Stormont looks to recoup Covid relief funds sent to ineligible firms
A Stormont department is working to recover emergency coronavirus funding sent to ineligible businesses.
Under the Small Business Support Grant Scheme launched in March, a £10,000 payment was automatically sent to any firm in receipt of small business rates relief.
Some 52 wind turbines owners were among those who received the payment, but the department has since ruled that sector ineligible for the scheme.
The Department for the Economy said it will "where possible, seek to recover any funding that may have been paid to those deemed ineligible to receive payment".
Economy Minister Diane Dodds has been criticised over the affair.
UUP MLA Roy Beggs said "swift action" should be taken to recoup the money,
"Diane Dodds needs to get a grip on her department and find out just how this was allowed to happen," he said.
"Nobody could seriously say that Covid-19 was going to affect the wind, and therefore at some point someone should have stepped in to prevent £10,000 grants being out to wind turbine owners.
"It is nothing short of outrageous that whilst many sectors were forced to close and be left with no help at all, 52 wind turbine owners were handed £10,000 each without even asking for it."
The department has defended its actions amid the "scale of the challenge" presented by the pandemic.
"The department is content that it took the necessary, swift action to support tens of thousands of businesses facing serious difficulties, or failure, caused by the Covid-19 crisis," a spokesperson said.
"The measures taken by the minister were supported by the Executive.
"The department has paid out more than £338 million to more than 32,000 businesses across the £10,000 Small Business Support Grant, the £25,000 Retail, Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Grant, and the NI Microbusiness Hardship Fund.
"It should be noted that the scale of the challenge presented by the pandemic, and the unprecedented speed and scale of the Executive's response to it, was acknowledged by Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly in the NI Audit Office report of 2 September 2020 on the Executive's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The report highlighted that 20 DfE initiatives were activated to support local businesses. Since this report was published 14 further initiatives have been taken forward.
"As a result of this action, tens of thousands of businesses have been assisted and jobs saved. This would not have happened had the department failed to act quickly.
"The department will, where possible, seek to recover any funding that may have been paid to those deemed ineligible to receive payment."