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Coronavirus: Minister announces north west hospitality funding


NI Finance Minister Conor Murphy has announced a grant scheme to help the north west's hospitality industry.

The scheme will see small businesses receive £800 for every two weeks they are closed, while larger businesses will receive £1,200 for two weeks.

Pubs, restaurants and hotels in the Derry City and Strabane council area have been operating under tighter coronavirus restrictions since Monday.

Restrictions were introduced to help curb the surge in coronavirus cases.

The grant scheme is in addition to the 12 month rates holiday that will continue until the end of March 2021.

The executive-funded grant scheme is set to cost £350,000 for the initial two weeks.

Last week businesses leaders in the north west said there were serious concerns about the impact of the new measures on the hospitality industry in the region.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionConor Murphy's proposal will go before Executive colleagues on Wednesday

Speaking to BBC Radio Foyle's News at One programme, Mr Murphy said the grant scheme for hospitality businesses in the north west is "not about trying to turn things around economically" for the area.

Mr Murphy said it was about "trying to keep some of the bills paid for businesses over this two week period" of additional restrictions in Derry and Strabane council area.

He said his department had looked at schemes in Great Britain and in the Republic of Ireland, and had brought forward a "more generous scheme than had been offered in other places".

"It is our intention the scheme will open next week and payments can actually be made next week," he said.

The minister said his officials estimated that between 200 and 400 businesses could potentially apply for the grants.

"We also have designed the scheme in such a way that if recommendation beyond the two weeks is to extend restrictions in Derry and Strabane, businesses won't have to reapply and also that the scheme can be replicated in other areas," he said.

He added that businesses can continue to avail of the furlough scheme until the end of October, but warned that "there's a real drop off point" for the economy when it ends.

Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said the scheme was "inadequate".

"To put it into perspective, that barely covers a single member of staff working 9-5pm for the week on minimum wage," he said.

"Businesses in the north west cannot afford to keep their doors opened based on receiving £400 per week when the current restrictions have devastated incoming trade."

Mr Eastwood said he has written to the prime minister, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and to NI's first and deputy firs ministers outlining a number of interventions needed to support businesses.

"What's needed is a much more radical, sustainable and targeted intervention," he said.

'Drop in the ocean'

DUP MLA Gary Middleton said the package put forward by Mr Murphy "falls well short" of what was required for the north west.

image captionDUP MLA Gary Middleton says "a proper financial package" must follow

He said: "The difficulty is we're now in the predicament where financial support coming forward is so minimal that the likelihood is within the next two weeks we're going to be facing the potential of significant job losses.

"There needs to be a proper financial package to follow this."

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Paul Clancy said the grants scheme was merely "a drop in the ocean".

"It is not going to have any real impact at all, I think it is a token gesture," he said.

It would let business pay "a couple of bills over the next few weeks it was not focused on paying staff wages," he added.

"I can see a lot of businesses closing this week and next week in particular."

There is a clear need to address the surge in Covid-19 in the north west, he added.

But that could be done, he said, by allowing business to "trade through it and get message out there to respect the social distancing rule and let's keep our businesses as viable as we possibly can".

image copyrightEmpics
image captionDerry's Chamber of Commerce fears some north west hospitality businesses could close

'Not eligible'

Kiera Duddy, who owns the Pickled Duck Cafés in the north west, said she does not believe her business is eligible for the hospitality grant scheme.

Mrs Duddy said her cafes have only been able to operate as a takeaway service because of the restrictions imposed in the Derry City and Strabane council area.

She said Derry city centre has become incredibly quiet and they are finding it extremely difficult to bring customers in.

"I don't think I am eligible for any money," Mrs Duddy told the programme.

"It's disheartening, my staff are down even more hours this week and next week, depending on how viable this week is, I don't know if we will still be open."

image copyrightReuters
image captionThere have been 2.010 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the region since March - 959 have been diagnosed in the last seven days

Derry hotelier Selina Horshey compared the grants scheme to "trying to put a fire out with a teacup".

"At the minute we are working under such tight restrictions that it is just not viable for hotels to remain open," she said.

Four hotels in the region have already closed, she said.

"We are working really hard not to lay off staff. Not every business is in this position. When we are really going to suffer is November. The jobs support scheme relies on us being open in order to avail of it.

"If business like hotels are in a position where they cant viably trade we cant be open, we cant apply for this scheme," she said.

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