Belfast Chamber has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to provide businesses in the city with a substantial and sizeable boost in support bigger than any seen so far to help them deal with the impact that the Executive’s latest lockdown restrictions will have.

The organisation – which represents 600 businesses from across Belfast – has outlined 10 proposals that it believes will help businesses in the city who it says will be particularly adversely impacted by the announcement of an extended lockdown including retail by the Executive last Thursday to survive.

Belfast Chamber’s 10 proposals to the Executive are:

  1. Accelerate the payment of already promised grants, many of which are now outstanding for 6 week
  2. Provide support for the many forgotten businesses with a NAV of over £51,000 who lost out on support earlier this year
  3. Develop a scheme to support the ‘excluded’ including company directors who are paid mainly through dividends, start-ups and sectors like arts and entertainment that have struggled to get help
  4. Produce a specific support package for all of the businesses forced to close by the latest lockdown restrictions as well as those in their supply chain
  5. Support to businesses to help them pay for the costs of the furlough scheme which are estimated to be approximately £30 per employee a week. The furlough scheme has been a lifeline for businesses in dealing with wage costs, support for other running costs has been insufficient
  6. A voucher scheme to stimulate spending in retail and hospitality in the quieter January and February period
  7. A marketing fund to allow Belfast City Council and visit Belfast to promote the city
  8. ‘Staycation’ support and promotional activity by Tourism Ireland and Tourism NI targeted to help Belfast and the wider region
  9. Extending the rates holiday for retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses into the next financial year
  10. Lobby Westminster to eliminate Air Passenger Duty and extend the reduction in VAT for hospitality businesses

Commenting on the 10 proposals, Belfast Chamber Chief Executive Simon Hamilton said, “We all saw how badly affected Belfast was by the lockdown earlier this year. Lots of businesses, especially those in hospitality are hurting again as they now face 8 weeks of restrictions and others like retailers are also being closed down once more. This comes at what should be a critical time of the year for many traders and we are gravely concerned what this might mean in terms of large-scale job losses and permanent business closures.

Unfortunately, the Executive has once again failed to announce adequate financial support for firms at the same time as they introduce new lockdown measures.  It is now incumbent upon Ministers to produce the biggest boost in financial support yet for the affected businesses to cushion the blow their decision last week will inevitably have.

Belfast Chamber is proposing 10 actions that our Executive could take to ease some of the pain businesses are experiencing and help them to survive so they can all open again after this latest lockdown and keep employing people.  Our proposals range from getting support urgently to where it is most needed now, to interventions aimed at stimulating economic activity in the city in the new year.

It is unacceptable that support promised to businesses nearly 6 weeks ago still has not made it to many.  That must be sorted out as a matter of priority and new support schemes at a much higher level than is presently the case need to be set up immediately. That should include help to pay the cost of furloughing staff.  Surely the Executive can’t expect businesses to pay furlough costs with no income at all.  Businesses have to cover sizeable running costs including rent and we would encourage dialogue as to how landlords and tenants can work together on a long term solution.

We also encourage the Executive to introduce a voucher scheme that could help boost spending in retail and hospitality in the quieter months of January and February and also to invest in marketing and promoting the city.

These 10 proposals have the potential to help businesses who have been impacted in the here and now by new lockdown restrictions, as well as giving them and the city as a whole some hope for the time ahead.  We urge the Executive to consider these proposals carefully and use the resources at their disposal wisely to support our city and ensure its future and the jobs of thousands of people”.