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End wages support gradually to help Northern Ireland tourism and hospitality, says NIO minister


Support: Robin Walker

Support: Robin Walker

Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament (

Support: Robin Walker

A minister at the Northern Ireland Office has indicated that the furloughing system could be tapered off gradually - rather than stop suddenly - for the tourism and hospitality sectors in Northern Ireland.

Worcester MP Robin Walker, who was promoted to Minister of State in the February reshuffle, said the job retention scheme had been taken up well in Northern Ireland. A survey by Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce last month indicated that 80% of its members intended to furlough staff.

He said he welcomed clarification from Chancellor Rishi Sunak that there will be no "cliff-edge" finish to the scheme, which has enabled firms to avoid redundancies by obtaining government support that refunds 80% of monthly wages.

He would not say what shape a gradual tapering off would take, but added: "It's been good to see the Chancellor recognising that business have a real interest in not having a hard stop but needs to be able to support people when they are ready for the recovery." He said he recognised that some sectors here had been hit harder than others.

"Tourism, retail and hospitality are all facing significant difficulties and of course there are elements of the support package which have been put in place particularly to support and help those sectors," he said.

"But it may be that particularly tourism and hospitality will be wanting to make sure that they can pick up employees again in summer season as and when lockdown is ended. So that's one of the things that's a moving target as to what support is needed to make sure that they come through that."

But he said he would not speculate on what the Treasury's approach to the furlough scheme might be.

And he said there was work being done on forms of support to help firms get going again. "There's a huge amount of work going on at all levels of government on how we make sure the recovery is as strong as possible but I'm afraid that again I can't pre-empt things that might be said by the Chancellor later in the week."

He also said he can't rule out further intervention to support air connectivity. He said that the announcement last week of a £5.7m package to support the links from Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport to London last week - along with an earlier £17m fund to support ferry links - demonstrated the commitment of the Government to supporting NI's connectivity.

Belfast City Airport lost 14 links earlier this year following the collapse of Flybe.

Asked if it should be a matter for the marketplace as opposed to Government subsidy to replace the flights, he said: "I think there's a role clearly for the market in this, but we have to recognise we are facing an unprecedented situation for the airline industry and I wouldn't rule out further government intervention where necessary.

"But we need to see what happens in terms of the recovery," he said.

Belfast Telegraph