Joint Letter to First Minister and Deputy First Minister regarding COVID-19 Support for Businesses

15 March 2020


Arlene Foster MLA and Michelle O’Neill MLA

First Minister and deputy First Minister

Stormont Castle

Stormont Estate




Dear Arlene and Michelle,


Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Local Businesses

The business community across Northern Ireland recognises the incredibly difficult job that you and your ministerial colleagues have in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. We know that, likewise, you and your fellow Ministers will understand the significant and rapidly escalating pressures that many businesses are facing as a result of this serious and evolving situation.

The COVID-19 outbreak is already impacting upon many of our members and seems likely to continue for some time. In some sectors, trade has slowed down significantly. There is uncertainty about what impact any measures that may need to be introduced to cope with the spread of the virus will have on trade and for how long, and business owners are expressing very valid worries about cash flow.

In writing to you now, it is in light of the new indications emerging from Government that suggest we are likely soon to move into a four month period of significant restrictions on movement of elderly people and other groups within society. Whilst this might be beneficial in managing public health, the pressures it will apply on a great many businesses, especially those who depend in significant part on discretionary spending, is almost incalculable.

We all appreciate that public health is an absolute priority at a time like this, but we would impress upon you the importance of ensuring that businesses are supported to enable them to deal with the impact that COVID-19 will have upon them, too. We all hope that the effect on our economy is short-lived but it is essential that actions taken by government to handle the health emergency don’t cause further, avoidable damage to business and, thus, have longer-lasting societal impacts on employment.

It is therefore crucial, in our collective opinion, that the support introduced by the Chancellor in his Budget for businesses in England – including the 100% rates holiday, grants scheme and a rates discount for pubs – along with similar emergency measures in Scotland and in the Republic of Ireland, is extended to Northern Ireland. This is not about business looking for special treatment over and above the health service. The health service should get the support it needs to deal with the outbreak, and the Chancellor gave assurances that it would, but it is vital that, in parallel, business also gets the support it needs so that there will still be jobs to which people can return once this emergency has receded.

Businesses in our region have weathered many storms over the years. This is, undoubtedly, one of the most challenging sets of circumstances they, and all of us, will have faced. Our plea to you as First Minister and deputy First Minister is to work together as one Executive to put in place a package of essential support so that we can protect people’s jobs. We all appreciate the multiple pressures upon the resources that are at the Executive’s disposal, but this is no ordinary situation. If we want to be in a position to return to normality as quickly as possible after we have overcome the outbreak of COVID-19, then business requires both leadership and support from our Executive. We simply cannot afford for nothing to be done to help businesses which face a hugely uncertain and problematic period.

We are keen to work constructively with the Executive at this most difficult of times. We would be happy to convene a roundtable discussion with our members and yourselves to assist in providing more detail about the impact the outbreak is having and to consider the options for support.

Yours sincerely

Robin Cherry MBE


Ballymena Area Chamber of Commerce

Gary McDonald


Lisburn Chamber of Commerce


Michael Donaghy


Banbridge Chamber of Commerce


Redmond McFadden                     


Londonderry Chamber of Commerce


Geoff Thompson


Bangor Chamber of Commerce


Stephen Kelly

Chief Executive

Manufacturing NI


Simon Hamilton                                              

Chief Executive

Belfast Chamber


Colm Shannon

Chief Executive

Newry Chamber of Commerce & Trade


Karen Yates                                                       

Chief Executive

Causeway Chamber


Derek Wright


Newtownards Chamber of Trade


Roger Pollen

Head of External Affairs

Federation of Small Businesses


Colm Broderick


Omagh Chamber of Commerce


Leslie White


Holywood Chamber of Commerce


Adrian Farrell


Portadown Chamber of Commerce


Colin Neill

Chief Executive

Hospitality Ulster


Glyn Roberts

Chief Executive

Retail NI