Small retailers have urged Stormont ministers to create a level playing field during the coronavirus restrictions.
Non-essential traders have been closed as part of a six-week lockdown to inhibit the virus’s spread.
Larger stores have remained open and their smaller rivals want them to restrict their sales to items such as food.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said ministers had enjoyed a “positive engagement” with the retail sector to discuss what more can be done to reduce pressure on the health service.
Positive engagement with retail sector to discuss what more can be done to reduce pressure on the health service— Michelle OâNeill (@moneillsf) January 15, 2021
This is a challenging time for retailers & they have worked hard to keep people safe
👉Please show respect to our shop workers
👉Shop solo if you can
👉Wear a mask
She said: “This is a challenging time for retailers and they have worked hard to keep people safe.”
The meeting was said to have been constructive.
First Minister Arlene Foster and junior ministers Gordon Lyons and Declan Kearney were also present.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI which represents small and medium-sized firms, said: “Retail NI wants to see a level playing field on the pandemic regulations for all retailers that are currently trading.
“It is blatantly unfair that local independent retailers who sell books, toys, clothes and homeware are unable to open nor operate a click and collect service while large supermarkets can remain open, sell these products and continue to make substantial profits.
“The Executive needs to give these local independent retailers a lifeline by immediately permitting them to operate a click and collect service on a strict appointment-only basis, which would be subject to inspection.”
Retail NI also wants the Executive to include essential independent food retailers, who have lost trade and footfall, in its Financial Support Scheme.
Mr Roberts said: “Many of these businesses are trying to trade in town and city centres which are virtual ghost towns, with most of their neighbouring businesses closed.”
Our CEO @glynrobertsni took part today in a very useful retail round table with @ExecOfficeNI @DUPleader @moneillsf @DeclanKearneySF @gordonlyons1 on Covid-19 challenges -a lot to do. pic.twitter.com/LKTtRLG6iX— RetailNI (@retail_ni) January 15, 2021
He listed five interventions ministers could take:
– Vaccination for frontline essential retail workers at an “appropriate” point;
– A Financial Support Scheme for independent food retailers who have lost trade;
– A rates holiday for a further six months from April for struggling small traders;
– Restoration of click and collect on an appointment basis;
– The immediate establishment of a High Streets Taskforce.
Mr Roberts added: “We are absolutely committed to supporting all efforts by the Executive to combat the pandemic and to ensure that vital food and other products can be safely sold to the community that our members proudly serve.”