20 October 2020


COVID-19 has created an interlinked health and economic emergency.

This pandemic has cost lives and already has driven numerous businesses to closure causing a huge number of job losses which are reflected in the latest labour market statistics which show the second highest number of redundancies ever during a period when the furlough scheme was meant to protect jobs.

We understand that action is needed to supress the spread of the coronavirus and businesses and social enterprises have innovated and showed real leadership in the response to protect workers, consumers and the wider public. Collegiate work by employers, Unions and public bodies in the Spring has ensured that the workplace is safe for staff and safe for customers.

Businesses have invested millions of pounds in making their stores, their restaurants, their pubs, their hotels and their factories safe for staff and safe for customers. Those who have been open throughout the pandemic have been a lifeline to ensure that our people get the essentials that they need. Without the willing cooperation of our businesses and workers, our society simply could not have coped over the past 7 months.

Business has endured a once in a lifetime impact on trading since March. It has been an unprecedented period of uncertainty and challenge. After finding the fortitude to keep going after months of lockdown, restrictions and closure earlier this year, many believed that they were starting to see light at the end of the tunnel only for that to now be extinguished. But still they stand ready to work with the Executive to protect lives and livelihoods, but we need support.

Workers have suffered either being locked down on furlough or seeing their jobs at risk. Sadly, many redundancies have already been confirmed. Many of the self-employed have seen their businesses destroyed and without any financial support. Those employed and self-employed now face a period of increased uncertainty, less support from Government or being forcibly closed without any safety net.

The Executive’s decision to place large parts of the local economy into another lockdown will, quite simply, result in another round of job losses. Those who have had to shut their doors are deeply concerned by the decision after following the Executive’s own guidance and investing money they didn’t have in making their businesses safe. They are understandably anxious about the viability of their businesses and the jobs they have created and so too are the many companies who are in their supply chain or rely on them for footfall – the food and drink producers, the laundry service, the taxi drivers and many others. Our economy is an ecosystem and closing down one part isn’t a limited intervention – it harms us all.

When we talk about the economy, we aren’t talking about something abstract or theoretical. We are talking about real people’s lives. Entrepreneurs who have followed their dream and started their own business. Folk working in retail, hospitality, leisure, tourism, manufacturing, construction, social enterprises. Every single sector and in every corner of our region. People across all of our society are hurting with an extra burden faced by women due to the sectors hit hardest and issues like childcare. Closing down businesses is a blunt instrument that will struggle to retain the support of people who see it diluting their household incomes each and every time it is deployed. Lockdown after lockdown is simply not sustainable.

What is most concerning is that the Executive appears to be on a course to repeat their lockdown strategy again and again and again. We cannot stress strongly enough how deeply, deeply damaging this would be to the Northern Ireland economy. Fewer and fewer firms will survive each lockdown and more and more jobs will be lost, easily sending 100,000 people as estimated by the Department for the Economy to the dole queues with poor prospects of being reemployed in the short to medium term. The effect of long-term unemployment on people’s physical and mental health is well known and will also plunge families into poverty. Surely that is a scenario that none of us want to see and should be avoided at all costs. That is why we need to strike a balance to protect lives and livelihoods.

Pursuing a path of lockdown, release and repeat will undo all of the good work we have done to build a strong and diverse economy and protect workers and their families. If a vaccine for COVID-19 is still months away from being available, then we must genuinely learn to live with the virus if we want to preserve our economy and have jobs for people to return to. A DIFFERENT WAY MUST BE FOUND.

The Executive will find a willing partner in business in seeking to design an alternative strategy. One that doesn’t choose between health and the economy but instead seriously strengthens the Executive’s response to the pandemic whilst allowing all parts of the region’s economy to remain open and trading in the safest way possible. And most of all we need clarity from the Executive and a timely communication of the responsibilities of business and the public under any new regulations. The Executive’s advice must, at all times, be consistent, coherent and easy to comprehend.

On behalf of the thousands of businesses and social enterprises we represent and the tens of thousands of people they employ whose livelihoods depend on the decision that the Executive make in the weeks ahead, we propose this OUR 3 POINT PLAN TO PROTECT LIVES AND PROTECT LIVELIHOODS