Athlone Chamber of Commerce has welcomed the recent announcement by Government that COVID-19 business grants will be expanded.
“We have raised a number of concerns with Government as to the very narrow qualifying criteria for existing supports, which excluded far too many businesses, particularly those who were in the immediate supply chain and have seen much of their business wiped out to closures of hospitality and retail business.
“The proposed new COVID-19 Business Aid Scheme (CBAS ), which targets wholesalers, caterers, suppliers and events companies is welcome. However, we await more information on when applications will open, how the new scheme will be distributed, and what the rates of payment will be.
“Too many of the supports that have been made available to date have had over-complicated qualifying structures which has led to sub-optimal uptake, often because firms remain concerned about the post-hoc clawbacks of such supports.
“We will be closely reviewing the details of the CBAS scheme to gauge feedback from the targeted businesses and to understand the issues for businesses that remain outside both the CRSS and the CBAS.
Athlone Chamber reiterates the need for urgent clarity on extensions to the EWSS, the VAT reduction, and debt-warehousing. This information is urgently needed if businesses are to be able to make sound financial decisions over the coming months.
Regarding the commercial rates waiver, currently extended to the end of March, we are again concerned that the qualifying criteria for the waiver is much too narrow, and again like CRSS, risks excluding far too many vulnerable businesses. This risks transferring the financial difficulties of vulnerable businesses onto the balance sheets of local Government.
“We cannot afford to under-react to the challenge facing us. The coming months will be extremely challenging and local economies must be supported,” Athlone Chamber Chief Executive, Gerry McInerney, remarked.
New Funding for Outdoor Spaces
Meanwhile, Athlone Chamber of Commerce has additionally welcomed the announcement of funding by Minister Catherine Martin TD, to help local authorities open up and create public spaces and facilities dedicated to the arts, culture and festivals.
Known as the Outdoor Public Space Scheme 2021, the support will allow each local authority to adapt, equip or otherwise improve public spaces for cultural and events activities.
“Westmeath and Roscommon County Councils are now being invited by the Minister to propose capital projects for outdoor spaces which are flexible, innovative and facilitate year-round use. This investment supports the recovery of the creative, cultural, entertainment and events sector as well as being future-proofed from a health and safety perspective.
“This is the type of innovation we now require for the tourism and hospitality sectors also and so it is important that such investments are made in consultation with the Hidden Heartlands and Failte Ireland. The projects should also demonstrate how they will support the night time economy,” Athlone Chamber President, Alan Shaw, stated.
Roscommon and Westmeath local authorities can each apply for up to €250,000 under the scheme, with 90 percent funding available.