More than 13,000 businesses to start receiving top-grant from today

Finance Minister, Conor Murphy outside Sawers in Belfast with its managing director Kieran Sloan (left) and Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI. Picture by William Cherry/Presseye.
Ryan McAleer

MORE than 13,000 businesses across the north will start sharing in a £72.3 million support fund from today.

The automatic top-up grants of £5,000 and £10,000 are for businesses which received support in the first lockdown, but were legally allowed to stay open during the most recent lockdown, and therefore didn’t qualify for the business support grants such as the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme (LRSS) and the Coronavirus Restrictions Business Support Scheme (CRBSS).

The vast majority of firms (12,100) are in line for the smaller grant, which around 1,100 expected to receive £10,000.

Speaking in Belfast city centre on Wednesday during a visit to businesses set to receive the payment, Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: "During the most recent restrictions, many businesses were permitted to stay open to provide essential goods and services.

“While these businesses continued to operate, it is recognised that their trade and footfall was impacted as a result of the restrictions.

“This grant will cover a wider range of business including convenience stores, hardware stores, bakeries, financial services, engineering firms, and coach services to name a few,” said the minister.

The Department of Finance (DoF) initially said as many as 17,600 businesses would be in line for the automatic top-up grants, with £96m budgeted.

That formed part of a £178m allocation for three grant schemes originally announced in March as part of DoF efforts to exhaust the remainder of Stormont’s 2020/21 Covid-19 funding pot.

Two of the schemes have already come in with an underspend of £27m.

With strict limits on what Stormont’s departments can carry over from one financial year to the next, some of that funding could end up being surrendered to the UK Treasury.

DoF said the 13,200 figure will likely rise after Land & Property Services completes a verification process to ensure the occupiers of business premises have remained the same since the original grants were paid.

An online portal will be set up in June for those businesses which may qualify, but didn’t get the automatic grant.

That may include businesses which started trading after the application process during the first lockdown for the £10,000 Small Business Support Grant and the £25,000 Retail, Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure Grant closed.

Businesses which moved premises and those who qualified, but who didn’t apply last time, may also be in line for the latest grant.

Welcoming the top up payments, Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said: "Retail NI is pleased that the Finance Minister and his department have listened to our views and concerns and responded with this grant scheme.

“These grants will support many independent retailers who had lost significant footfall and trade as a result of hospitality and offices being closed during lockdown.

“Along with the further years rates holiday and the forthcoming High Street Scheme, this will greatly help our high streets on the long road toward recovery."

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