By Rebecca Black, PA
More than £70 million (€81 million) in grants to support businesses in the North as they recover from the Covid-19 pandemic have started to be issued.
Some £72.3 million will be paid to businesses that were permitted to remain open during the most months of lockdown but struggled due to reduced footfall.
More than 13,000 businesses, which did not qualify for support during the most recent lockdown period, will receive top-up grants.
Of those, 12,100 businesses will receive a £5,000 top-up while more than 1,100 businesses will receive a £10,000 top-up.
Northern Ireland Finance Minister Conor Murphy visited two businesses in Belfast city centre that will benefit from the grants, a Centra shop in Cathedral Quarter and Sawers delicatessen.
Mr Murphy says he recognised while these businesses were able to continue to operate during the most recent restrictions, their trade and footfall were impacted.
“I have been determined throughout the pandemic to ensure support reaches as many businesses as possible,” he said.
“These top-up payments will benefit thousands of small and medium-sized businesses across retail, hospitality, tourism, leisure and manufacturing, which were unable to access Executive business support schemes.
“This grant will cover a wider range of business including convenience stores, hardware stores, bakeries, financial services, engineering firms, and coach services to name a few.”
Mr Murphy described a positive week for the economy, with the most recent relaxations to the coronavirus regulations allowing the reopening of indoor hospitality.
“Relaxations have enabled businesses to reopen their doors and welcome back customers. It is a positive step forward as we continue to make progress on our pathway to recovery,” he said.
“I recognise that it will take time for trading conditions to resume to pre-pandemic levels. I hope the grant assistance provided by the Executive combined with the second year of the 12 months rates holiday and the full funding of the Economy Minister’s Economic Recovery Action Plan will help support businesses and economic recovery in the time ahead.”
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, welcomed the top-up grants.
“These grants will support many independent retailers who had lost significant footfall and trade as a result of hospitality and offices being closed during lockdown,” he said.
“Along with the further year’s rates holiday and the forthcoming High Street Scheme, this will greatly help our high streets on the long road toward recovery.”
A department spokesperson explained that Land and Property Services is undertaking verification work to ensure the occupiers of business properties have remained the same since the original grants were paid – once this is complete, further top-up payments will issue.
Businesses that started trading after the application process for the £10,000 Small Business Support Grant and the £25,000 Retail, Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure Grant closed will also have the opportunity to apply online for the top-up payment from late June.