Londonderry Chamber calls for greater business support as economy begins to plan ahead
More support and guidance are needed for businesses to ensure they are fully prepared for the reopening of the economy, the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce has warned.
Chamber Chief Executive Paul Clancy expressed the concerns of local businesses in a call with Northern Ireland Office Minister Robin Walker MP, Minister for Business and Industry Nadhim Zahawi MP, and Economy Minister Diane Dodds MLA on Tuesday.
Mr Clancy said greater co-operation and a more synchronised approach is needed across the UK and Ireland, especially for businesses in the North West which trade and operate across the border.
Mr Clancy also emphasised to the Ministers the importance of a carefully managed return to normality with procedures like phased returns of offices and workplaces and altered work environments to allow adherence to social distancing rules.
Paul Clancy, Chief Executive, Londonderry Chamber, said:
“I welcomed the opportunity to engage with Ministers from both Stormont and Westminster this afternoon and particularly the news that there will be a £40m Hardship Fund for those microbusinesses who have not yet been able to access support.
“I expressed the serious concerns of the business community in the North West over the reopening of the economy as the government draws up plans for exiting the lockdown. The restart of the economy must be carefully managed and responsibly phased to ensure it can fully recover, to protect workers and the wider public, and to avoid having to shut down again, a measure which would simply decimate our regional economy.
“As an economy which is heavily reliant on cross border trade, North West businesses need to see greater co-operation and a more synchronised approach between Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. It is very confusing and frustrating for businesses which operate on both sides of the border to see one set of advice and a detailed relaxation plan in Donegal, but another set of guidelines and less clarity in Derry. Businesses need to see light at the end of this tunnel, and I am urging the Executive to urgently publish its lockdown relaxation plans.
“I am also very concerned that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for furloughing workers is closing at the end of June. The government must ensure that there is no cliff-edge situation which leaves businesses with no other choice but to lay off their workers. For the economy to bounce back, everything must be done to ensure jobs are saved and businesses are kept afloat. Hundreds of local businesses, especially those in sectors like retail, hospitality, and tourism, will need a furloughing scheme of some description extended well beyond June and the summer.
“Protecting the health of workers and preventing the further spread of this virus will be the number one priority for companies as we return to normality. Firms will need to implement new social distancing measures in the workplace as well as significantly altering their work environments. However, this will come at a substantial cost to small businesses and financial support will be required from the government to ensure health and safety advice is fully adhered to. If the government is expecting companies to reopen and get back to work, greater support and clearer guidelines are urgently needed to allow companies to do this safely.”