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Editor's Viewpoint

NI economy facing tough times ahead

Editor's Viewpoint


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'While the main focus during the coronavirus pandemic quite rightly has been on saving lives, as each day passes it becomes clearer how the economic health of the province is being affected.'

'While the main focus during the coronavirus pandemic quite rightly has been on saving lives, as each day passes it becomes clearer how the economic health of the province is being affected.'

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

'While the main focus during the coronavirus pandemic quite rightly has been on saving lives, as each day passes it becomes clearer how the economic health of the province is being affected.'

While the main focus during the coronavirus pandemic quite rightly has been on saving lives, as each day passes it becomes clearer how the economic health of the province is being affected. The Danske Bank prediction that the economy will shrink by 7.5% this year should send shivers through every sector.

The worst affected sectors are obvious: accommodation and food, arts, entertainment and recreation, education, manufacturing and construction.

The government at Westminster, in its efforts to mitigate the effect of business lockdowns, has pumped an unprecedented £350bn into emergency measures but even that is unlikely to stop many companies going to the wall.

Northern Ireland's economy is largely made up of SMEs who have the least resources to weather a protracted lockdown, and one anomaly is adding to the difficulty experienced by some businesses. Unlike in Britain, where firms operating a chain of businesses are given support for each one, in Northern Ireland the Executive decided that the £25,000 grant will only apply to one business no matter how many are in the chain.

This is a problem which deserves to be reconsidered by local politicians.

Such is the depth of the recession being forecast, the business community in Northern Ireland could have a much changed look when any easing of the lockdown is permitted.

As the Prime Minister and NI Executive's First and deputy First Ministers said yesterday, this is no time for complacency. The public at large has played its part in observing social distancing and staying-at-home advice and must continue to do so. A premature easing of these vital measures could undo all the good results achieved to date and kick-start further, possibly more widespread, infections.

Charting a path back to anything resembling normality will require a wise and delicate touch, and the public must be prepared to accept that their activities will be severely curtailed for some considerable time yet.

The one ray of hope in the Danske Bank forecast is that when the upturn in business begins, there will be a significant recovery relatively quickly, a bounce-back of around 5% next year. However, as has been evident in most countries around the world, the effects of the pandemic and its counter-measures are infinitely variable, affecting the accuracy of any predictions.

Belfast Telegraph