Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has said that the both the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment Arlene Foster and the Minister of Finance and Personnel Simon Hamilton must take responsibility for the complete failure of the agrifood loan scheme.
Mr McAleer said,
“Last October the agrifood loan scheme was launched in a blaze of publicity by both Ministers who promised £10m would be made available to promote the sector.
“Its objective was to help local food producers, who are part of the integrated food supply chain, by providing them with finance through loans.
“At the scheme's launch, it was acknowledged that there has been difficulties for the industry to access finance and that the scheme was very important for the Going for Growth strategy.
“The scheme was to be rolled out on a phased basis with applications opening in November 2013 yet I have learnt that the £10 million that was given to Invest NI for the scheme has been surrendered and that the scheme has not been put in place.
“Farmers, local producers and, indeed, prospective producers are very frustrated. I have dealt with some constituents who have planning permission in place, have come to agreements with the main producers and have some matched funding in place, yet the scheme has not happened.
“I welcome the response by the Finance Minister that money is still there and the scheme should begin in the new financial year we now need reassurances tat it will be workable this time around
“It is now important that this scheme is opened as soon as possible so that those people who invested in their business based upon funding from this scheme can access the money and we can grow the agri food sector across the North.”