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Coronavirus: Chancellor's support package hailed across board as crucial for Northern Ireland

First Minister Arlene Foster last night welcomed Chancellor Rishi Sunak's pledge that the Government will cover 80% of the wages of workers up to a total of £2,500-a-month in an unprecedented intervention it's hoped will save jobs across the UK.

Mrs Foster said: "This is a hugely significant package that will allow people to retain staff with their wages paid by the Government. I think that will be a huge help."

Mrs Foster said a number of firms had already been in touch saying that this support package would allow them to keep going.

"It's not perfect, but I think it is a huge benefit to those of us who live here in Northern Ireland that we are able to have this in place for our economy, and we will be able to plan for dealing with this horrendous virus."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill also voiced her support for the Chancellor's move, saying it was the right call and the right measure.

"This is about helping people worried about how they are going to put food on the table," the Sinn Fein vice-president said.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds urged local businesses to take advantage of the support package.

"Many people feared this would cost them their business or their jobs. I welcome the fact that the Government is prepared to intervene in this way," she said.

"During this week we have seen the increased pressure facing our local businesses and I would urge all our firms to take advantage of the measures announced to support their workers."

Mrs Dodds added that the coronavirus job retention scheme would provide an income of up to £2,500 a month for those employees not working, and will be backdated to March.

She also welcomed the Chancellor's decision to defer business VAT payments until the end of June.

Now, more than any time in our recent history, we will be judged by our capacity for compassion Rishi Sunak

Business groups and trade union leaders also backed the Chancellor's announcement.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said: "The Chancellor has given businesses some desperately needed breathing room at this critical moment."

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill was convinced jobs would be saved: "We now need to make sure that this emergency financial measure gets to our people as quickly as possible.

"This is a comprehensive package on face value, and we hope that this has not come too late for many in our sector.

"This will save and retain jobs and businesses alike."

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "This is a welcome move to support the staff of local businesses who have been laid off.

"I hope this will be enough to sustain these workers and their families in these difficult few months ahead.

"Our thoughts are with our friends and colleagues in our local hospitality sector as they face closure for the immediate future.

"They make a huge contribution to our economy and our high streets and we have no doubt will be back stronger than ever after this crisis"

Endorsing the Chancellor's move, Simon Hamilton of Belfast Chamber said: "This is exactly the kind of interaction that we have been calling for and we hope that this will prevent the need for many employers to lay off staff."

Trade union leader Owen Reidy of umbrella body NIC/ICTU said: "This is an unprecedented action for an unprecedented crisis.

"It will crucially maintain the employment contract of workers and ensure that when this crisis is finally over they remain employed."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said the support package would reassure the people of Northern Ireland.

At a glance: Coronavirus bailout

  • Government to pay 80% of the salary of retained workers, up to a total of £2,500 a month
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme interest-free for 12 months
  • VAT payments deferred to mid June for all businesses
  • Universal Credit standard allowance and working tax credit basic element increased by £1,000 a year for 12 months
  • Self-employed people to access, in full, Universal Credit at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees.
  • Local Housing Allowance to cover at least 30% of market rents

Belfast Telegraph