Agrifood Loan Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 17th February 2014.

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Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin 2:30 pm, 17th February 2014

2. asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel when the agrifood loan scheme should reopen for applications, given its significance to our local industry and his revelation that it should reopen early in the financial year. (AQT 722/11-15)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Work is ongoing.  I would not necessarily describe what I said as a revelation.  It was pretty clearly outlined to Executive colleagues in the January monitoring paper and was not hidden away anywhere.  I raised it specifically in the House when I brought forward the January monitoring paper.

I remain absolutely and totally committed to the scheme.  It is a good scheme that allows us to avail ourselves of opportunities in UK supermarkets, which are increasingly sourcing food products, particularly meat products, from UK farms and producers.  There are huge opportunities for the local sector to expand.  I am sure that the Member will appreciate that bringing together government, banks, producers and processors was complicated from the outset.  We anticipated that, even if applications were made in this financial year, the bulk of the spending would take place in the next financial year.  That is why we have an existing commitment from January to an additional £10 million of expenditure in the agrifood loan scheme.  Work continues on that, and I hope that it will be in place in the next number of weeks, ready for the next financial year and for people to avail themselves of an excellent opportunity to expand their businesses.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I thank the Minister for his answer.  It may not have been a revelation for the Minister, but it certainly was for a large number of people in the industry.  Will the Minister confirm whether the £10 million is still in place for the scheme?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I am sure that many in the farming industry do not listen to January monitoring statements, and certainly a lot of Members of the House do not listen to those statements, even though they are incredibly important.  There is £10 million committed to next year, and we will judge the success of the scheme on how it impacts on the poultry sector.  If it is as successful as I think that it will be, we will look at additional expenditure in future years.  There is money through financial transactions capital that is unallocated for future years and could be given to the poultry sector.  We are also exploring opportunities in the pig meat sector, and we have not drawn a line just under those two sectors.  We will look at other opportunities in other sectors of our booming agrifood industry.