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Northern Ireland’s Minister of Finance, Conor Murphy, has responded to the NFRN’s call for more support for independent retailers within Northern Ireland, stating that he is “currently working with the senior officials to explore what form further interventions could take”.

Gwen Patterson previously wrote to the government on behalf of the NFRN’s Northern Ireland members, urging the minister in Belfast to “provide the independent retail sector with the support that it needs to cope with the effects of the coronavirus”.

Mr Murphy replied: “As the Minister of Finance, with responsibility for these matters, I am pleased to be able to respond to you.

“I am acutely aware of the pressures on all businesses, and particularly the independent retail sector, at this incredibly difficult and uncertain time and the critical need for the Executive to support businesses as best it can, particularly as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve.

“The rate relief that applies here is being provided to all businesses including the commercial, manufacturing and service sectors which have also suffered from Covid-19.  Our rates holiday will save businesses over £100 million.

“I would also highlight that in addition to the 3 months holiday, I have also introduced a range of other measures to assist businesses at this time, including the deferral of the issuing of all rate bills from April until June to help businesses with short-term cash flow; a reduction in the Regional Rate for all businesses equating to a significant 18% reduction on the 2019/20 rate; and the extension of the Small Business Rate Relief scheme for the current financial year, thereby providing valuable assistance to almost 27,000 ratepayers.

“These measures are in addition to £237 million in reliefs and exemptions from rates that the Executive already provides each year.

“My Executive colleagues and I acknowledge that business rates is only one element of what will have to be a comprehensive and sophisticated response to the economic challenges that are currently being faced here.

“Other support is available through the Coronavirus: £10,000 Small Business Support Grant Scheme and the Coronavirus: £25,000 Retail, Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Grant Scheme.  Together these Schemes, which are being administered by the Department for the Economy, with assistance from my Department, will provide around £370 million of assistance to some of our most vulnerable businesses by helping their immediate cash flow pressures.

“Further information on these Schemes is available on the NI Business Info website.

“My Executive colleagues and I are continually working to identify what interventions can be brought forward on an Executive wide basis, to protect our economy and restore confidence to businesses.

“I expect further measures to be considered in the context of the Covid 19 recovery plan as announced by the First Minister and deputy First Minister, which the Executive is currently considering.”

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