Just one in 10 firms still physically open, chambers study finds

Four in five of businesses plan to use the government’s job retention scheme, with 58 per cent of staff in those firms having been furloughed
Gary McDonald Business Editor

JUST over one in 10 businesses in Northern Ireland - mostly shops selling food - remain physically open as the Covid-19 pandemic bites at the very fabric of the economy, a survey by four chambers of commerce has found.

Some 43 per cent of businesses are not trading at all, while a third have their staff working from home, with many saying they are fearful of their future and the wider economy

Four in five of businesses are planning to use the government's job retention scheme, with 58 per cent in those businesses being furloughed. The sectors most likely to have temporarily laid off workers include retail, charities/social enterprises, hospitality and tourism, and business administration and support.

And adding to the bleak picture, just 47 per cent of businesses in the north eligible for the Executive's £10,000 grant support scheme have so far received their payment, while only 16 per cent have so far applied for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).

The four chambers - Belfast, Causeway, Londonderry and Newry - gauged the moods of 250 firms between April 8 and 11, drawn from manufacturing, retail, hospitality and tourism, professional and legal services, business administration and support, technology and charities/social enterprises.

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said: “We know the virus is having a profound effect on our health service but it is also abundantly clear it's doing huge damage to the health of our economy.

“Almost half the businesses surveyed are closed and are no longer trading - that's hundreds of firms employing thousands of people with no income, rising debts and overheads and growing concerns about the future.

“What is startling is the sheer volume of employees companies here intend to furlough. Among firms intending to use government help scheme, some 58 per cent of their employees will be placed in furlough, which equates to over 5,000 employees across the businesses responding to the four chambers' survey.”

Mr Hamilton added: “We know it isn't business as usual during this emergency, but what we are seeing is a virtual economic shutdown which can only create real worries about how our economy recovers.”

Causeway chamber head Karen Yates said she was concerned at the speed of response for those applying for government-based loans.

“While some are having a positive experience, others are finding the process slow and difficult to navigate. Many businesses also have a negative perception of the process which is putting them off from applying at all.

“Others don't wish to take on more debt, and there has been disappointment expressed at the interest rates offered by banks to extend existing facilities.”

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