Diane Dodds – Business support is months ahead of schedule

A grant supporting thousands of small businesses hit by the coronavirus shutdown is being delivered months ahead of normal, Northern Ireland’s economy minister said.

A £10,000 cash boost per eligible firm will help stabilise 27,000 businesses and is intended to save the economy from long-term collapse.

Stormont holds bank details for only 9,000 small traders who qualify.

The devolved minister Diane Dodds said officials would use the ratings property tax system for the multimillion-pound initiative.

She said: “The administration of a scheme involving payments of £370 million was never going to be a straightforward exercise.

“We are endeavouring to deliver in days something which in normal circumstances would take months to put in place.

“In making this operational we are ahead of where counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales are at this point.”

The Government will pay a £10,000 grant for small businesses and a grant of £25,000 to companies in hospitality, tourism and retail sectors.

Payments will be made directly into the bank accounts of businesses affected by disruption caused by the virus.

Mrs Dodds added: “Currently, Land and Property Services only hold bank details for just over 9,000 of small businesses who qualify and obviously payment can be expedited to those companies.

“Our focus will be on getting this out as quickly as possible.”

An online web portal will be set up this week for remaining eligible businesses to register their details.

Mrs Dodds added: “Our immediate focus has been on putting in place a system for processing the £10,000 grant.

“However, I can assure colleagues that we are also working hard to put in place processes for the £25,000 grant for our hospitality, tourism and retail sectors as soon as possible.”

She said the impact of the virus and the necessary measures that have been put in place to contain it, have had a devastating impact on economies around the world, and Northern Ireland is no exception.

She added: “This won’t be fixed overnight. The impact of coronavirus will be felt for many years to come.

“Our economy is suffering, our businesses are under extreme pressure and people are not only living under the threat of the virus but also the threat of losing their jobs.

“The impact is on real people, and real families. People are concerned about how to put food on their table.

“People who have spent a lifetime building up their business are afraid that it will be gone.”

The minister said more than 30 companies have offered to participate in manufacturing consortia to make ventilators.

O’Neills has started to manufacture PPE, and another two companies are exploring doing the same.

A number of individuals and companies have sourced PPE masks from markets across the world.

Several companies are in the process of accreditation to manufacture hand sanitisers.

And four companies in Northern Ireland are working on providing Covid-19 testing.

The minister told the Stormont Assembly: “Business is doing what business does. It is reacting and innovating. It is stepping up.”

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