News

Dickinson offers relief package

  • Crunching numbers: Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A lifeline for businesses devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic was pledged last night by Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister.

Measures include a payroll bailout for some hospitality establishments, customs duty deferral for stores, and a break on pension and social insurance contributions.

Two months of restrictions to contain the novel coronavirus on the island came at a high economic cost, with Mr Dickinson calling restaurants and bars “particularly hard-hit” as he unveiled immediate short-term relief on payroll tax

Mr Dickinson said the tax would be set to zero for this quarter, ending June 30, with employees no longer subject to payroll tax deductions during that period.

He also announced immediate “streamlined import duty deferment for business goods”, with the customs department allowing retailers and other commercial importers to apply to delay their duty payments up to six months on goods subject to a minimal surcharge.

A long-term payment deferral would be available “in certain circumstances”, he added, noting the pandemic had been “particularly devastating to small-island economies”.

Queries on the deferral should be e-mailed to customs@gov.bm.

The legislature last week fast-tracked changes to private pensions or local retirement products allowing those under 65 to take out up to $12,000, and Mr Dickinson said further amendments were planned to allow for a mandatory suspension of employee and employer pension contributions to the period ending June 30, 2021.

He said participating staff would see a 5 per cent boost in take-home pay, while employers would pay 5 per cent less in payroll.

Mr Dickinson said families and businesses would get relief if the suspension was taken up across the private sector, with the economy to get a boost from spending and investment, although employers and employees could still make “voluntary contributions, should they wish”.

He said Cabinet had approved a similar halt to social insurance contributions.

Mr Dickinson called the steps “sensible” and aimed at alleviating financial hardship.

He said he would sign off this week on a $150 million facility negotiated with “local financial institutions”, to aid with Covid-19 spending during a slump in revenues.

Mr Dickinson also gave an update on the Government’s biweekly unemployment benefits payments, in which roughly $23 million so far has gone out to about 9,000 laid-off workers — while some eligible workers have seen nothing.

He said there had been “great progress” on addressing the problem, and that everyone eligible would receive their fair share, even if they had since returned to work. Mr Dickinson warned those back in work not to delay in notifying Government.

An online back-to-work form is now on www.bermudajobboard.com.

He said a gradual return to business was evident with 1,400 now back on the job.

Last week, 1,241 people who had been left out received their payment, and some 250 cases are expected to be processed today.

Mr Dickinson also unveiled the 11-member Covid-19 Economic Advisory Committee, which he is to chair.