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Coronavirus: Financial support scheme opens for applications

By Richard Morgan
BBC News NI business reporter

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image copyrightPA Media
image captionFinance Minister Conor Murphy has asked the Treasury to bring forward the start date of the Job Support Scheme

A financial support scheme for businesses in Northern Ireland affected by new coronavirus restrictions has opened for applications.

The Department of Finance expects the fund to cost £35m over four weeks.

Businesses required to close or that have had operations severely restricted are eligible to apply.

As of Monday evening, the Department of Finance said it had received almost 5,000 applications from interested businesses.

The fund has been available to businesses in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area since last week.

Businesses there were subject to tighter restrictions before the rest of Northern Ireland and will have the updated payments backdated.

Under the scheme, businesses will receive the following amounts for every week these restrictions apply:

  • Small businesses (up to £15,000 net annual value) - £800
  • Medium businesses (£15,001 - £51,000 net annual value) - £1,200
  • Large businesses (over £51,000 net annual value) - £1,600

Eligible businesses include cafes, pubs, hotels, close-contact services like hairdressers and other businesses required to close such as cinemas, museums and galleries.

Indoor attractions have also been closed, including Titanic Belfast.

Judith Owens, its chief executive, told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme it had been an incredibly difficult year.

"I do think it was the right decision as it would've been very difficult for us to remain open as the hotels and bars are closed and the unnecessary travel guidance is in place," she said.

"We opened in August and we had a relatively good period of trading in August and September, but it was still only 38% on what we did last year."

image copyrightPA Media
image captionJudith Owens said her priority was to protect jobs at Titanic Belfast

Up to 75 jobs were at risk of redundancy at the attraction due to the impact of lockdown earlier in the year.

Ms Owens said protecting jobs was her "priority".

"I am confident that we are in a position to try to do that, but we will need support.

'Didn't qualify'

"The support that is in at the moment is great and we qualify for that today but we have to try and get through the winter period to see how we can regrow the sector."

Barry Smyth, the co-owner of Yellow Door which operates at Hillsborough Castle Gardens, said it was considered "a service provider on the site so we are not technically a tenant, or a property owner".

"One of our cafes is closed and the events business is non-existent.

"Previously we didn't qualify for other grants because we are not a rate-payer; we are a service provider on site.

"We are hopeful that there will be some sort of a change as we really do need some form of assistance and there are many businesses like us.

"All we can do is take it one day at a time and see where we go. If the restrictions are longer than four weeks and there is no financial assistance I would wonder how we can possibly survive this," he said.

Financial support

Not all businesses are eligible for support under the localised restriction scheme announced by the Department of Finance.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said he has encouraged executive colleagues to bring forward proposals for sectors they have responsibility for to address pressures experienced by supply chain businesses and the self-employed.

"As an executive we must do all we can to support businesses including those who to date haven't benefitted from existing schemes.

"This scheme has been designed to provide much needed support to the occupying business within a commercial property which has been required to close or severely restrict its trading as a result of the regulations - you don't have to be the ratepayer to receive support.

"I'm pleased this scheme will also provide financial support to owners of bed and breakfasts; some of which pay domestic rates and haven't received support until now."

He added that he had written to the Treasury and "asked that urgent consideration is given to bringing forward the start date of the Job Support Scheme".

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