds said the expansion of the scheme will cover around 2,500 additional businesses.

Commenting on the latest measures, the minister said: “From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been committed to supporting businesses to mitigate the inevitable economic consequences of the vital restrictions we live under.

“In recent years, the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors in Northern Ireland have flourished, but their sustainability is based on people being able to travel, shop and socialise.

“Covid-19 has thrown into sharp relief the fragility of these sectors and I am acutely aware of the hardship now being faced by these businesses.

“Over 4,000 businesses in these sectors will be able to apply for grants of £25,000 from Monday April 20.”

On the industrial derating move, she said: “We very quickly set up the small business support grant scheme to support up to 27,000 businesses in receipt of small business rate relief.

“I am pleased to be in a position now to expand that scheme further.

“Around 2,500 small businesses which benefit from industrial de-rating are now also eligible for the support.

“More than 14,000 payments have been made to local businesses through this scheme and applications continue to be processed.”

The minister said both schemes would close for applications on Wednesday  May 20.

“So that we can be in a position to secure budget availability for further measures for local business, we must bring these two grant schemes to a close,” she said.

“I therefore urge anyone who believes they are eligible to please ensure you engage with the process before the closing date of May 20.”

The minister said she had agreed that an additional fund would be earmarked to support businesses not currently able to access existing regional or national grant schemes.

“I recognise that there are many other businesses across Northern Ireland that are being adversely impacted at present and facing financial hardship, and which have not been able to access any of the existing national or regional grant schemes,” she said.

“My message to them is: we are working as quickly as we can on how best we might assist you.

“A budget will be identified for these businesses and officials are examining how to deliver this money to where it is so desperately needed.”

PA