Time is right to turn thoughts towards restarting economy” Chambers of Commerce tell Stormont committee
The Chief Executives of Belfast Chamber, Causeway Chamber, Derry Chamber and Newry Chamber will today (Wednesday 6 May) tell Stormont’s Economy Committee that the Executive must make clear, as soon as possible, how it plans to restart the local economy and set out what support and assistance it will give businesses to prepare for reopening.
In a joint presentation to the Assembly, the Chambers emphasised that we are only at the beginning of the economic challenges created by COVID 19 and our businesses need a combination of the short term financial interventions already announced, as well as long term investment to support the rebuilding of our economy and protection of jobs.
In a joint statement issued before a joint evidence session before the Assembly’s Committee for the Economy, Belfast Chamber Chief Executive Simon Hamilton, Causeway Chamber Chief Executive Karen Yates, Derry Chamber Chief Executive Paul Clancy and Newry Chamber Chief Executive Colm Shannon said, “COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on the health of thousands of local people and has, sadly, accounted for the lives of too many family members and loved loves all across Northern Ireland. Whilst the health effects of this pandemic will be with us for some time, we can, because of the heroics of our health service staff and the fortitude of so many who have stayed at home to protect the NHS and save lives, now say that we are passed the peak. That is good news.
Right from the beginning, this has been an interlinked health and economic emergency. As our collective efforts help us to get to grips with the coronavirus, it is right that we start to turn our thoughts towards how we can get our economy going again. That isn’t to say that we demand a date when all businesses open. That can, and must, depend on when it is safe to do so. Rather, we are saying that it is appropriate to now commence planning how many businesses can safely open up and trade once more.
In a survey of our members, we found that 43% of businesses are closed and not trading at all. In most cases, those are businesses in customer facing sectors of our economy like retail, hospitality and leisure. Many of those businesses have had their doors shut now for over 6 weeks and will likely be closed for quite a while yet. However, restarting those businesses won’t simply be a matter of opening their doors again. With social distancing measures likely to have to remain in place for the foreseeable future, that will have an impact on those businesses as they have to adjust the layout of their premises, introduce queuing systems and put screens and other safety measures in place.
As well as providing businesses with the clear advice and guidance that they will require to open safely and give confidence to their staff and their customers, it is also the case that even as businesses might begin to open again, footfall is not going to return to pre-coronavirus levels overnight. For the majority, it will be a long time before we are anywhere near business as usual.
Public investment in infrastructure, innovation and skills will have a huge part in the recovery plan. This week’s announcement by the Executive of £700m for the city and growth deals, will be an important first step in stimulating economic growth and job creation right across Northern Ireland.
A great many businesses are going to struggle for some time to come. The support that the Government and the Executive have provided so far has been gratefully received by those who have been eligible. What is now absolutely apparent is that support will be needed for the hardest hit sectors for as long as this crisis continues. Whether that is more employment support like the furloughing scheme, additional grants or an extension of rates relief, our call is that help to ensure that jobs, livelihoods and businesses are protected continues”.