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Chamber call for NI Executive to fill gaps in Covid Grant Scheme

 

Londonderry Chamber, along with other business groups, has written an urgent Joint Letter (see below) to the Economy, Finance and Communities Ministers, calling for the Northern Ireland Executive to fill in the gaps in the COVID-19 Grant Scheme.

 

6 April 2020

 

Diane Dodds MLA

Minister for the Economy

Netherleigh

Massey Avenue

Belfast

 

Dear Minister

 

Gaps in the COVID-19 Grant Scheme

 

We are immensely grateful for the support offered by the Northern Ireland Executive for businesses grappling with the sudden and severe impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on many of them.  We fully appreciate that this is an entirely unprecedented set of circumstances that we all face and that the Executive is having to react to a fast evolving situation at pace and that doesn’t always give the time and space for as comprehensive a policy response as may be desired.

 

We have identified a number of gaps in the support being offered by the Executive which, whilst probably unintentional, are resulting in businesses who have had to close, cease trading or are being seriously impacted by the necessary decisions by Government to protect public health not getting the sort of support that other businesses are receiving.  For example, there has been a growth in the number of businesses operating from serviced office/flexible workspaces all across our region.  These are often very small businesses, set up by entrepreneurs and are exactly the sort of start-ups and small companies we would all encourage and want to see more of.  However, because they do not possess an individual rate account – although they will pay rates as part of an overall charge to their landlord – they aren’t able to apply for the £10,000 Small Business Grant Scheme.  Furthermore, charities and social enterprises, who perform an incredibly important role especially in these challenging times in serving the most vulnerable in our society, have not been able to get any grant support because they are rates exempt, yet they are similarly under significant pressure.

 

We cannot imagine that when the grant scheme was designed that it was the intention of the Executive to exclude such businesses and social enterprises from the opportunity to get the support that they clearly need.  Many are unable to trade at all or are experiencing a significant decrease in business but are not getting the same sort of support that other businesses who are deemed as essential and can continue to trade are able to avail of.  This seems deeply unfair.

 

We are working with thousands of small and micro businesses as well as charities and social enterprises across Northern Ireland at the moment and the cash grant has been a lifeline for those who have received it. It has introduced vital liquidity, enabling these businesses to pay suppliers, rent and essential overheads so the benefits are also flowing to other small businesses in the local economy. It is essential that further liquidity is introduced into the economy through widening the reach of the £10,000 cash grant to the businesses and social enterprises in the identified gaps – this will decrease the number of permanent business closures and limit the potential for escalating unemployment.

 

We would therefore ask that the Executive urgently extend the small business grant scheme to help fill those gaps including businesses operating in serviced office/flexible workspace environments and to charities and social enterprises.  If extending the existing grant scheme is not feasible, we would suggest that the Executive introduce an emergency support scheme for those businesses and social enterprises that are not able to benefit from the grant scheme so that they too can get the support they need to deal with their cashflow problems and overcome this immense challenge.  We note that the Welsh Government recently announced a Resilience Fund to help small and micro businesses and social enterprises who were not eligible for their grant scheme and would suggest that our Executive look to that as an example of what is possible.

 

Thank you for taking the time to consider the contents of this letter. This letter has also been sent to the Finance Minister and the Communities Minister.

 

Yours sincerely

 

 

Robin Cherry MBE

President

Ballymena Area Chamber of Commerce

Gary McDonald

President

Lisburn Chamber of Commerce

 

Geoff Thompson

President

Bangor Chamber of Commerce

 

Paul Clancy

Chief Executive

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce

 

Simon Hamilton                                            

Chief Executive

Belfast Chamber

 

Colm Shannon

Chief Executive

Newry Chamber of Commerce & Trade

 

Karen Yates                                                    

Chief Executive

Causeway Chamber

 

Derek Wright

President

Newtownards Chamber of Trade

 

Michael McQuillan

Chief Executive

Enterprise NI

 

Colm Broderick

President

Omagh Chamber of Commerce

 

Leslie Waite

President

Holywood Chamber of Commerce

 

Colin Jess

Chief Executive

Social Enterprise NI