Over 30,000 Northern Ireland businesses will benefit from a £370 million aid package to help them weather the financial storm brewing from the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds of jobs have already been lost across a range of sectors.
But Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers presented a united front at Stormont this evening (Wednesday) and pledged to do everything they could to help.
First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed the closure of schools from Monday.
It was then left to Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill to spell out how the Executive expects to step up to the mark to help steer our beleagured businesses through these uncertain times.
“This virus has changed everything,” said Ms O’Neill. “It cannot be business as usual.
“This is already impacting our economy, businesses, public services, jobs, and people’s livelihoods.
“And it’s a very difficult time and we know you need our full support and resources.
“It does your heart good to see the community response that is already happening on the ground; people are amazing and our greatest asset. I thank every one of you. And we are going to need that community spirt in the days ahead.”
The Deputy First Minister announced a new grant scheme off the back of financial commitments given by the British Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday.
Said Ms O’Neill: “An immediate grant of £10,000 will be provided to all small businesses who are eligible for the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme. That is all businesses with a NAV up to £15,000.
“This will ease their immediate cash flow pressures.
“We estimate that this scheme will cost £267,000,000 and assist some 27,000 businesses.
“An immediate grant of £25,000 will be provided to companies in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.
“We estimate that this scheme will cost £100,000,000 and assist some 4,000 business.
“Together these schemes will provide some £370 million of assistance to some of our most vulnerable businesses.”
These schemes will be administered by the Department for the Economy and InvestNI, working with Land and Property Services.
It comes afer the Executive announced on Tuesday a three month “rates holiday” to all businesses from April to June.
The Deputy First Minister said they were going to launch a communities response plan – a Voluntary & Community Sector Emergencies Leadership Group – to look at food distribution, tackling food poverty, free school meals, those self-isolating, connecting with communities on the ground.
A community support fund – to ensure they were getting essential support to people – would also be formed, as well as an enhanced discretionary support fund to provide grants to people for “essential needs”.
The Executive will also be “exploring support for people on the private/social rented sector” and “for people in crisis and emergency accommodation”.
The Deputy First Minister said it was hoped to make further announcements in the coming days.
She added: “As a power sharing government know that we are absolutely united on your behalf. That is what you all deserve. That is what we as ministers are 100% committed to delivering.
“Your health and well-being is paramount.
“We are pledging, to you all, that the sole focus of government has now turned to doing everything that is necessary to secure our public services; and to ensure that our employers, workers and their families are supported.
“Our power sharing government is determined to ensure that we act swiftly and decisively in your interests.
“Acting together and standing together, government with community, I know we will come through this.”
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