Business

Businesses in Northern Ireland 'are the poor relations' as firms struggle to stay afloat

The self-employed income support scheme won’t deliver immediate cash, putting pressure on workers across Northern Ireland
Eamonn Corrigan

BUSINESSES in Northern Ireland are the poor relations of Britain and Ireland when it comes to coronavirus help schemes, despite the fact that 25 per cent of small firms here have only two weeks or so of cash in the bank, while most others have less than a month.

We've been in lockdown since March 23, yet most self-employed people haven't received a single penny, despite all the Government's grand announcements.

The self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) won't deliver immediate cash to put food on the table. Instead, it'll land some time in June.

Elsewhere, the business support grants are only for those with premises, while the furlough scheme only subsidises wages, and this has to be paid to employees.

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and Bounce Back loans are exactly that -LOANS - and have to be paid back, when increased debt is clearly the last thing small businesses/self-employed need right now.

Contrast this with the Republic of Ireland, where on March 24 its government announced a Covid-19 unemployment payment, with a single portal administered by Department of Employment, Affairs and Social Protection.

After answering about four questions, €350 per week is in your bank account in four working days for the next 12 weeks (and a husband and wife is entitled to €350 each if they satisfy the criteria). This is for self-employed workers who have been disadvantaged by the crisis.

No wonder the Republic has been better at fighting this plague, because when people have money to put food on the table, they can stay at home.

In Northern Ireland, the self-employed have no option but to go back to work to earn enough to feed the family (household bills have rocketed with children at home all day).

Until the SEISS is available, they are told to claim Universal Credit, which is £95 a week, and most likely will take six weeks to receive.

Is it any wonder so many people are back working and roads are busier?

It's high time the UK Government and the Stormont Executive stepped up to the plate, because ordinary people have no disposable income.

Insurance companies have effectively run away and won't cover this pandemic, even though people have business interruption insurance.

Employees are covered by the furlough scheme, but the self-employed and directors of small limited companies have been poorly treated throughout this pandemic.

Further contrasting help offered in Britain is that the small business grants of £10,000 and £25,000 were for each business (hereditament), so if you'd 10 different stores you could access £100,000 or £250,000. In Northern Ireland, it is only one grant per group.

Also, the £25,000 grant was extended to clinics (so dental and veterinary clinics got it, along with estate agents) in other areas of the UK while Northern Ireland isn't included in this scheme.

And, of course, business rates are free for 12 months in England but only three months in Northern Ireland.

Added to all that, just last Thursday the Scottish Government announced £100m in additional funding for SMEs and newly self-employed people there.

Can anyone in authority tell me why Northern Ireland is being treated so differently and poorly?

:: Eamonn Corrigan is principal at Corrigan & Co Accounts in Enniskillen (www.corriganandco.com)

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access