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Simon Hamilton: Coronavirus impact 'will be severe and long-lasting'

The Belfast Chamber boss and former health and economy minister was speaking on the new Ulster Business podcast

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Simon Hamilton

Simon Hamilton

Simon Hamilton

The impact of coronavirus will be “severe and long-lasting” and a huge joined-up approach by the Government will be needed to tackle the economic aftermath, a former Stormont Economy Minister has said.

Simon Hamilton, now chief executive of the Belfast Chamber, said that while businesses had seen some benefit from the initial support schemes, hundreds of firms had fallen through the gaps.

Speaking on the new Ulster Business Podcast, he said central and local governments would have to take a “much more interventionist role in the economy”.

Mr Hamilton stressed that ideas such as the introduction of universal income would have to be considered in the future.

The former DUP MLA, who also served as Health Minister, praised the efforts of Executive so far, saying ministers had “done their best with the resources they have had”.

“Robin (Swann) has a huge job, Arlene (Foster) and Michelle (O’Neill), leading the Executive, have a very difficult job in terms of responding to this, but I think that they have everybody’s support in doing what they are doing,” he added.

“(The plan for after the lockdown) needs to have some structure to it.

“It’s very early days, but there are a number of questions that have come out of this.

“At the end of all of this, every state, everywhere, is going to have much more debt and much more of an interventionist role in the economy.

“Once taken on, that is not quickly relinquished.”

Mr Hamilton said that while measures to help businesses stay afloat, including protecting employee wages, a rates freeze and grants, “put a bit of a floor under everything”, many companies had missed out.

“There are quite a few gaps emerging. None of this is said as a criticism of the Executive or ministers as to how they have responded to this,” he added.

“Sitting, dealing with this situation, there is no manual to take off the shelf. They are responding to a fast-evolving situation with no particular guidance as to what the best practice is. They have done their best with the resources they have had.

“There are emerging gaps. The gaps are there around those who aren’t paying rates.

“Charities, social enterprises and the likes of small manufacturers... they don’t get rates relief because they get industrial de-rating.

“One (area where) we have found a huge growth is in the flexible co-working spaces within the city. They pay rates as part of an overall charge to their landlord, which would include rent, broadband and other different things, but because they don’t have a ratepayer ID number, they are unable to access the Small Business Grant of £10,000.

“It is very, very clear this is not going to be short. It is going to be sharp, but the impact might be severe and long-lasting. That is starting to trouble me and a lot of the members.”

You can subscribe to the new Ulster Business Podcast on Spotify and iTunes