Foster announces £15 million scheme to help businesses

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster today announced a £15million scheme by Invest NI, to help businesses currently in difficulty to retain key skills.

Under Invest Northern Ireland’s Short Term Aid Scheme, qualifying businesses in the manufacturing and tradable services sectors will be able to receive support of up to approximately £450,000 at current exchange rates, enabling them to retain key staff while they plan and restructure for the future. To be eligible, a firm in difficulty will need to demonstrate a need for support and the actions already taken, or proposed to take, to address its difficulties.

Announcing the scheme to the NI Assembly, the Minister, said: “It is clear that many businesses are currently experiencing a short term reduction in demand for their products or services. This is resulting in company finances being squeezed and causing, what would otherwise be viable, businesses to experience financial difficulties.

“To help these businesses to prepare for the upturn when it comes, it is important that the Executive provides the most effective and efficient support. A key element of this will be to ensure that businesses retain and, where possible, enhance their skills base.

“The scheme I have announced today will do just that. Through Invest NI, eligible businesses that are experiencing short term difficulties will be able to obtain grants for salaries to maintain key skilled posts in their workforce. These will be at a rate of 80% for small companies, 70% for medium sized enterprises and 60% for large companies.

"The support will allow businesses to undertake a range of approved activities, including Further and Higher Education training, in-house upskilling, in-house infrastructure improvements or introducing improved management or financial control systems. Additionally, the ability to second employees to another business in order to help the latter improve its capability will also be eligible.

“To further encourage businesses to grow their exports, employees with key skills undertaking market research or developing new leads in new markets, will also be eligible under the scheme to have their salary, travel and subsistence costs covered at the appropriate rate.”

Arlene Foster continued: “This new scheme will provide crucial and invaluable support to businesses which may otherwise have to make key employees redundant, resulting in valuable skills and knowledge being lost and therefore, not readily available when economic recovery occurs.”

The scheme, which opens on 1 June 2009, is available to eligible large companies and SMEs in the manufacturing and tradable service sectors which were not in difficulty prior to July 2008 and which, although fundamentally viable, are experiencing short term difficulties.

The Minister added: “In addition to supporting training costs and avoiding the need for businesses to potentially incur redundancy costs, there are wider benefits which will accrue. These include the potential for business to generate profits arising from the activities of the maintained posts and save potential future recruitment costs when markets improve.

“This initiative is over and above what the Government and the Executive have already established, what the Banks have so far announced and complements other support mechanisms recently introduced by Invest NI to help local business navigate through the current downturn.”