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Northern Ireland businesses express 'relief' over extension of furlough scheme


Welcome move: Ann McGregor

Welcome move: Ann McGregor

Welcome move: Ann McGregor

Northern Ireland business and politicians have welcomed the extension of the furlough scheme until the end of October.

The scheme - which pays 80% of a worker's salary up to a £2,500 monthly cap - will remain unchanged until the end of July and then continue with employers expected to start footing some of the multi-billion pound bill.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the Chancellor's announcement was "very much welcome".

She added: "We will of course look at the detail, but at first glance it will give help and certainty to employers around Northern Ireland."

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Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber, said the extension was a welcome move.

"Over the coming months, the Government should continue to listen to business and evolve the scheme in line with what's happening within the business environment," she said.

"Further support may yet be needed for companies who are unable to operate for an extended period, or those who face reduced capacity or demand due to ongoing restrictions."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs that from August there will be greater flexibility to allow furloughed staff to begin returning to work.

"Employers currently using the scheme will be able to bring furloughed employees back part-time," he said. "And we will ask employers to start sharing with the Government the cost of paying people's salaries."

Under the scheme - which has already cost the taxpayer £10bn - staff will continue to receive the current level of support through a combination of state and employer contributions.

Details will be announced at the end of the month following consultations with business, but officials have acknowledged the state will continue to make the largest contribution.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "It will be a relief to many of our members and the wider business community that the Chancellor has extended the scheme."

Stressing the need for flexibility, South Belfast MP Claire Hanna said: "While we await more detail, it is very welcome that workers will continue to receive 80%, at minimum, of their salary.

"While this is a very positive announcement and will provide clarity and relief to many across Northern Ireland, it is important that the UK government will be flexible with people and businesses, and to reflect the 'phasing back' and part time working that many businesses will require, to ensure they we don't face a new cliff edge in October."

Alliance MP Stephen Farry said further detail was needed on how it will operate from the summer.

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak has said he is "looking at the best thing to do" with the coronavirus self-employment income support scheme.

He was asked in a BBC interview if he would extend the scheme enabling the self-employed to claim a taxable grant of 80% of their average monthly trading profits, up to a cap.

He said: "We're looking at the best thing to do but ... the reason for that is slightly different in that many of those self-employed people are not in sectors which are necessarily closed or have an employer who has reduced their hours.

"It is a slightly different scheme which I was clear about at the beginning, but what I would say to those people, millions of those people who are eligible, ahead of schedule the scheme is now open, they can apply this week, they'll be getting the emails and they will have the same amount of support based on their historical earnings ... by the end of the month."

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