Support schemes for rent and for electricity bills will be extended into the summer for businesses, while a number of new measures intended to stimulate economic activity as the pandemic wanes are also set to be implemented.
Addressing the press conference, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that the government wants to help businesses get ready for new realities – new realities which include increased sustainability, a more digital means of running, and a new focus on the environment.
However, he said that the government also wants to strengthen the worker – and that this was also on their minds as well in discussions with stakeholders – who were present, virtually, at the press conference – on what economic aid can be provided.
“This is a pro-market government which does not forget about its social soul”, Abela said.
Energy and Enterpise Minister Miriam Dalli said that the government has spent almost half a billion euros in direct assistance up till now, with the vast majority of that (€455 million up until April) being through the wage supplement.
Explaining the measures, Dalli said that the new measures – worth some €20 million – being announced by the government are split into two philosophies: providing direct support measures, and incentives aimed at stimulating economic activity.
In term of direct support measures, the rent support scheme will be topped up and extended by a further 50% over and above the rent assistance already provided in 2020. New applications for those under the wage supplement scheme in 2021 will be accepted as well.
The Electricity Support Scheme will also be extended and re-issued to cover June, July, and August of this year, wherein a subsidy will cover 50% of the total electricity bill of those businesses who are currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.
A one-time cash grant of €1,000 will also be given to those businesses which will remain closed beyond May 10.
A number of other measures were presented in order to stimulate economic activity.
The ‘Change to Grow 2021’ scheme – a scheme aimed at enhancing business re-engineering and transformation – will have its aid intensity cap doubled from €5,000 to €10,000 for implemented projects and the criteria itself will be widened to include the self-employed and micro enterprises.
The Restart Incentive Scheme – a scheme aimed at providing tangible support to entrepreneurs who faced serious challenges to their going concern – will see entrepreneurs being offered the possibility to engage professional business consultants to help them in their operations.
The scheme will finance advisory costs of up to €5,000, which could then be extended to €10,000 to support the implementation phase of the new business initiative.
Specialised psychological support will also be provided to businesspeople who went through or are going through difficult periods as a result of losses sustained during the pandemic.
The Smart and Sustainable Investment Scheme meanwhile will be intended to kick-start a company’s investment cycle after the pandemic, with the policy direction being in terms of new economic niches developed in line with the European Green Deal.
Cash grants of up to €50,000 will be provided under this scheme, while an additional 20% will be supported through tax credits as well.
The cash grant will be increased if the investment is being made in Gozo, if the investment is being made by start-ups, or if the investments are being made to directly create new green jobs.
The tax credit certificate issued through the Micro-Invest scheme will also be increased. Tax certificates due for expiry in 2021, 2022, and 2023 will be extended by three years respectively.
A total of €78.4 million has already been injected into 8,861 businesses in this manner.
Answering questions from journalists, Abela refuted suggestions that his government’s policies may be forcing small businesses into closure.
Asked by this newsroom about the measure to only reopen restaurants in a partial manner – that is, till 5pm – Abela said that this was guided by the advice from health authorities.
“I understand the disappointment of those who want their commercial activity to reopen after these months – but my appeal is that we cannot sprint off too quickly”, Abela said as he expressed the government’s desire to reopen gradually and cautiously.
Asked how the government will be financing its continued financial support to businesses if not through new taxes, Abela said that he believes that this can be done by following the same philosophies as in 2013 and that the secret recipe is to keep unemployment low and to not allow businesses to fail.
“We are looking at secure tourism and we are looking at creating more work, more quality work, and more investment”, Abela said.
He said that tourist bookings are looking up, with the country set to reopen for tourism in June.
Abela was also asked about whether the government is reliant on the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) and what the implications of the Passport Papers investigation will be on the future version of this programme.
The Prime Minister said that it is a mistake to say that the government’s financial plans were centred on the IIP – but did admit that the money it had brought in, some €1.5 billion, had allowed the government to “invest strongly” in the country and in its people.
He mentioned the country’s vaccine procurement as one such example, and the continuous increase in pensions as another.
“The IIP had due diligence measures in place, and we are going to continue strengthening it. Let’s not use populist terms like the Passport Papers – what we heard in recent days is the same old story simply told from a different viewpoint”, Abela said.
“This scheme got us €1.5 billion, so let’s not damage it when this is unnecessary”, he concluded.