Millions not spent in Covid-19 business support aid - Conor Murphy

 Finance Minister Conor Murphy. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Michael McHugh, PA

Some £65 million earmarked to help businesses in Northern Ireland cope with coronavirus restrictions has not yet been spent, finance minister Conor Murphy said.

Mr Murphy said areas like childcare, sole traders and firms with multiple premises had made bids for the surplus cash.

The Executive has delivered rates holidays and support schemes aimed at small businesses and those particularly hard-hit like tourism, retail and hospitality.

Mr Murphy told the Assembly: "One thing you learned over the last couple of months is that there is such huge variety and complexity of businesses we have here, that it was very hard to design a scheme that will capture everybody."

A total of £53 million has been received back by the finance department and the rest is set aside for legal costs.

The minister said some fell between supports designed for businesses and charities.

His Sinn Fein colleague John O'Dowd expressed frustration.

Mr O'Dowd said: "That will come as a body blow to many sectors who have not received support."

Mr Murphy also warned it may be difficult for parties to spend their full capital allocation for building projects this year following the restrictions.

He said he was watching closely the British Government's plans to bolster the recovery which could mean additional funding for Northern Ireland.

SDLP Assembly member Matthew O'Toole said there were long term issues of under investment, as well as consistent capital under spending.

"It is not acceptable," he added.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken called for the VAT rate to be reduced to 15 per cent.

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