Northern Ireland news

Financial support scheme for business will cost £35 million but trade bodies say it's inadequate

Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced a support package for businesses affected by coronavirus restrictions. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

FRESH measures to help businesses affected by the latest Covid-19 restrictions are expected to cost up to £35 million over the next four weeks.

The new financial support scheme was announced yesterday by Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy.

But within hours of the Sinn Féin minister's announcement a trade body headed by one of his DUP predecessors complained that the measures were inadequate.

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton, who served as finance minister for two years up to May 2015, said the support package "simply does not go far enough".

"The executive have failed to take responsibility for their decision to put huge sections of our economy into a four week lockdown by offering them sufficient financial support," he said.

"Whilst what is on offer has been heralded as a doubling of what was available to businesses in Derry City and Strabane, it is still paltry in comparison to the numerable costs shut down businesses will face over the next four weeks."

Mr Murphy announced that the scheme will be rolled out across the north from Monday after the Treasury pledged an additional £200 million.

Grants will range from £1,600 for small businesses to £2,400 for medium businesses and £3,200 for the largest businesses for every two weeks they are closed.

It is an extension of the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme which opened for businesses in Derry City and Strabane District Council area on Wednesday.

Businesses covered will include cafes, pubs and restaurants that have been temporarily forced to close or limit their services to a takeaway service instead.

Close contact services in or using commercial premises such as hairdressers and barbers, beauty salons, day spas, nail bars and tattoo parlours forced to close are also included.

Mr Murphy said the intention is to be "as flexible as we can".

"We're not going around checking if shutters are down and doors are closed," he said.

"We're recognising that people should continue to provide services where they can, but clearly not against the regulations that have been brought forward.

"We're hoping that that is the approach taken in relation to job support and we'll continue to have that engagement with the Treasury."

The minister said some businesses may feel excluded and said he has asked his executive colleagues to urgently bring forward proposals for the sectors that they have direct responsibility for.

But Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts joined Belfast Chamber in criticising the scheme, describing it as "disappointing".

"It is disappointing that this scheme offers no effective help to those businesses in retail and the wider supply chain that will have to close as a result of a loss of trade, footfall and consumers," he said.

"The closure of hospitality will be a hammer blow to our local high streets and we need the Executive to step up and assist businesses who are impacted."

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