Business news

Ministers announce new business support funding as lockdown restrictions are extended into March

A new package of funding confirmed by the Executive will include additional support for the tourism and hospitality sector.
Ryan McAleer

NEW support funding for Covid-19-hit businesses was announced on Thursday as ministers confirmed lockdown restrictions will remain in place until at least March.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said a £26 million scheme would help support up to 278 larger tourism and hospitality businesses, while a £4.1m grant will be available for B&Bs and guest hoses.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has also revealed an additional £130m package for businesses as part of the January monitoring round.

It includes another £100m for Stormont’s largest business grant, the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme (LRSS). Mr Murphy said more than £120 million has been issued to over 11,000 businesses through the scheme to date.

The monitoring round is a routine process to reallocate funds Stormont departments are unable to spend before the end of the financial year.

The sums returned to the Department of Finance included £93m from the Department for the Economy (DfE) after it announced its high street voucher scheme would be put on hold. DfE also returned £2m for the holiday at home voucher scheme.

DfE said both initiatives were unfeasible before the end of March given the current health regulations.

Some £42.5m was issued to DfE int he monitoring round to make up for three schemes left underfunded by the loss of EU funding.

DfE were also given £16m to support the tourism and hospitality sector and another £20m for the Limited Company Directors Scheme, doubling its budget.

Conor Murphy also said he had secured Executive support to extend the 12 months rates holiday to local newspapers, worth around £600,000.

The minister continued: "£7.5 million is also being allocated to meet the challenges of education through Covid, including resources for blended learning and support for childcare."

Commenting on the new £26.1m support scheme for larger hospitality and tourism businesses, Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: "Large businesses within the tourism and hospitality sectors have endured considerable fixed cost outlays throughout the pandemic.

"Furthermore, they have not been able to avail of funding from either the Small Business Support Grant Scheme or the Business Support Grant Scheme for the retail, hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors which was made available to smaller firms to assist with unavoidable fixed costs.

"Therefore this scheme will provide support to large businesses within some of our most important sectors to help them meet the fixed costs and overheads that they need to keep their business going and to protect jobs."

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster welcomed the funding announcements, but he warned the four-week lockdown extension would require additional support.

“We now have to work with the Executive to make sure that there is a continued level of financial response for this new timeframe. The issues don’t go away,” he said.

“We will also continue to press for payment of outstanding grants and support for those businesses that have fallen through the funding gaps.”

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