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Coronavirus: NI rally driver and quantity surveyor Henry urges end to 'limbo' over construction work rules


Criticism: Desi Henry

Criticism: Desi Henry

Criticism: Desi Henry

The government has been accused of leaving construction companies in limbo over whether they can still keep operating amid the lockdown.

THE government has been accused of leaving construction companies in limbo over whether they can still keep operating amid the lockdown.

Northern Ireland rally driver Desi Henry, who is also a quantity surveyor for his family business PRH Construction, criticised both Stormont and Westminster for failing to address "uncertainty" on the issue for the sector.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that all non-essential businesses must close in a bid to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

Other politicians, including First Minister Arlene Foster, subsequently announced construction companies could continue to operate if social distancing is adhered to. However, the Co Antrim man told the Belfast Telegraph it is impossible for distance to be maintained by employees while working on sites, which has prompted his family business to temporarily shut down operations.

"I don't know any site in the country that could adhere to a strict two-metre social distancing policy. It would be completely impossible to maintain that," Mr Henry said.

"Politicians who say that it is are living in dream land.

"That's why I think they need to give some clarity on how to move forward."

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme aims to help firms continue to keep people in employment by putting staff members on temporary leave.

The government will pay firms cash grants of 80% of staff wages up to a cap of £2,500, providing they keep the worker employed.

HM Revenue & Customs, which administers the scheme, confirmed any firm which pays its staff via the PAYE system is qualified to apply. However, Mr Henry warned that firms like his family's, which has decided to close to respect the social distancing policy, may be forced to reopen in order to help their sub-contractors, who are effectively self-employed, to enable them to be paid.

The government is expected to outline measures to help those who are self-employed today.

"We're trying to run a family business and we're trying to do the best for obviously ourselves and our employees and sub-contractors," Mr Henry said. "A lot of sub-contractors we deal with are people that we have had for many years.

"So we're all sort of a big family.

"Many sub-contractors are just working week to week and all of a sudden they have absolutely no income.

"It's obviously very, very difficult times for people and obviously we want to try and do the right thing.

"Somebody needs to come and say to contractors, 'What is the case? What are the facts of this? Do we close, do we stay open?'

"Regardless of the 80% it's still going to cost us a lot of money.

"There's a lot of overheads. We have never experienced anything like this before.

"No one has and there's uncertain times ahead."

Belfast Telegraph