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£100m rates holiday for Northern Ireland businesses is too little, too late, says tourism expert

Conor Murphy

An emergency £100m rates package to assist Northern Ireland businesses impacted by Covid-19 is "too little, too late", according to a tourism expert.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced details of the financial aid yesterday after Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £330bn cash boost to help businesses across the UK that are being caught up in the devastating effects of coronavirus.

Mr Murphy said: "This is a fast-moving situation but I want to provide businesses here with as much certainty as I can, as quickly as I can. I am therefore introducing emergency measures to reduce the cost of rates on businesses at this very difficult and uncertain time.

"All businesses will pay zero rates for the next three months. This rates holiday will save businesses £100m. I am also deferring the issuing of rates bill from April until June to help businesses with short-term cash flow."

However, Joanne Stuart, CEO of Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, said urgent action must be taken to stop the loss of thousands of jobs across the tourism, retail and hospitality sectors - coming after the Deputy Chief Medical Officer in England said some of the strict restrictions being put in place might remain for 12 months.

Some of Northern Ireland's biggest tourist attractions have already fallen victim to the measures being put in place to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Titanic Belfast closed its doors yesterday evening, with a spokeswoman from TBL International explaining that all of its venues, including Titanic Belfast, SS Nomadic and TEC Belfast, would be closed until March 31 at the earliest. The situation will be reviewed at the end of the month, the spokeswoman added.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Museum, Folk Museum, Transport Museum and Ulster American Folk Park have all closed indefinitely.

Ms Stuart said: "I think the extra money for businesses that has been announced by the Chancellor is to be welcomed, however, many of the measures being put in place in England do not apply here in Northern Ireland.

"We would call on Conor Murphy to act swiftly to ensure that the money being made available to the devolved nations is used to mitigate the effects of coronavirus as quickly as possible.

"Tourism, hospitality and retail are already being affected and while the £100m rates holiday is a step in the right direction, it is too little, too late.

"It also does not address the cash flow issues that businesses are experiencing now, money needs to be made available now because the biggest cost in tourism, retail and hospitality is staff, so businesses need money now to enable them to continue to pay wages.

"I'm disappointed the Chancellor didn't mention that in his speech, however, I do welcome his announcement that he has set up a committee for business and economy and we would want to see either the Finance Minister or Economy Minister on that so the views of the business community here are represented."

Belfast Telegraph