Coronavirus: Questions remain for NI businesses

By John Campbell
BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor

MoneyImage source, Getty Images

After a week of despair and panic the chancellor’s announcement on Friday allowed Northern Ireland businesses and their employees a moment to breathe.

A contact told me he wept with relief as Rishi Sunak outlined a scheme to support employee wages.

Effectively the government becomes wage-payer of last resort across swathes of the economy for at least three months.

That should prevent redundancies and help keep workforces intact.

But that scheme will take a few weeks to get up and running with the application process still being worked on.

So other complementary measures are important in the meantime.

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is now operational with Danske Bank, Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland participating.

It provides loans of up to £5m for smaller businesses who are experiencing lost or deferred revenues, leading to disruptions to their cashflow.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Rishi Sunak announced the measures earlier in March

However Manufacturing NI, a lobby group, said it has had calls from businesses who are finding the local banks "slow or unhelpful" when it comes to arranging those loans.

It's important to note the rules of the scheme mean you have offer some evidence to support the application.

And then there are the grants promised by Stormont - £10,000 for small businesses and £25,000 for larger businesses in the most impacted sectors.

Executive ministers are promising to have something ready early this week.

The scheme is based on business rates and it is proving a challenge to put into reverse a system which is only designed for collecting revenue.

For example the Department of Finance may not have correct bank details for every ratepayer.

But whatever the challenges, this is the main policy lever that Stormont can pull and businesses are waiting anxiously for a result.