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Drop in number of people in NI on furlough as economy reopens 

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The number of people on furlough in Northern Ireland has fallen by around 25% to hit 44,000, latest government figures show.

HMRC, which administers the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, said numbers had fallen from 59,700 at the end of May to 44,000 one month later.

The drop corresponds with the continued reopening of the economy, with firms able to take their employees off the government scheme as they have been able to reopen again.

The scheme, which has supported a total of 11.6 million jobs UK-wide since the pandemic began, saw government pay 80% of an employee’s wages where they are not able to work, and up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

But this month, employers have to pay 10% of salaries, with government picking up the remaining 70%. In August and September, employers will have to pay 20%, with the government picking up the tab for 60%.

According to HMRC, NI’s wholesale and retail sector had the largest number of jobs on furlough out of all sectors in the economy.

And of district council areas, businesses in Newry, Mourne and Down had the highest take-up of furlough at 8% of employers.

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SDLP Foyle MLA Sinead McLaughlin

SDLP Foyle MLA Sinead McLaughlin

SDLP Foyle MLA Sinead McLaughlin

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Across the UK as a whole, 28% of firms had furloughed staff at the end of June, down from 30% a month earlier.

And UK-wide, the sector of passenger air transport accounted for the highest take-up, with 58% of jobs in the sector on furlough.

SDLP economy spokesperson, Sinead McLaughlin MLA, said she had written to Treasury Minister Kemi Badenoch, requesting an extension to furlough for workers in the aerospace sector.

However, Mrs Badenoch had written back to restate the government’s policy to close the scheme in September.

Aerospace is a key industry and major employer in Northern Ireland which is likely to face a longer road to recovery than other parts of the economy.

Foyle MLA Mrs McLaughlin said more jobs were at risk if there was no targeted extension of furlough.

She said: “Other countries have adopted policies of targeted support for specific industries, in which financial help is provided for an extended period alongside enhanced training.

"This type of assistance would be enormously helpful for our aerospace industry and workers.

"The rejection of this measure by the British government risks unnecessary redundancies of skilled, experienced workers and the need for employers to train new staff closer to the time when orders will be fulfilled. This is a policy of obstinacy over pragmatism.”

But in a response to Mrs McLaughlin, Mrs Badenoch defended the closure of CRJS and said the sector was already receiving over £11bn in support.

She added: “The Government’s Roadmap sets out a plan for lifting restrictions over the coming months which will allow the economy to reopen and life to slowly return to normal.

"If restrictions continue to be eased in line with this plan, then this extension of the CJRS strikes the right balance between supporting the economy as it opens up, continuing to provide support and protect incomes, and ensuring incentives are in place to get people back to work as demand returns.”



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