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Coronavirus: Huge number of Northern Ireland jobs on line, warns expert

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Concerns: Gareth Latimer

Concerns: Gareth Latimer

Concerns: Gareth Latimer

Many more jobs will be lost and companies will go out of business if the coronavirus lockdown is extended beyond May 7, an expert has claimed.

Gareth Latimer, a director at business advisory firm Grant Thornton, made the prediction as the Prime Minister announced that an exit strategy would be unveiled next week.

"It is likely we will see an increase in both personal and corporate insolvencies, given the economic circumstances," Mr Latimer said.

"Obviously, if the economy suffers a deep recession, there will be more corporate failures.

"If unemployment rises as expected, there will be more personal insolvencies.

"The outlook is not positive. However, the Government support is an attempt to limit the effects of the crisis."

Mr Latimer's warning came before the CBI said the UK economy had suffered a "momentous downturn" in the first quarter of the year, with a 25% fall in private sector activity - the steepest decline in 11 years.

Economic development agency Invest NI said 29 of its client companies had made redundancies and 500 had furloughed a total of 30,000 staff.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the economy suffered a loss of approximately £1.3billion for each month of lockdown.

Gareth Hetherington, director of the Economic Policy Centre at Ulster University, said it was not known whether each successive month of lockdown compounded the impact.

He added: "If the lockdown extends, the cost will certainly increase. The questions are, by how much and who bears the greater cost between households, businesses and the Government?"

Business advisory firm EY estimated that the number of job losses resulting from the current restrictions could range from 78,000 to 132,000.

That is likely to increase by hundreds more if lockdown is extended.

Stephen Kelly, the chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said he was opposed to extending the lockdown "in its bluntest form" but would be in favour of a tailored approach under which different parts of the UK would reopen at different times.

Mr Kelly warned that any extension would make life very difficult for companies.

"From the public health point of view, it's understandable - and that's what we need to be focused on - but from the economic point of view, it would be very damaging," he added.

There is a growing understanding that different parts of UK can be different places at different times. We think consideration should be (given to) the local circumstances Stephen Kelly, Manufacturing NI

Mr Kelly also argued for separate arrangements for different parts of the UK.

"Not all of the UK is in the same curve as places like London," he said.

"There is a growing understanding that different parts of UK can be different places at different times. We think consideration should be (given to) the local circumstances."

Manufacturing firms have not been compelled to shut as part of the restrictions and are allowed to remain open where they have suitable safety measures.

Mr Kelly said: "It's not a good thing if lockdown is going to be extended in its bluntest form.

"We have a greater understanding now on how the virus is impacting on communities and how it spreads within those communities, so what's required is a staggering principle on a risk-based analysis.

"The longer lockdown goes on, the deeper the damage, but we all have to be aware of the public health emergency we're in too."

Mr Kelly added he was receiving more queries from members considering making people on the Government's furlough scheme redundant.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill, meanwhile, warned of even more suffering ahead for pubs, restaurants and their workforces.

"The longer it goes on, the harder it gets. The Government is going to have to carry on support in various existing and new forms," he said.

Glyn Roberts, the chief executive of Retail NI, which represents independent retailers, said the sector was going through a "worrying, difficult and challenging" time.

While all but essential retailers have been closed, Mr Roberts accepted the authorities "have to be guided by the science".

"The members who have been open, trading and have social distancing in place, will in future be able to give guidance which could apply to other independent retailers," he added.

Belfast Telegraph