20 May 2022

Local businesses ‘frustrated’ with government Covid-19 schemes

A local MLA has expressed concern over the schemes.

Local businesses ‘frustrated’ with government Covid-19 schemes

Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin.

Hundreds of local businesses have been left ‘frustrated’ while trying to access schemes designed to aid businesses affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Concerns have centred around access to the £10,000 grant, the £25,000 grant and also the support for those who are self-employed.

Mid Ulster MLA, Emma Sheerin, has called on Economy Minister Diane Dodds to make improvements to the scheme.

She said: “One of the biggest challenges we first encountered was that manufacturing and engineering firms, who avail of industrial derating, were excluded from the relief package.

“Thankfully, this was addressed by the minister following quite an amount of pressure, but there are still a number of business models that have been excluded.

“Businesses who rent their premises were initially unable to apply, having been told to wait for a second phase of help which became available on April 30th.

“The criteria that came with this second phase only caters for 'sole tenants', meaning that anyone who rents a unit in a premises with multiple businesses, or rents a part of a business space, has been excluded.

'I cannot see the logic in this, and feel this discriminates against small business owners who never could have foreseen these circumstances.

“A business does not see their running costs diminish just because they have a neighbouring business above or below them who happens to rent off the same landlord.”

The Mid Ulster MLA, who sits on Stormont’s Audit Committee, said she welcomed a new ‘microbusiness’ package to be introduced next week, but also voiced concerns about differences from the original scheme.

“The minister has announced a 'microbusiness' package which will become available next week, which is certainly much welcomed news,” she said.

“However, I am worried that this is unlikely to be worth the same £10k award as the initial scheme, with the provision 'grants up to £10k' outlined in the criteria suggesting that it might depend on uptake. 

“Given that there was no requirement on any business to prove turnover or ongoing costs to avail of the first grants, which I understand happened for expediency reasons, it is unfair to expect similarly sized businesses, with similar operating costs, to settle for lower grant awards due to a technicality.

'I have written to Minister Dodds again this week communicating that all renting businesses should be included in the first scheme, and if not, the 'microbusiness' package must guarantee £10k awards for all successful applicants.”

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