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Economy Minister Diane Dodds today announced significant financial support for business in response to Covid-19.

Businesses in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors will be eligible to apply for grants of £25,000. Applications to the scheme will open on Monday 20 April and will take around 15 working days to process, subject to verification of eligibility.

The Small Business Support Grant Scheme, providing grants of £10,000, will be extended to include small industrial businesses that qualify for industrial de-rating. This expansion will cover around 2,500 additional businesses.

Speaking about the new support, the Minister said: “From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been committed to supporting businesses to mitigate the inevitable economic consequences of the vital restrictions we live under.

“In recent years, the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors in Northern Ireland have flourished, but their sustainability is based on people being able to travel, shop and socialise. Covid-19 has thrown into sharp relief the fragility of these sectors and I am acutely aware of the hardship now being faced by these businesses.

“Over 4,000 businesses in these sectors will be able to apply for grants of £25,000 from Monday 20 April. Information on eligibility and how to apply will be available on the nibusinessinfo website and I urge anyone who believes they are eligible to apply from that date.”

Turning to the expansion of the Small Business Support Grant Scheme, the Minister said: “We very quickly set up the Small Business Support Grant Scheme to support up to 27,000 businesses in receipt of Small Business Rate Relief.

“I am pleased to be in a position now to expand that scheme further. Around 2,500 small businesses which benefit from industrial de-rating are now also eligible for the support.

“More than 14,000 payments have been made to local businesses through this scheme and applications continue to be processed.”

The Minister went on to confirm that both schemes would close for applications on Wednesday 20 May.

Mrs Dodds said: “So that we can be in a position to secure budget availability for further measures for local business, we must bring these two grant schemes to a close. I therefore urge anyone who believes they are eligible to please ensure you engage with the process before the closing date of 20 May.”

The Minister has agreed that a fund would be earmarked to support businesses not currently able to access existing regional or national grant schemes.

Mrs Dodds said: “I recognise that there are many other businesses across Northern Ireland that are being adversely impacted at present and facing financial hardship, and which have not been able to access any of the existing national or regional grant schemes.

“My message to them is: we are working as quickly as we can on how best we might assist you. A budget will be identified for these businesses and officials are examining how to deliver this money to where it is so desperately needed.”

More information on support for businesses not eligible for existing grant schemes will be announced as soon as possible.