I am delighted to hear that so many of the Government initiatives to protect businesses, workers and the public have been beneficial to Mr. Dolan and I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country.
As Chair of the Retail Consultation Forum, I am acutely aware that COVID-19 has brought particular challenges for retailers, large and small, across the country. The work of the Forum will continue to focus on the future development and long-term viability of the retail sector, including considerations about town centre renewal and enhancement through the Framework for Town Centre Renewal, in conjunction with the Department of Rural and Community Development and other relevant Departments, as well as through Project Ireland 2040.
The Government will continue to actively engage with business owners and representative bodies. Local Authorities, who have longstanding experience in dealing with ratepayers, are assessing the impact of COVID-19 by engaging directly with individual ratepayers, recognising that there may be impacts on sectors outside of those initially identified as being most under threat.
The supports announced on 2nd May include a three-month commercial rates waiver for impacted businesses and a restart grant for micro and small businesses based on a rates waiver/rebate from 2019.
These new supports acknowledge that affected businesses need time and space to restructure and resume activity, without the added pressures of trying to repay legacy debts, such as commercial rents, when revenues are just beginning to return.
Through the Enterprise Forum and Retail Forum, both of which I chair, I am hearing from stakeholders about these issues and I have asked my officials to raise the matter across a number of Government Departments.
I have also asked my officials to look into the different responses from other countries and to identify possible options for supports.
Mr. Dolan may be interested in talking to his Local Enterprise Office regarding the Trading Online Voucher Scheme which is available to all micro enterprises with less than 10 employees, including those in the retail sector. The €2,500 Trading Online Vouchers are a key Government grant to help small and micro enterprises, with very limited or no e-commerce presence, to get online, boost their sales and reach new markets – particularly during this difficult period, when so many small businesses are closed to the public.
However, the value of the Trading Online Voucher will stand to businesses for years to come, boosting revenue, and helping sustain and create jobs into the future.
The Voucher can be used towards adding payment facilities or booking systems to websites or developing new apps for customers, with co-funding from the business currently set at just 10 percent. The Voucher can also be used towards subscriptions to low-cost online retail platform solutions to help companies quickly establish a retailing presence online. Training and further business supports are also provided along with the Scheme.
Further details about the expanding Trading Online Voucher Scheme are available at https://www.localenterprise.ie/Discover-Business-Supports/Trading-Online-Voucher-Scheme-/
The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, when the economy begins to re-open. The Protocol and other guidance and templates from the HSA are available here https://www.hsa.ie/eng/topics/covid-19/covid-19_coronavirus.html.
I am committed to supporting the needs of the retail sector in developing their viability, their online capability and enhancing their competitiveness.