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Disappointment over Stormont's response to plea from businesses

Reaction to open letter with 407 signatures on a timetable for reopening 'not good enough'

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Restaurant owner Michael Deane

Restaurant owner Michael Deane

Future fears: businessman Michael Wolsey

Future fears: businessman Michael Wolsey

PA

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Restaurant owner Michael Deane

A letter penned to the Executive by 407 business owners here requesting "a proper, timetabled plan for reopening" has failed to get the response hoped for.

The open letter was written earlier this week in a bid to highlight concerns over the future of the economy and to prompt opening dates which will provide "hope and some certainty" to the business community.

Hospitality bosses such as Belfast hotelier Bill Wolsey and restaurateur Michael Deane are among those who wanted to convey a sense of their fears for the future.

While not critical of the decisions the Executive has made during the pandemic, the letter warned that support so far will fail to "insulate" all businesses as mounting debts "already consumed what reserves they have".

In response, a spokesperson for the Executive Office told the Belfast Telegraph: "Ministers understand the challenges faced across the business community and the frustrations being felt by business owners and workers.

"The Executive is committed to moving forward on the pathway out of restrictions as soon as circumstances allow and will continue to support businesses throughout this difficult time."

The Executive has not allocated set dates to its pathway, but earlier this week announced that from April 12 outdoor retailers, including garden centres and car showrooms, could reopen, while non-essential retailers could open click and collect services.

This puts the pathway at stage two of a five-step path to the full reopening of the retail sector alone.

Meanwhile, the hospitality and travel and tourism sectors sit at step one of their five-stage pathways out of restrictions.

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton, who supports the letter, said the Executive have acknowledged the plea but the response so far is "not good enough".

He said: "The Executive's decision to reopen some aspects of retail represents a very small step in the right direction.

"The Executive needs to listen very carefully to the unequivocal warning issued by 407 business leaders from across NI. They have united together to call for a proper, timetabled reopening plan for our economy in order to avert a jobs crisis that will hit households in every constituency in our region hard.

"They watch enviously as their counterparts in Great Britain start to reopen. These business owners and leaders are at the coalface and know just how hard things are for the business community.

"Without even indicative dates for reopening their fear is for major job losses and economic catastrophe.

"The Executive might have much on its plate at present but surely they should see the need to safely reopen our economy as soon as possible, give these employers and their staff hope and stave off an economic and jobs disaster."

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Travel and Tourism Alliance said "in the absence of any clear reopening plan or indicative guidance on when tourism could start to reopen, businesses have been left with little hope for the future of a sector that supports the jobs of more than 70,000 people and last year contributed over £1bn to the economy".

It said NI tourism's reliance on GB visitors should prompt the Executive "to urgently remove the current travel restrictions in place with the rest of the UK".

Belfast Telegraph


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