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Editor's Viewpoint

Rates holiday will be welcomed by Northern Ireland firms

Editor's Viewpoint


Finance Minister Conor Murphy

Finance Minister Conor Murphy

Finance Minister Conor Murphy

Coronavirus dealt the Northern Ireland economy a very severe and sudden blow. Official figures show that in April, unemployment - which not so long ago was at a record low - rose by 90%, a rather more depressing record. What is certain is that recovery will be a lot slower than the downturn.

Yet credit should be given where it is due. The Executive is spending more than £700m in supporting business at this critical time so that there will be some semblance of an economy to restart when the lockdown restrictions are lifted to allow a full return to work.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy had more good news for businesses yesterday when he announced a rates holiday until the end of the year. This will apply to hospitality, tourism, some retail firms, childcare businesses and airports.

Coming on top of the existing rates holiday for all businesses which is due to end shortly, and the furlough scheme which has been extended until later in the year, the Executive cannot be accused of short-changing business.

The politicians have also taken a different approach on several of these measures from the Westminster Government, showing that they have heeded calls to act according to local need rather than merely rubber stamping what happens in London.

However, it has to be recognised that generous as these measures are in the province they are largely marking time. The acid test will come when the pandemic is fully under control and the business community is set to return to work.

The Stormont administration cannot continue to bankroll the sector - indeed, recouping the money spent at this time could lead to challenging times for everyone in the years ahead. Instead, businesses will be hoping that public spending will boost sectors like hospitality, tourism and retail, but that is something of a vicious circle.

If people are worried about their own finances and job security they will cut back on their spending and that will hinder some of the economic recovery.

For manufacturing businesses the challenge is to resurrect previous orders but will firms be able to employ previous levels of staff and still adhere to rules like social distancing?

Business here will have to be more agile and flexible in the future and be aware of potential new opportunities as global competition will be fiercer than ever, post-pandemic.

Belfast Telegraph