North’s firms ‘at risk’ over problems accessing emergency Covid funding

Companies struggling because of ‘funding gap’, business chiefs warn economy minister

Business leaders in the North, including a former DUP economy minister, have warned the Northern Ireland Executive that small enterprises and start-ups are in danger of going to the wall because they cannot access any emergency Covid-19 funding.

Simon Hamilton, chief executive of Belfast Chamber, and 11 other business leaders, have written to the North's economy minister to warn that in every sector in the North there are companies currently struggling to keep their doors open because they have fallen victim to a "funding gap".

Mr Hamilton believes that the “mechanism” which the Executive is using to provide financial support to firms impacted by the coronavirus crisis means that many small enterprises, entrepreneurs, manufacturers and social enterprises are “losing out”.

He said companies currently have to be in receipt of ‘small business rate relief’ in the North to qualify for one of the main schemes – the coronavirus business support grant of £10,000 (€11,300).


But Mr Hamilton said this excludes a lot of companies and start-ups that operate from serviced office accommodation or flexible workspaces and also charities and social enterprises, because they don’t directly pay rates or are exempt from rates.

“It is not fair and although I don’t think that the Executive intentionally set up a scheme that wouldn’t support everyone there are gaps emerging which they need to plug because some businesses have already had to close.

“The Executive now needs to set up an emergency support fund, like the Welsh government has done, to stop other firms going bust,” he added.

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business