Business groups urge Executive to fill funding gaps for Covid-19 support

Entrepreneurs operating in serviced office accommodation and flexible workspaces are among those currently missing out on the Government's rates based Covid-19 funding support.
Ryan McAleer

GROUPS representing thousands of businesses and social enterprises across the north have called on the Executive to fill in funding gaps in support for small firms hit by coronavirus.

In a letter sent to three Stormont ministers, the leaders of ten chambers of commerce said many small firms were still falling between the cracks, including micro businesses operating in flexible workspace.

The letter has also been signed by Enterprise NI, which represents 28 local enterprise agencies and Social Enterprise NI, the representative body for social enterprises and social entrepreneurs.

The Department for the Economy has already paid out £100 million for its £10,000 grant scheme for businesses with a rateable value below £10,000. A second £25,000 scheme for larger retail, hospitality and tourism businesses is expected to be rolled out within days.

Chief executive of Belfast Chamber, Simon Hamilton, said part of the issue is the use of the rates system to deliver the support.

“Amongst the gaps we have identified are the many entrepreneurs operating in serviced office accommodation and flexible workspaces as well as charities and social enterprises, both of whom have been excluded from the grant scheme because they don't directly pay rates or are exempt from rates,” he said.

“Businesses in flexible workspaces, social enterprises and others not initially included in the Executive's grant scheme have been forced to close and cease trading and are seeing their work massively impacted by the coronavirus yet they aren't eligible for the same support. This is just not fair and needs to be addressed.”

Colin Jess, who heads Social Enterprise NI, said that the solution could lie in the approach taken in Wales, where a scheme has been set up for businesses and social enterprises unable to benefit from the cash grant schemes.

“We absolutely understand the enormity of the challenge that our Executive faces. We simply ask that ministers act and ensure that no business or social enterprise who needs help to deal with the impact that Covid-19 is having upon them misses out.”

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