COVID-19: Small Business Grant Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP 2:45 pm, 30th June 2020

4. Mr Humphrey asked the Minister of Finance what percentage of applicants to the COVID-19 £10,000 small business grant scheme have not yet been notified of the outcome of their application. (AQO 511/17-22)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

Between 26 March and 26 June, the Department made 23,658 payments under the small business support grant, worth a total of £236·58 million, to businesses here. I know that many Members recognise that that has been an exceptional effort by staff who are working in very challenging conditions. In total, 24,768 applications were made to the £10,000 small business grant scheme. As of 26 June, 23,532 applicants, or 95% of all applications received, had been notified of the outcome. A total of 432 applications are still being processed by Land and Property Services. In almost all of those cases, the Department is waiting for information or clarification from the applicant.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer, and I thank Her Majesty's Government and the Northern Ireland Executive for the easements to Northern Ireland businesses. Small business is the backbone of the Northern Ireland economy and the support that it has been receiving is hugely important. I welcome those figures, which show the importance of the Union to Northern Ireland.

Some small businesses have not yet received information on their application. How quickly can we get that to them so that they can survive and so that we can preserve jobs as we go forward?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

This may be part of my statement to the Assembly later, but the Member may be aware that a total of £63 million across the three business support schemes — the £10,000 grant, the £25,000 grant and the business hardship fund — has been surrendered back unspent. £65 million has been unspent, £53 million has been returned and some money has been held for legal purposes by the Department for the Economy. The Executive had a preliminary discussion yesterday about how we will use that £53 million, and there is a strong desire across the Executive to address some of the sectors that managed to fall through the cracks, like social economy, childcare, sole traders, which is a very difficult category to deal with, and some other sectors that have not managed to avail themselves of any of the support packages to date. We will continue that discussion in my Department, and we will work on assessing the costs if we were to address some of those sectors and on what use can be made of the £53 million that the Department for the Economy has surrendered.