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Belfast Chamber accuses Executive of missing opportunity

Belfast Chamber has said that the Executive have missed an opportunity to offer businesses hope by giving them indicative dates for reopening and that the current slowness in lifting lockdown restrictions on businesses locally stands in stark contrast to the actions of the administrations in England, Scotland and Wales.

Commenting on the Executive’s announcement yesterday, Simon Hamilton said, “Yesterday’s announcement by the Executive was utterly devoid of hope for businesses. Sadly, the Executive have, once again, missed an opportunity to offer businesses in Belfast and right across our region even indicative dates for reopening and allow them time to properly prepare for reopening.

On the same day that some business owners in Scotland were told by their Government that they can start trading again at the beginning of April, in Northern Ireland we are only being allowed to restore click and collect services from April 12.  That is four weeks away! On that date, across many parts of Great Britain, people will be able to shop, have a drink in a beer garden and get their hair cut. Here, we will still only be able to do click and collect.

Many are aghast that whilst our infection and hospitalisation rates compare favourably to Great Britain’s and our vaccination rollout programme is every bit as impressive, we are, seemingly, on the slowest of slow tracks to the reopening of our economy.  The optimism created by our excellent vaccination programme, which we were told was the light at the end of the tunnel, is fading fast.  Why is the Executive’s approach now so out of step with other parts of the UK?

Instead of offering businesses greater hope, we have the First Minister standing up in the Assembly talking about “social contact capital”. What on earth does that mean and more to the point, how is it calculated? After pleas for the data the Executive are using to guide us through the steps on their Pathway to be published, once more we have neither indicative dates nor any sense of where the data needs to be to reopen businesses that have now been closed down since Boxing Day.

Businesses are well aware of the challenges the Executive face but Belfast Chamber is increasingly worried that by charting a slow exit from lockdown restrictions, Ministers are condemning businesses and large aspects of our economy to a slow demise. Debt is piling up. Confidence in the future is diminishing. Jobs are under an increasing threat. Months more of this kind of approach by the Executive will put many businesses beyond recovery and the jobs they generate will disappear.  Grant support, for those who get it, is welcome but is no substitute to allowing those businesses to open and start trading again. That is the real pathway to economic recovery.

Belfast Chamber remains willing to engage with the Executive to work together to safely reopen these important sectors of our economy.  Business owners and their staff who have endured a torrid year need their Executive to start offering them more hope than they did yesterday”.