Dickson and Muir raise concerns over potential for Executive to hand back COVID funding

COVID-19 Andrew Muir Finance Stewart Dickson

Alliance MLAs Stewart Dickson and Andrew Muir have raised concerns over the increasing risk the Executive may have to hand back part of the COVID-19 support funding it has received from Westminster.

Since the start of March, the Executive has received approximately £3 billion in funding to support individuals and organisations through the pandemic. However, Treasury rules require almost all money received since March 2020 to be spent by the end of the financial year in March, with only a limited amount available to carry over. With less than three months until that point, the Executive has at least £300 million of COVID-19 funding remaining, which will have to be returned to the Treasury if it is not spent.

“When there are so many people in Northern Ireland in desperate need of financial support, it would be criminal if the Executive were to surrender COVID money back to the Treasury at the end of March,” said Alliance Finance spokesperson Andrew Muir MLA.

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, Alliance has called for Stormont to be allowed to carry over additional money into next year if required during these extraordinary circumstances. With little time remaining and the Budget just around the corner, I urge the Finance Minister to continue to press the Treasury to allow extra flexibility for money to be carried over into the next financial year rather than handed back.”

“The Department for the Economy (DFE)’s confirmation the £95 million high street voucher scheme will now not be deliverable this financial year should set the alarm bells ringing. It will be unforgivable if the Executive cannot get COVID-19 funding out the door to those that need it before the end of March,” added Alliance Economy spokesperson Stewart Dickson MLA.

“The Department for Finance and DFE already have well-established schemes in the forms of the Localised Restrictions Business Support Scheme, and the Coronavirus Restrictions Business Support Scheme, where money is going to businesses which need it. The departments should put plans in place now for additional top-up payments via these schemes prior to the end of March.

“This would ensure any remaining COVID-19 funding would go to local businesses rather than being returned to Westminster. That funding would help support businesses trying to cover some of their overheads, or meet the costs of furloughing their staff, and that ultimately supports the local economy.”