Stormont Executive agrees allocations of multi-million Covid support funding

Stormont Executive agrees allocations of multi-million Covid support funding
The Stormont Executive has agreed support funding ahead of a strict circuit-break which will see non-essential retail, the hospitality sector and close-contact services closed for two weeks (Peter Morrison/PA)

Rates relief for businesses and a high street voucher scheme are among a multimillion-pound suite of Covid support measures agreed by the Stormont Executive.

Ministers met on Monday morning, just days ahead of the start of a strict circuit-break that will see non-essential retail, the hospitality sector and close-contact services closed for two weeks.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said more than £300 million has been allocated.

He said the support package includes more than £200 million for businesses and £98 million to support the most vulnerable.

In addition, £150 million is being held centrally for longer-term support on business rates.

“I hope to be able to provide an update on this in the very near future,” Mr Murphy added.

The Finance Minister announced a £95 million High Street Voucher Scheme which will give people a pre-paid card for use in local shops, and £55 million to extend the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme to include non-essential retail, leisure, and entertainment businesses now forced to close.

People walk past The Kitchen Bar in Belfast’s Victoria Square shopping centre (Brian Lawless/PA)

There is also £20 million to help company directors who have been without support up until now, and £20 million to extend the 12-month rate holiday to the manufacturing sector.

In terms of the hospitality sector, £10.6 million will support 1,000 wet pubs, £5 million will top up the Tourism and Hospitality Scheme, there will be £4.1 million for bed and breakfasts which previously missed out on business support because they pay domestic rates, and £3 million to help local businesses grow their online sales.

The Executive also agreed to provide £98 million to support education, councils and sport, and to protect the vulnerable.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy (Press Eye/PA)

Mr Murphy added: “£44.3million is being provided to fund a one-off £200 heating payment for those with disabilities who are on higher disability benefits and older people in receipt of pension credit.

“£26.4million is being allocated to support schools. This includes vital funding to ensure families of young people who are entitled to free school meals will receive food grants during school holidays.

“I am allocating a further £5 million to support charities through the rest of the financial year.

“As the Social Enterprise Support Fund was oversubscribed, a further £2.25 million is now being provided to ensure grants can be paid to all eligible applicants.

“I am also making a further £10 million available to support sporting organisations, given the impact the restrictions are having on the sector, as well as an additional £10 million to local councils to ensure they can continue to deliver vital services.”

Meanwhile, £27.5 million has been allocated to the Department for Infrastructure to compensate it and its arms-length bodies for the loss of income and ensure service delivery can be maintained.

The allocations were welcomed by the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.

Director Aodhan Connolly said: “This support package will make a huge difference but it will not be a magic bullet for the high street.

“This has been the hardest year in living memory for the retail industry and more support will be needed in the coming months as well as more partnership working with industry, local councils, statutory agencies and the Executive. That is the only way the high street as we know it will survive.”

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