‘Rinse and repeat' plan just won't work say businesses

A locked-down St Anne's Square in Belfast yesterday. Picture: Hugh Russell
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE lockdown-restart-lockdown cycle must be broken and a better balance struck to protect the community and economy, a collective representing thousands of businesses and social enterprises in the north is insisting.

And the group has proposed a three-point plan which it says is necessary protect lives and livelihoods, based on communication, compliance and support.

"A ‘rinse and repeat’ plan just won’t work. Lockdown after lockdown is simply not sustainable. A different way must be found," the consortium says.

The body comprises 23 organisations including 11 chambers of commerce and representative groups from hospitality, construction and retail, as well as the social economy.

And it's the first time a collective representing so many white and blue collar workers across the north has come together to speak with such a unified voice.

It says the purpose of its paper, which it will be presenting to the Executive, is to keep the economy open and give businesses the best possible chance to survive and keep employing people, while simultaneously investing in better communication, compliance and support.

A spokesman told the Irish News: "The pandemic is posing a massive threat to people’s health, but the strategy currently being pursued is posing as big a threat to jobs and livelihoods.

"The current ‘rinse and repeat’ plan just won’t work. Business and government need to work together to suppress the spread of Covid-19 and ensure our people have jobs to support their families."

He adds: "When we talk about the economy, it isn't something abstract or theoretical, but about real people’s lives - entrepreneurs who have followed their dreams; folk in hospitality, leisure, tourism, retail, manufacturing, construction, social enterprises.

"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 local economy. Fewer and fewer firms will survive each lockdown and more and more jobs will be lost, sending 100,000 people to the dole queues with poor prospects of being re-employed in the short to medium term.

"This is a scenario none of us wants 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 the good work we have done to build a strong and diverse economy and protect workers and their families.

"If a vaccine 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 broad basis of the grouping's three point plan is:

  • COMMUNICATION - the Executive must sharpen its overall public health message, making the rules easier to understand and stop constantly changing guidance and advice.
  • COMPLIANCE - The Executive must establish a “Covid Secure” quality framework including requirements for social distancing, face coverings, PPE etc to make it crystal clear how businesses, public service providers and others can ensure their premises are safe for staff and customers. It must also be made abundantly clear who is responsible for ensuring compliance and enforcing any regulations.
  • COMPENSATION AND SUPPORT - Resources must be made available urgently to enable people and businesses to better comply with the measures needed to fight Covid-19, while other suggestions include a top- up of the furlough scheme similar to Scotland.

The plan is supported by: Ballymena Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Banbridge Chamber of Commerce, Bangor Chamber of Commerce, Belfast Chamber of Commerce, Causeway Chamber of Commerce, Construction Employers Federation, Derry Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Master Builders, Hospitality Ulster, Lisburn Chamber of Commerce, Manufacturing NI, Mineral Products Association, Newry Chamber of Commerce, Newtownards Chamber of Trade, NI Hotels Federation, NI Retail Consortium, NI Tourism Alliance, Omagh Chamber of Commerce, Holywood Chamber of Commerce, Portadown Chamber of Commerce, Retail NI, Social Enterprise NI and Women in Business NI.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access