Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Dhéanfaidh mé do chomhairle. With your permission, I will take Mr Middleton's question with this. Before I start the answer, I want to thank Brian McClure of our rating policy division, who has been an enormous help to me over my seven months as Finance Minister.
My Department is consulting on all the Rates Rethink proposals announced to the Assembly on 22 November. Although some responses have already been received, it is not appropriate for me to summarise them in case it would prejudice the consultation process. Consultation closes on 16 February, after which my Department will prepare a factual report on the responses received.
The Minister has made great pronouncements today about the things and the people he has stood up for. One thing that he cannot claim to have stood up for is the business community. He knows full well the implications for and impact on the business community of plunging us into political instability, as Sinn Féin has done.
In the statement, the Minister proposed the removal of the rates cap. Does he understand the fear that he has generated amongst older homeowners who have worked all their days for what they have and who may be asset-rich but are now cash-flow poor and the implications that his proposals have for them?
I thank the Member for her question. Of course, there are protections for those who are asset-rich and cash-poor, particularly older people. If the Member wants to speak to the aforementioned Mr McClure, she can get detail of those protections.
In fact, what we also did in the Rates Rethink was to give a proposed injection of £22 million to small business, in particular the hospitality, retail and tourism businesses. I was delighted, along with some of Ms Bunting's colleagues, to address Hospitality Ulster and NIIRTA on this very matter before Christmas and to receive the overwhelming endorsement — I do not want to call it "enthusiastic endorsement", but it was absolutely 100% endorsement — of the Rates Rethink plan from those represented by Hospitality Ulster and NIIRTA. I do not know whether the Member wants to declare an interest in this regard, but it may also be worthwhile saying that, when we assessed the small business rate relief programme, the message came back from our experts again and again that it had had no meaningful effect. Therefore, my proposal was to move to a better system that would deliver results for all our people but, in particular, create jobs and help those in the hospitality and tourism industry because, of course, that is an area of potential growth for our economy.