T6. Mr Blair asked the Minister of Finance, in light of the fact that, like many other Members, he continues to receive a significant amount of casework in relation to the localised restrictions support scheme, for an update on the status of the scheme, particularly the backlog in payments. (AQT 1316/17-22)
My Department is working through that backlog as quickly as it possibly can. It is good practice anyway, but, after discussions with the Audit Office, staff were obliged to reassess as they went along, to make sure that where errors were made, they would, at a very early stage, try to recoup the money lost. Therefore, they have written to a number of businesses about that.
I am not certain that there is much of a backlog at this stage, but I can find out for the Member what payments are due and valid for people. The main question in recent times has been the attempt to recoup some of the money. As I said, it represents some 1·7% of the total, which shows a significantly high level of success. As I said in response to the previous question, the scheme was developed at a fast pace, and people have been very grateful for the support on the ground. However, where errors have been made, it is a difficult situation for businesses. LPS will work with businesses to make sure that the error is corrected. If the money has to be recouped, arrangements will be made. However, they can also offset that, so that if the person is due another payment, perhaps from the top-up scheme for those who did not get LRSS, they should be fitted in there instead, LPS will ensure that it is taken from that, rather than the business having to find the money to repay it.
There are arrangements that can be worked through with businesses, but, in relation to a backlog, I am not aware that that is now a significant issue, but I will check with the Department and if there is any further information on that, I will get back to the Member.
I thank the Minister for that answer. When the LRSS ceases, businesses will continue to operate in a situation in which their profitability and overall operations will be restricted because of continuing COVID regulations and restrictions. Will the Minister reassure us that that situation is being looked at to find solutions?
The LRSS is defined by regulations that allow money to be paid out only when businesses have been advised or instructed to close or are severely impacted and restricted. I think that everyone recognises that businesses will struggle to get back to full trading. Undoubtedly, the restrictions and guidance on social distancing and all that will be in place for some time and will have an impact on businesses. As I said, the LRSS is able to pay money only if businesses are forced to close or are severely restricted.
We have fully funded the Department for the Economy's economic support and recovery package to try to assist businesses in other ways, and, of course, measures such as the voucher scheme are coming through. There will also be a rates holiday for quite a lot of businesses next year, so a lot of people in retail and hospitality will have two full years without having paid rates. There is continued support for businesses, but not through the LRSS. That is obliged to stop once businesses reopen.