Dodds to confront Invest NI as £6m help schemes receive just eight applications

Economy minister Diane Dodds
Gary McDonald Business Editor

TWO support schemes launched by Stormont to help businesses bounce back from the impact of Covid-19 have had just EIGHT completed applications in their first month, it has emerged.

And economy minister Diane Dodds confirmed to the Irish News that she has spoken to Invest NI - which is operating the schemes on the Executive's behalf - to seek answers as to why there's been such a negligible uptake.

"We probably need to broaden the criteria and widen things out more to businesses. We have to get the help to where it's most urgently required," she said.

Both a £1 million Digital Selling Capability Grant scheme to help retailers and wholesalers generate business online, and a £5 million Equity Investment Fund targeted at early stage and seed stage SMEs, opened for applications on September 9.

But according to Invest NI figures, by Wednesday of this week the digital scheme, which provides up to £20,000 to eligible retailers to take their business online, has only had three completed applications, with another 197 having started the process but not submitted a final bid.

And for the larger scheme, which provides matching equity investment or convertible loan notes of up to a maximum of £700,000 for technology and innovative businesses, some 18 applications are in train but just five submitted for consideration.

Coming at a time when more then £40 million allocated by Stormont for other larger emergency coronavirus business support grants has not yet been spent, it will heap further pressure on the economy department to do more to get vital aid to where it's needed most.

"We have a suite of packages available to give strategic and practical aid to businesses, to help them plan and refocus and rebuild, and there are many applications in the pipeline for these schemes," the minister said.

Mrs Dodds, like finance department minister Conor Murphy, has been urged to intervene with more targeted measures to support livelihoods and safeguard skills in many business sectors such as hospitality and tourism.

She said: "Further tighter restrictions will have consequences and we can't sugar-coat things. But we only have so much financial fire-power, and there are some very heavy decisions to be taken."

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