Covid-19: 'Lay off the Executive - but give us time and money'

Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE exasperated chief executives of two lobby groups representing tens of thousands of workers in the north, whose business in some cases will have been forcibly closed for 36 of the 48 weeks this year already, fear their sectors will be irreparably damaged as a result of the pandemic.

But while each continues to plead for clarity and timely information to allow businesses to plan ahead - as well as adequate and on-time financial support - one of the two is urging his members to back off in their criticism of the Executive.

Stephen Kelly and Colin Neill, who head up Manufacturing NI and Hospitality Ulster respectively, have penned separate hard-hitting opinion pieces inside today's Business Insight.

Both have been openly critical of how the Executive has handled the pandemic and, certainly in the case of hospitality, how some sectors have been unfairly treated and locked down when data suggests they are not necessarily responsible for wholesale spread of the coronavirus.

But in a conciliatory move by Stephen Kelly, he insists the public aggression towards the Executive is unhelpful and has to stop.

"There is no off-the-shelf resourced plan for navigating the combined nightmare of a public health and economic emergency whilst not having the financial armoury needed to safely protect lives and incomes and knowing that what follows is an economic crisis which will cause harm for years to come," he writes.

"Who would volunteer to have to make the horrendously difficult choices our ministers have to make?"

He goes on: "No one is trying to make the wrong decisions and no one is trying to choose livelihoods over lives.

"But if people are being asked to continue to make sacrifices, we need to get back to the days when we were all in concert tackling our common enemy.

"If we are truly all in this together, then everyone needs to begin to act like that."

Meanwhile Colin Neill, in his article, concedes that the reopening date of Friday December 11 for pubs and restaurants might now not happen.

In his article he writes: "December should be a month filled with hope.

"But as each day passes, that hope that all of our hospitality businesses, including our wet traditional pubs, will be able to even reopen on December 11 is fading."

He insists that the hospitality sector, which before the pandemic struck provided jobs for more than 30,000 people in the north, now needs an early assurance that December reopening date is met - or forced closure financial aid is significantly increased.

"For months now we've been calling for clarity and pleading with the Executive to provide timely information so that businesses can plan ahead, yet we have been left in the unfortunate and unnecessary situation where decisions have been left to the eleventh hour, which has resulted in huge confusion and further financial losses within the sector.

"Our businesses simply cannot afford for this to happen again, and we hope that the new task force which has been announced will include representation from the hospitality sector," Mr Neill writes.

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