Minister of Finance and Personnel, Simon Hamilton, fielded questions on the ‘Help to Buy Scheme’ and the recently launched ‘Agri-Food Loan Scheme’ during today’s topical questions. The ‘Help to Buy Scheme’ is now widely available across the UK with only Nationwide of the major mortgage lenders not yet participating. The scheme will help people to get on the property ladder and, along with the co-ownership scheme should aid the recovery of the Northern Ireland housing market. The Minister promised that he will be working with the Social Development Minister to encourage more banks to participate because it is important that these kind of schemes don’t fail due to lack of bank participation.
The Agri-Food Loan Scheme, launched at the start of October, has arrived in response to the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s report which highlighted the difficult lending environment as curtailing growth in the sector. In the wake of the horse meat scandal it is hoped that the new scheme will help Northern Ireland’s farmers take advantage of the supermarkets desire for local produce by creating easier access to funding.
During the scheduled oral questions Chris Lyttle was keen to ask the Minister about the impact of Peace III funding on delivering a shared future. Peace III funding is a programme, part funded by the EU, which encourages and finances projects that help to reconcile communities and contribute towards a shared society. Mr Lytlle was concerned about the vast cost in providing segregated services to Northern Ireland (due to the divisions in our community) compared to the savings that could be made on shared services. While the Minister sympathised with Mr Lyttle’s concerns he explained that prioritising shared services over segregated ones is not as easy as “clicking our fingers” but that he is “exceptionally open to looking at anything that might help”.