Economy Minister set to be pressed on floods funding

Economy Minister set to be pressed on floods funding

7 February 2024

NEW Stormont Economy Minister Conor Murphy has been asked to immediately release promised financial support for Downpatrick business owners impacted by last November’s catastrophic flood.

The appeal for more financial support for the beleaguered business community – whose premises were left under several feet of water after the Quoile river burst its banks – has been made by South Down MP Chris Hazzard and Patrick Brown MLA.

Mr Hazzard has branded the financial assistance delay as “unacceptable” while Mr Brown plans to have the issue debated on the floor of the Assembly and is seeking a meeting with the economy minister.

Three months after the worst flood in a generation, many business owners are concerned potential financial support up to £100,000 has not been paid.

In the immediate aftermath of the flood, £15m was made available as part of an urgent support package for traders in Downpatrick and Newry. But just £1m has been paid to date.

A specialist, independent loss assessor is to be appointed to verify all compensation claims and an announcement on how to apply for cash support was expected last week, but traders are still in the dark.

The Department for the Economy has confirmed that a business case is still being developed and will only open when approved by the Treasury.

It is working alongside Newry, Mourne and Down Council on the details of the follow up scheme to assist the most severely affected small and medium sized businesses, with the government department looking at how to design the details of the support scheme.

The Department says the focus is on addressing some of the issues that have been raised by businesses and local representatives to make sure that it will effectively deal with the realities on the ground.

“The business case for the scheme, which is required as a condition of the Treasury’s allocation of funding, is currently being developed,” the government department confirmed last week.

“The scheme will open for applications when the approvals have been secured. The Department and local councils will be working together on the administration of the support.”

Mr Hazzard has written to Mr Murphy and said it is “unacceptable” that three months after flooding hit the heart of the Downpatrick business community, business owners are still waiting to receive the support they need

He said November’s catastrophic flood left much of the town centre under water, as the Quoile River burst its banks, with millions of gallons of water destroying businesses and livelihoods in the process.

“Three months later and many of these businesses have yet to receive the financial support that has been promised, with Department for 

Economy officials confirming in recent weeks that a business case is still to be finalised. That is unacceptable,” the MP declared.

“This comes following an announcement in December that the next phase of funding would be open by the first week in January and allow those businesses who were previously excluded to apply.”

Branding this “deeply frustrating” for traders who need support now, Mr Hazzard said some family-led businesses are on their knees.

“It’s clear that without this support soon, they may never be able to reopen their premises. We cannot leave our businesses, who are the 

economic heartbeat of our towns, behind. We must see this money released and into the pockets of workers and families without further delay,” the MP added.

Mr Brown has confirmed he has formally submitted a motion addressing flood recovery to the Stormont Assembly in response to recent delays delivering the flood recovery fund.

He said the motion calls on Mr Murphy to urgently prioritise the processing of the next phase of the flood relief funding and the importance of ensuring that flooded businesses excluded from the previous £7,500 funding package are included.

“The delay in the promised second phase of the flood recovery fund is significantly impacting our businesses in South Down, particularly in Downpatrick,” said Mr Brown. 

“Despite suggestions before Christmas that the funding would be released in January, this has not occurred. Businesses are now anxious and uncertain about their next steps without any clarity from the Department.”

Mr Brown said assisting Downpatrick in its recovery from the flooding was one of his top priorities in the restored Assembly.

He added: “It’s crucial that this issue remains on the agenda and our businesses receive the support they rightfully deserve. I have also urgently requested a meeting with the Minister to outline the urgency of implementing this scheme for businesses in Downpatrick.”