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Chamber welcomes NIO Minister to North West for first visit

A Chamber delegation welcomed Northern Ireland Office Minister Robin Walker MP to the North West yesterday.

In his first visit to the region, Chamber Vice President Dawn McLaughlin, Chamber council member Aidan O’Kane, and Chief Executive Paul Clancy discussed key challenges and opportunities facing the North West business community including Covid-19, Brexit, the City Deal, and the recently approved Graduate Entry Medical School.

The Chamber urged Minister Walker and the UK Government to provide greater and urgent clarity to NI businesses as the Brexit transition period comes to an end. A recent Chamber survey found that a third of North West businesses feel “unprepared” for the end of the Brexit transition period while a further 71% of businesses feel the government has “not engaged” enough with them to explain the potential changes and impacts of Brexit.

Paul Clancy, Chief Executive, Derry Chamber, said:

“We welcomed the opportunity to host Minister Walker as he visited the North West for the first time this afternoon. This was a timely and crucial meeting with the Minister as the local business community begins to find its feet again after the impact of Covid-19 over the past number of months. Local businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic and, while we have been grateful for key support measures from the Treasury like the furlough scheme and help for the self-employed, greater financial backing for businesses in the North West will be needed over the coming weeks and months. The UK Government should consider extending the flexi-furlough scheme further to help businesses and avoid large-scale job losses and redundancies, especially in sectors like hospitality and tourism.

“This was also a useful opportunity to engage directly with the NIO on Brexit issues. A recent Chamber survey found that only a third of North West businesses feel prepared for the end of the transition period. These are very concerning figures and we desperately need greater clarity and concrete details which will allow our members to prepare properly for any significant changes. The recently announced Trader Support Scheme is a good first step by the Government and will help local firms with burdensome paperwork and prohibitive costs as they bring in goods from the rest of the UK and beyond. But local businesses need much more clarity and detailed information. The Chamber has been clear since the Brexit vote over four years ago that east-west trade is as important as north-south trade, and that any impediment to business could be potentially catastrophic to our local economy.

“We also discussed the City Deal with Minister Walker, the full roll-out of the programme and packages, and the potentially transformative effect it would have for the entire North West region. The importance of greater investment in our region has become even more relevant in the age of Coronavirus and we look forward to working closely with the Government and the Executive to maximise the potential of the schemes and funding.

“This was a positive and useful engagement with Minister Walker, and we hope to have ongoing engagements with the NIO going forward. Government support will be crucial as we protect local businesses from the impact of Coronavirus and any possible upheaval brought about by Brexit. We are grateful for the Minister’s time and we hope he enjoyed his first visit to the North West and that he will return soon.”