Business

Measured welcome from NI business groups for Chancellor's new Covid-19 support measures

Economy Minister Diane Dodds. Picture by Kelvin Boyes.
Ryan McAleer

ECONOMY Minister Diane Dodds has said Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement on extended support for self-employed people had fallen short of her expectations.

The DUP minister said the new version of the grant scheme, which has paid out £363 million to date in Northern Ireland “is welcome to an extent, but falls short of what I have been calling for as it is at a level noticeably lower than before”.

Ms Dodds did welcome other aspects of Thursday's announcement, including the extended VAT cut for the tourism and hospitality industry, but she said she would have to look closely at the detail of the new Job Support Scheme (JSS) to assess how it will work for employers and workers, “particularly those in sectors still trading at very low levels with many workers still on furlough”.

The chief executive of Belfast Chamber, Simon Hamilton, said some of the hardest hit sectors may not benefit from the new JSS.

“On the Treasury’s own example, a business would have to pay 55% of an employee’s wage for 33% of hours worked. That won’t be easy for a lot of businesses like pubs and shops to do from their much-reduced revenues,” he said.

The former economy minister also described the Chancellor’s use of the phrase “viable jobs” as “troubling”.

“It indicates that some sectors, businesses, jobs and the people who work in them have almost been written off,” he said.

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Unite’s regional secretary Jackie Pollock said the union wanted more detail on what the new JSS will mean in practice for workers.

He said some workers were concerned that it could amount to a pay cut, while those working 50 per cent of their normal hours also need clarity.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Picture: PA Wire

Roger Pollen of the Federation of Small Businesses welcomed that businesses can access the JSS without facing excessive paperwork.

“This six-month scheme should help some businesses who wish to retain the skills within their workforce, in a period where business conditions are difficult,” he said.

“However, we recognise that jobs will be lost in the near future, and the Northern Ireland Executive should move at pace to bring forward a bespoke re-training scheme for NI, which small businesses can utilise and which enables those losing their jobs to develop new skills.”

Mr Pollen also said the FSB was concerned that Rishi Sunak had nothing to say today on assistance for those who were left out of the first round of support measures, including the newly self-employed and company directors.

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