Finance Minister Conor Murphy.
NORTHERN Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the past 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.
A £213million rates relief package for business sectors hit hardest by the Covid-19 lockdown was announced by the Finance Minister Conor Murphy today.
Building on the £100million scheme announced in March which gave all businesses a three month rates holiday, the new scheme will result in businesses in the following sectors being relieved of the obligation to pay rates for the full financial year up to 31 March 2021:
* hospitality, tourism and leisure
* retail (excluding certain supermarkets and off-licences)
* Belfast City, Belfast International and City of Derry Airports.
All businesses will also receive a one-month extension of the rates holiday up to 31 July 2020.
Minister Murphy confirmed: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the economy. The initial rates support package helped businesses with immediate cash-flow difficulties during the lockdown. As the Executive begins to ease the restrictions which have been necessary to save lives, I am pleased to announce this new scheme which importantly provides all businesses with an extended rates holiday for July.
“Further support is then targeted at the sectors which will be in greatest need in the months ahead. This includes retail, hospitality, tourism, leisure, childcare and airports. This rates package, which is aligned with the Executive’s pathway to recovery, brings the total support for businesses from rates relief and grants to almost £700million.”
Education Minister Peter Weir welcomed the Executive’s approval of an income scheme to support substitute teachers who are unable to access secure work during the Covid-19 shutdown of schools.
With many schools closed during the pandemic except those supervising vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers, eligible substitute teachers, who were engaged between 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2020, will have access to an income for the period April to June 2020. An additional income through this scheme will top up their income to at least 80% of that earned in the period.
Minister Weir acknowledged: “I am fully aware of the significant impact this pandemic has had on our pupils, teaching and non-teaching staff. The issue of funding for substitute teachers, who are unable to work and therefore unable to be paid, is one that and I, and my Department, have been working hard to resolve.
"Today, I am pleased to announce that we will be introducing an income support scheme for substitute teachers through the Covid-19 Response fund. The estimated total cost of the scheme is around £12million. My Department will allocate up to £8million and the Executive has agreed to fund the remaining £4million. I would also like to thank the Finance Minister for his support in this matter."
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced the Executive had allocated an additional £10million to support the most vulnerable people in housing during the Covid-19 emergency.
The Supporting People Programme provides housing support for approximately 19,000 vulnerable individuals living independently including: homeless people, older people, young people, and people with physical disabilities, learning disabilities and mental health issues.
The additional funds will help maintain Supporting People services, which are commissioned by the Housing Executive and delivered through the public and voluntary and community sectors.
Minister Hargey explained: “The additional funding will be used to address significant staff shortages in the immediate term and mounting pressure in this area, if the number of Covid-19 cases continues to increase. The money will fund overtime costs for existing staff and the use of the bank or agency staffing that is necessary if services are to be maintained. Extra cleaning is also required, and the matter of a sufficient and adequate supply of PPE is being addressed.
“These are unusual times which demand actions and solutions. This funding allocation represents our commitment to the vulnerable people in Supporting People schemes, and the staff providing support to them. We support them and we are working hard to ensure their safety and wellbeing.”
The allocation was also welcomed by Health Minister Robin Swann who added: “It is well recognised that supported living services better enable people to live to their full potential and reduce the need for acute health and social care services. Their value in society cannot be underestimated.
“Officials across both departments are in regular communication to identify and address Covid-19 priorities across our Supporting People schemes. As a result my Department has now extended Covid-19 testing to all staff and residents of Supporting People schemes as well as providing a temporary supply of Personal Protective Equipment.”
It was revealed by Minister Hargey that local councils will also be given £20.3million to alleviate financial pressures as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions.
The funding will ensure councils can continue to provide essential services and support those in need.
Minister Hargey said: “Despite the current Covid-19 pandemic, councils continue to play an essential role in delivering essential services such as waste collection and disposal, community support, and provision of registration and cemetery services.
"The restrictions that have been introduced, with the clear purpose of protecting life and ensuring our health service has not been overwhelmed, have created a severe financial challenge for our 11 councils as they have lost practically all of their self-generated income through the closure of council facilities.
“This funding will help assist councils with their cash flow and support them in the delivery of the vital services they are providing to the community at this time but will also help ensure that they are ready to play their key role in our post-pandemic recovery and limit the financial impact on ratepayers going forward.”
The Minister previously announced that councils here are eligible to apply to furlough staff through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This will help ensure that the rights of workers are respected and jobs are protected. This scheme along with this additional funding are supporting councils through this period.