| 8.2°C Belfast

Certainty needed in a 'testing time' for NI-based companies

Angela McGowan

Coronavirus has changed life as we know it for now. The streets are virtually empty, but for a few cars on the road dropping off vital supplies to loved ones and NHS workers going above and beyond for all of us.

At the CBI, we've been listening to NI firms to understand what's changed for them. And working with the UK and NI Governments to make sure vital information and support reaches them quickly.

These companies have expressed real relief at Treasury and Executive action to help businesses with keeping their employees in jobs, business rates relief and grants, as well as measures for the self-employed. These concrete steps will undoubtedly support the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people across NI.

Analysis of UK Government support shows, however, that some companies are too big to access the business interruption loan scheme, but not large enough to easily access the corporate financing facility. The CBI will continue working with the Treasury to see what steps can be taken to support the 'squeezed middle'. And we'll be looking towards today's Budget to see what Stormont can do to support cash flow for these vital businesses at speed and protect jobs in NI.

While every business' needs are different right now, there is one topic which comes up time after time. NI companies are now hoping for much-needed clarity from the Executive on whether they should remain open or be temporarily closed.

Updating guidance on essential businesses will help NI firms ensure essential products and services keep going, while prioritising employee safety. Clarity will also help the public and family members of critical workers to understand just how important these employees are.

Protecting employees' lives and livelihoods remains the number one priority for firms across NI. The vast majority of businesses are working as quickly as they can to adapt to the changing rules that have come in recent days. At the same time, many firms in critical sectors like food production have implemented significant changes in the workforce to keep their employees safe and essential products and services flowing. For instance, measures such as installing screens, changing work patterns, depopulating the building and regular and extensive cleaning have been rolled out.

It's also important to remember that the requirement for different jobs will change in the weeks ahead as events unfold. It's important that the essential firms list is kept under review and additions made where necessary.

This is undoubtedly a testing time for many businesses and their employees. Among the understandable worry, there are plenty of fantastic stories from firms who are playing their part to tackle the virus. I'm incredibly proud of our NI business heroes - those manufacturing PPE kits, ventilators and other essential items.

We live in a beautiful, vibrant place here in NI. Life as we know it is on hold, but will in time restart. Prioritising health and the economy is more important than ever. I'd encourage everyone to continue to follow the latest public health guidance and for businesses to continue logging onto the CBI website for guidance.

Angela McGowan is director of CBI Northern Ireland. The CBI's Coronavirus Hub is open to all businesses. For the latest analysis, webinars and guidance see www.cbi.org.uk/coronavirus-hub

Belfast Telegraph