Northern Ireland news

Executive agrees additional £40m support for businesses

Finance Minister Conor Murphy. Picture Kelvin Boyes.
Ryan McAleer

THE Executive has agreed to provide an additional £40 million for businesses who have missed out on other coronavirus support schemes.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy confirmed the figure yesterday ahead of Friday's meeting of the Executive, where it is expected that ministers will decide how it should be allocated.

The Department for the Economy estimates that 27,000 businesses qualify for a £10,000 grant, payable to small firms with a rateable value (NAV) of £15,000 or below. Economy Minister Diane Dodds said yesterday that two-thirds of businesses had been approved to date.

A larger £25,000 scheme for retail, hospitality and tourism businesses (capped at £50,000 NAV) will also be discussed at today’s Executive meeting. It’s understood that the larger scheme has proved much more complex to administer, with officials tasked with implementing measures that typically take months, into a matter of days.

Business groups have persistently raised the case of businesses left outside the funding streams, including small manufacturers, leisure businesses, hospitality businesses with a higher NAV and micro firms operating in shared working spaces.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds yesterday indicated that she will put a proposal to extend the £10,000 grant before Friday’s meeting of the Executive.

Meanwhile HMRC has confirmed that its online portal for applications to the Government-backed furlough scheme will open on April 20. The UK Government has said the system is being tested to be able to cope with up to 450,000 applications per hour.

HMRC has also reiterated that workers can take up new jobs with a different employer while on furlough, if their existing employment contract permits it.

Belfast law firm McKees said yesterday that many small employers are still confused about what they are entitled to especially around finance and insurance.

McKees set up a support forum for small firms three weeks ago with accountancy firm Harbinson Mulholland and financial services practice, Kerr Henderson.

Chris Ross of McKees said: “The government has worked hard to put the support packages in place in only a matter of weeks, however from speaking to businesses, we are finding that there is still a lot of panic, confusion and uncertainty.

“Cash flow is by far the greatest concern with many businesses struggling to sustain current salary bills and with no clear indication of when government cash will actually hit their bank accounts.”

Responding to criticism levied at lenders over their support to businesses, Ulster Bank said on Thursday that it had approved more than 95 percent of business customer requests for support during the coronavirus crisis to date.

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