Retail groups in Executive plea: 'Shops need to open to survive'

THE WAY WE WERE: Retail groups are calling for shops in Northern Ireland to be allowed to reopen within all current safety guidelines
Gary McDonald Business Editor

RETAIL groups across the north are uniting to press the Executive for guidance and clarity in helping them in safely reopening shops in the coming weeks.

An amalgam of lobby groups and chambers of commerce have produced a blueprint they believe will allow them to function again in a way that is safe for staff and customers.

And central to what they are seeking is clarity, as much as financial support, in what they say is a make or break moment for their survival.

The group, led by the NI Retail Consortium and Belfast Chamber of Commerce, and backed by chambers in Derry, Newry, Bangor, Newtownards, Holywood, Lisburn, Ballymena, Causeway, Banbridge and Portadown, has developed a report entitled “Fighting Back: The Way Back for Retail in Northern Ireland”.

NIRC director Aodhan Connolly said: “We're at an absolute pivotal moment for retail's very survival, as the longer this lockdown goes on, the harder it will be for shops to reopen, which will have a significant and long-term detrimental impact on our towns and cities.

“Those shops which have been open have led the way in providing a safe environment, but many other sectors of the retail industry are investing time and money to be ready to resume safely.”

He said retailers need all levels of government to work with them, but they also need clarity.

“For instance, is Northern Ireland to get a part of the UK government's £50 million Reopening High Streets Safely Fund?

“The money will be spend on practical measures such as new street signs and markings, as well as barriers to control pedestrian flow near business premises.

“We simply don't know, and even though the Barnett consequential slice of that fund wouldn't amount to much, it would be a help."

Belfast Chamber chief Simon Hamilton added: “The Executive’s decision to allow some non-food retailers to reopen from next week is a welcome step.

“Retailers want to get going again and make a positive contribution to the economy. For us, what should guide the Executive in their decision making should be the ability of shops to reopen in a way that is safe for staff and customers and not what they sell, where they sell it and how big their store is.”

He said that with hotels now working towards a July 20 reopening date, it is important shops know when they can start trading again, given the symbiotic relationship between the retail and hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors.

Those behind the paper have asked for a multi-agency approach including government departments, local councils and the PSNI to deliver support including:

• A full time frame to let retailers prepare to open.

• A tapering off of financial support rather than a quick stop that will provide a shock to the industry.

• Support in safely getting shoppers to and through towns and cities.

• A repurposing and reimaging of public space to ensure satisfactory space for queuing customers and pedestrian movement.

• Unequivocal guidance to the public about shopping, and to encourage them back to shopping destinations.

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