Reaction to £300m support package – it will ease the pain, but ‘no magic bullet’

Reaction to £300m support package – it will ease the pain, but ‘no magic bullet’

The £300m support package for retailers and hospitality announced on November 23 will help ease the pressures but retail and hospitality will still hurt, with jobs losses expected.

Retail NI, Belfast Chamber, NI Retail Consortium and Hospitality Ulster have all welcomed the support package, but warn of the short and long term economic impact overall.

Retail NI

Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said “This package is welcome, and we look forward to working with the Executive on refining the detail and its speedy implementation to assist businesses that are hardest hit by Covid-19.

“Retail NI had been lobbying Ministers for some time on a High Street voucher scheme based upon the Jersey Government initiative and we are pleased that they listened and acted on our proposals.

“It is vital that this voucher scheme is targeted at independent retailers to ensure the full benefit to the overall economy and is not pocketed by multi-national supermarkets. 70p in every pound spend at independent retailer is recycled around the economy helping local suppliers, producers and farmers”

“We also want the targeted business rate relief to continue through to the next financial year and we hope to discuss this further with the Finance Minister”

“The next few months are about survival of our high streets and for many independent retailers. We need to see these measures brought forward rapidly.”

Belfast Chamber

Belfast Chamber of Commerce CEO Simon Hamilton. “Businesses in Belfast and right across the region have been hurting as a result of the Executive lockdown restrictions.  Businesses have been seriously struggling to survive, and whilst assistance with wage costs through the furlough scheme and various grants have been hugely helpful, many are worried about how they will weather the storm they are facing.

“We especially welcome the high street voucher scheme which is something that Belfast Chamber has advocated to help businesses in our city during the usually quiet January and February period.  This will help stimulate spending where it is needed and when it is needed.  We are also grateful for the help for directors who have been hitherto excluded.

Rates holiday

“Rates are a huge overhead for most businesses so the announcement that manufacturers are to enjoy a rates holiday this year and that some £150 million is being kept aside to offer rates reductions in the next financial year is also hugely welcome.

“This is a substantial amount of support and whilst many will still feel that it does not go far enough, Belfast Chamber appreciates what Ministers have agreed and will work with them to ensure additional help gets to where it is needed”.

 NIRC Welcomes Package

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, director, Aodhán Connolly said “The announcement of further support from the Executive announced by Finance Minister Conor Murphy is hugely welcome.

“The high street has been devastated by the global pandemic so the extension of the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme as well as money to help businesses grow their online offer. The £95 million that will be given to households to spend on the high street is particularly welcome as it creates a virtuous circle of spending that will support retailers in the leaner months of January and February as well as being of huge benefit to those households whose budgets are already squeezed. This will make a tangible difference to the high street, to livelihoods and too lives.

No Magic Bullet

“This support package will make a huge difference but it will not be a magic bullet for the high street. This has been the hardest year in living memory for the retail industry and more support will be needed in the coming months as well as more partnership working with industry, local councils, statutory agencies and the Executive. That is the only way the high street as we know it will survive.”

Hospitality Hurts

Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster reacted to the announcement with concern that job losses will multiply in hospitality.

“Pub aid is very welcome, but the overall package won’t stop job losses in hospitality”

“This financial package, whilst significant in value, does not address the unique situation faced by the hospitality sector, that even when open, is so heavily restricted it is not financially sustainable. During this second lockdown of hospitality, which will be six weeks on the 11th December, businesses are paying £30 per head, per week, to keep staff on furlough. Also, the current grant levels don’t cover these payments, never mind the fixed costs being incurred which run into thousands of pounds for every business.”

Spring voucher scheme

“The voucher scheme will be helpful in the Spring, and whilst welcome, will do nothing to help hospitality businesses survive the next few months. With an indicative date of 11th December for reopening and the potential of further lockdowns after Christmas, the level of financial support for pubs, restaurants and hotels must be increased now before it is too late.”

“Even if hospitality is reopened on the 11th December, it is clear that many businesses will still not be able to open sustainably due to the Covid restrictions on closing time and table sizes. If these businesses are to survive into the Spring and beyond, flexibility must be allowed so that businesses can be open and trading, or closed and availing of the continued financial support, however meagre it may be.”

“Many have said that things could get better after Easter and it is encouraging that the Finance Minister is considering extending this rate relief further, but it is of little help for those who won’t see it.”

“There has been a lot of talk around saving Christmas, but today’s package was no Christmas present for the hospitality industry.”