Over 400 business leaders and owners from across our region, including 34 from the Londonderry Chamber, have written to the First and deputy First Minister on reopening the Northern Irish economy. The letter states:
“Dear First and deputy First Minister
We are a collection of 407 business leaders from across our region who collectively employ thousands of people in a range of sectors of our local economy. Our hope in writing to you is to give you a sense of the fears we share for thousands of jobs and the future of our economy.
Many of us have seen our businesses closed completely or severely restricted in their operations for the majority of the past year. We are acutely aware that those closures and restrictions have been introduced as the Executive has grappled with the unprecedented challenge presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Equally, we appreciate that the task that you and your Ministerial colleagues have in guiding our society through this crisis is immense.
None of us are health experts. We are employers and entrepreneurs. We would not presume to offer the Executive medical advice, but our collective experience means that we can speak with some authority on our deeply held concerns about the potential profound and long-lasting impact that ongoing restrictions on our economy are having not just on the economy and our businesses but the wellbeing and livelihoods of our staff.
You will not need to be reminded that businesses right across Northern Ireland are seriously struggling. The support that the Executive have provided has certainly helped, but it cannot possibly insulate all businesses from all of the effects of this crisis. Many have mounting debts, having already consumed what reserves they have. They are paying money out every month to try to keep their businesses afloat and their staff in jobs even though they have no income whatsoever. And we are increasingly anxious that without a timely reopening of our economy, a huge amount of the more than 100,000 people on furlough in Northern Ireland will be made redundant. No one would want to compare one crisis with another but we are all well aware of the damage to health and wellbeing that unemployment brings to individuals, families and our entire society.
We are all heartened to see that our efforts are paying off and the virus is in retreat. We are hugely impressed at the world leading roll out of the vaccine that so many have already benefited from. We are evidently moving in the right direction that we hope will soon permit the safe reopening of our economy.
We have endured many crises and challenges in this part of the world but it is no exaggeration that none of us, in all the years we have collectively been in business, have experienced as alarming and possibly devastating an economic situation as the one we currently face. We know that you will be as keen to begin moving towards recovery as we are but real economic recovery cannot commence until all of our economy is reopen.
Our plea to you both as leaders of our region is to work with us to make that happen as soon as safely possible. Businesses need both hope and some certainty. Show us that our combined efforts are being rewarded with a proper, timetabled plan for reopening. We want to avoid the devastating mental health impact that flows from high levels of unemployment and avert a looming jobs crisis that will hit households in every constituency in NI. Let us begin on the road to recovery, secure jobs and start to rebuild our economy and stave off a jobs and economic catastrophe that will reverberate for many years to come.
We would greatly welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues and our concerns with you both in more depth.”