The Small Business Support Grant Scheme (the Scheme) was designed to provide funding to help businesses with “unavoidable fixed costs” in the face of an expected cash flow crisis during the period of significant disruption the COVID-19 crisis was causing to Northern Ireland (NI) businesses.
This was the first of a number of schemes, aimed at supporting NI business during the COVID-19 crisis. The scheme implemented in NI was based on a scheme for England announced by the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer on 17 March. That scheme provided a £10,000 grant for every business occupying premises with a rateable value of £15,000 or less that qualified for Small Business Rates Relief.
Under exceptionally challenging circumstances, not previously encountered, the Scheme was designed and delivered jointly by the Department for the Economy (DfE) and Land and Property Services (LPS) within the Department of Finance (DoF). Given Ministers’ concerns that there was an urgent need to provide businesses with support, the Scheme was delivered at extreme pace. In these circumstances it was inevitable that issues would arise, but it is critical that lessons were learnt from this and taken on board for later schemes.
The scope of the report will include providing information on:
- the economic and political context in which the Scheme was conceived and delivered, including the decision to seek a Ministerial Direction;
- how key decisions were taken at the earliest stages of the Scheme’s development around how need was identified, Scheme eligibility criteria and how these were applied; and
- the extent to which lessons can, and have been, learnt and applied to subsequent schemes.
The C&AG plans to publish this report in December 2021.