COVID-19 Guidance and Financial Support to Industry Sectors

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:30 pm on 7th July 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance 12:30 pm, 7th July 2020

The motion tabled by the Infrastructure Committee rightly refers to business sectors in need of support that have struggled to obtain grant assistance, in many instances, from the three schemes established to date by the Department for the Economy, namely the £10k, the £25k and the hardship fund coronavirus grant business support schemes, delivered, I note, under the Industrial Development (Northern Ireland) Order 1982. I have engaged with many businesses and people in those sectors over recent weeks and months. Many are desperate for support. They are crying out for assistance and looking to Stormont for help.

While some hauliers have managed to get through the pandemic without major financial stress, those without contracts with, for example, major supermarkets are teetering on collapse. Business virtually collapsed during the pandemic and is now only a fraction of what it was prior to March. With leases still to pay, furloughing being phased out from next month, loan payments due and utilities bills still arriving, the future is stark. News that a much-hoped-for joint package of support would not be forthcoming from the Department for Transport in London and the Executive in Northern Ireland felt like a kick in the teeth, especially for those who were waiting for the money to arrive and thought that the funding was already set aside. Just because DfT and HM Treasury do not want to proceed does not mean that we cannot act in Northern Ireland. We can and should deliver a tailored package of support for those hardest hit.

Most taxi drivers, like driving instructors, could not access the grant schemes set up by the Department for the Economy because of the relationship with the non-domestic rates system and the exclusion of sole traders from the hardship fund criteria, leaving them with recourse only to the self-employed income support scheme, if eligible, and no support for the overheads and bills that keep arriving. Guidance and support have been slow and lacking and must be addressed if we are to build back our economy, recognising the valuable role that both play in helping to get us about.

Like that for driving instructors and taxi drivers, trade for private bus and coach operators has also largely dried up in recent months. At this point, I should declare that I was previously an employee of Translink.