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'Midlands bailout too little, too late' - Labour TD


Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain

Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain

Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain

A ‘Midlands bailout’ for the Covid-hit counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly has been announced by Government – only to be immediately criticised.

But the package of supports is ‘too little, too late’ for struggling businesses in the region according to the Labour Party.

“A once off additional payment of between €800 and €5,000 will not make a scintilla of difference for struggling businesses,” said Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour’s enterprise spokesman.

Barry Gilroy of the Bridge House Hotel in Tullamore said the €5,000 top-up was a ‘drop in the ocean.’ It would not even pay the hotel’s its electrical bill for a month, he said. His business has not even received the original reopening grant, he told RTÉ Drivetime.

The stay-and-spend rebate was also not available until October, and would only come in during ‘flu season, when people would likely stay home. There had already been many cancellations for the autumn, he said.

“We’ve lost he month of August, which would have given us a fighting chance of getting through the winter. We’ll start running out of money in November.”

Half a million had been lost in August, and there was already lost revenue through cancellations in October and November.

Michael McGrath, Minister for Public Expenditure, said the Government recognised a need to do more for the affected counties.

The measures include a 20pc top-up for the business re-start grant plus, which means the maximum now goes to €30,000. There will also be €1million for Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) in the area to promote the range of supports and schemes for firms across the three countries.

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Similarly there would be €1million in a promotion campaign to “drive footfall” in the three counties, with ringfenced funds for businesses. Applications to Microfinancing Ireland would be prioritised for those coming from the tri-county area.

Allan Shine, the chief executive of Kildare chamber of commerce, said: “We do welcome the €1million that has been given to Fáilte Ireland to market the region.

“What was done in a very short timeframe, we’ve done well with the package.”

But Tessa Stokes, a businesswoman, said there had been a huge hit to her business, which had just reopened after five months when the three-county restrictions came in, and that limited lockdown had “brought us to our knees.”

Mr McGrath said however that decision had been based on public health advice, to protect not only people in the three counties but across the whole country.

“It does come at a cost for local people – the inconvenience, the impact on their day-to-day life and also the impact on local businesses and the economy. Today’s decision is a recognition of that.”

The additional funds were a ‘template’ for possible restrictions having to be brought in elsewhere, he said. “We really hope that’s not the case, and people are making huge efforts to control this virus, but if they do have to be brought in elsewhere today’s announcement is a template and a starting point.”

He emphasised that the 2pc reduction in VAT would begin in two weeks’ time on September 1, while the stay-and-spend initiative would begin on October 1.

These additional measures were “an extra little bit of help,” he said.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said however: “The Government should have made at least €10,000 available to businesses in the three counties.

“A 20pc top-up to the restart plus grant is futile unless they address an anomaly with the grant whereby businesses who availed of the initial restart grant will benefit from funding twice, and those that did not get around to applying before the scheme was abruptly terminated will lose out on the initial restart funding.”

The Government needs to go a lot further in supporting businesses in the Midlands, he said.

“They should extend the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme for the three counties beyond the end of August and introduce staycation vouchers to support local bars and restaurants,” because the stay-and-spend would arrive too late.

“They should have prioritised announcing supports for the Midlands last Friday, and not a week into the localised lockdown. Businesses in Kildare, Laois and Offaly are at breaking point.”

The additional restrictions will mean some will be unable to reopen, he said, and the Government should have stepped in immediately with a substantial package of supports for affected businesses as soon as it announced the restrictions.

“Today’s announcement will unfortunately be too little too late for many struggling businesses who will require a lot more than a maximum of €5,000 to keep afloat,” Mr Ó Ríordáin said.