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Northern Ireland business leaders demand clarity as exit plan unveiled


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Retail NI director Aodhan Connolly

Retail NI director Aodhan Connolly

Retail NI director Aodhan Connolly

A detailed approach, further financial support and informed ways to work during the current crisis are some of business leaders' hopes for lockdown exit plan from Stormont.

Those at the forefront of the economy have said that they want to see a definitive timeline of how Northern Ireland will work and operate in the coming months as the First and Deputy First ministers unveil an exit plan this afternoon.

Retail NI's director Aodhan Connolly said that he wants a clearer picture of when non-essential shops will reopen here.

He also called for "visibility on the route out of lockdown and a sense of the likely timeframes".

"We have already worked with the NI Executive Engagement Forum to deliver a practical guide to making work places safer so whenever the time comes, retail will be ready to play its part in getting the economy moving again, once the devolved administration permits trading. But our first concern will always be the safety of staff and customers," he said.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said her members need details on "how and when" resumption takes place.

"The Executive must provide detailed plans for the phased easing of restrictions, which indicate when and how different sections of the economy will be permitted to reopen," she said.

"The timing of further easing of restrictions must be guided by public health evidence, but businesses need clear advice on what will need to change in the workplace, including the use of PPE, so they have sufficient time to make plans to reopen safely."

NI Hotels Federation chief executive Janice Gault said she would like to see a continuation of the Job Retention Scheme as well as year-long rates relief for struggling businesses in the hotel sector.

"We hope the announcement will bring some clarity and remove uncertainty," she added. "Hotels would like to see a plan and a pathway towards reopening."

Ms Gault also called for support for promotional activity to "kick-start" the tourism sector here.

Calling for financial schemes to be made more accessible and a plan for schools to reopen, Genesis bakery executive chairman Paul Allen said: "Schools are the backbone of our economy and a definitive plan there would help everyone plan around that.

"Many businesses have bought insurances to cover these eventualities and it is disappointing to see insurers not seeming to meet these claims thus far.

"In other countries, insurers are meeting an element of the business interruption claims."

Translink's group chief executive Chris Conway hoped to see some moves to improve infrastructure to allow for more pedestrian and cycling priority.

He said: "I hope this exit plan focuses on sustainable transport and investment in infrastructure so that road and street space can be prioritised for walking, cycling and using public transport safely."

Brian Murphy, managing partner at BDO NI, said he hoped the financial lifelines given to businesses here can continue.

"During the rebuilding and reopening phases, the need, level and type of Government support will change, and the economy will likely need further support," he said. "Whilst it is recognised that such funds are not limitless, the potential benefit of providing further financial assistance could greatly outweigh the cost.

"The economic and social benefits from a successful partnership approach between Government and all stakeholders in the NI business community will set the tone and pace of the NI economic recovery from Covid-19."

Belfast Telegraph