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Muir alarmed by Finance Minister’s COVID-19 funding announcement

Alliance Finance Spokesperson Andrew Muir MLA has raised concerns after the Finance Minister announced the Executive has less than two months remaining to allocate £250m of COVID-19 funding.

In a statement to the Assembly, the Finance Minister confirmed that he had not been granted additional flexibility by the Treasury to carry forward COVID-19 funding received from Westminster into the next financial year in April. This means that the Executive has just under £250m of COVID-19 funding to spend by the end of March, having already spent close to £3bn on COVID-19 measures this year.

Speaking following the statement, Mr Muir said: “It is extremely disappointing that the Treasury has not offered more flexibility in carrying forward additional funding in these unprecedented times. I have been assured by Ministers in the Executive time and time again that we would not surrender money back to Westminster, but with less than two months left this still looks like a real possibility”.

“Of further concern is the impact of this announcement on businesses. The Finance Minister had previously planned to carry-over funding to provide rates relief next year for those worst hit by the pandemic. Today’s announcement means that this may no longer be possible causing further uncertainty for business owners and their staff. Alliance has already called for top-up payments via the existing business support schemes, to support our workers and local employers through the pandemic”.

“The lack of an overall financial strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic is part of the reason that we find ourselves in this situation. Northern Ireland urgently needs to bring forward the long-delayed Fiscal Council, to ensure that the Executive can make mature, targeted, financial decisions, rather than scampering around at the last minute to get money spent.”