Business Adaptation and Improvement Grant Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP 2:45 pm, 7th December 2020

2. Miss McIlveen asked the Minister for Communities whether additional moneys will be made available to local councils to administer a further business adaptation and improvement grant scheme. (AQO 1273/17-22)

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her question. My Department's COVID-19 recovery revitalisation programme has already allocated £17·6 million to councils to enable them to create a safer environment for shoppers, visitors and workers. It includes contributions of £5 million and £2 million from the Department for Infrastructure and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, respectively. The programme was designed to be as flexible as possible to ensure that each council delivers a plan that addresses the specific needs in its area. Every council plan has included a small grant scheme to help businesses to provide a more COVID-secure environment for their customers. The eligibility criteria and value of the grants were determined by each council in consultation with local stakeholders. The total value of the grants across all councils is approximately £6·9 million.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Minister for her response. The previous tranche of funds that was distributed to Ards and North Down Borough Council, which covers the majority of my constituency, was available only to businesses in the designated town centre. That was at the suggestion of her Department, and it left many dozens of businesses without the benefit of assistance. In fact, there were 22 businesses in one street in Comber alone. Will the Minister do anything to provide assistance to those businesses, which by virtue of a line on a map were unable to avail themselves of that funding?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I am sorry to hear that. The Member will be aware, given her previous role, that I am responsible for townlands and villages with a population of 5,000 and over. Edwin Poots — I wish him the very best — and I did this scheme jointly to ensure that no one was left out. I will find out what happened and write to the Member. Hopefully, whatever happened, whatever gaps there are will be closed. I will get the detail and talk to the Member personally.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the Minister provide a breakdown of the number of businesses that the money has already reached and give examples, if possible, by council area?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I do not have that detail to hand, but I will write to the Member. When I was talking to some businesses about how they were hoping to avail themselves of support, they were looking at additional sanitisation and infrastructure for safe social distancing. A number of them were looking at outside heaters, street furniture, awnings, gazebos and things like that in order to help to bring customers in safely. Again, I do not have the details to hand as to what each council got, but I will get them for the Member.

Photo of Sinéad Ennis Sinéad Ennis Sinn Féin

We know that there has been a delay with some of the financial support schemes that were established recently. Will the Minister set out the steps that she is taking to ensure that councils receive those allocations quickly?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her question. That is why I was a bit surprised to hear Michelle McIlveen's concerns. The onus was on Edwin Poots, Nichola Mallon and me to ensure that those schemes, unlike others, got out as quickly as possible through the councils, which have been funded by my Department to ensure that they in turn can provide front-line services as quickly as possible.

Unlike with other schemes, the councils, to be fair to them, have acted very quickly. We have made the application as simple and straightforward as possible while respecting and honouring due diligence and ensuring that each council was as flexible to the needs of their local businesses as possible. Again, as each tranche is rolled out, we have ensured that speed has been of the essence. I hope that that is the case across the board and look forward to ensuring that it is.