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Business frustration at lack of timelines in coronavirus recovery plan

First minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Stormont before announcing the executive's coronavirus recovery plan. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association
Gary McDonald Business Editor

Businesses claim that a lack of "even indicative timings" in the north's covid recovery plan leaves them effectively hamstrung and unable to plot any sort of path to reopening.

Unlike the blueprints unveiled in England and the Republic, no firm timetable comes with the Stormont version, except a loose hope that a final stage can be reached by December.

And while acknowledging that the five-step document is a "significant step forward" in terms of information on easing the lockdown, organisations representing sectors like hospitality and retail say they are bewildered at the absence of dates.

READ MORE: Analysis: Roadmap out of lockdown reliant on suppressing virus - and Stormont winning public trust

“It's imperative companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace so they can plan to re-open safely, but we're not getting it here,” NI Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann McGregor said.

Belfast Chamber head Simon Hamilton went further in saying he was disappointed at the plan's content.

He said: “The health of people is paramount, but the restrictions on the ability of so many businesses to trade is also doing untold damage to the health of our economy. This announcement offers no clarity.”

Ann McGregor

The north's hospitality sector issued a report on Monday night claiming it was facing a loss of £1.1 billion while 16,000 could go.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: "We need to be able to plan - even if that’s planning for closure.

“We are already working on how we can reopen safely, and at the right time, to save the jobs the UK Government furlough scheme have so far protected.

“Our industry requires a lead in time of up to six weeks to get ready for trading. The Republic of Ireland has dates in its own plan and has a competitive advantage over our businesses in that they are already taking bookings.

“Northern Ireland’s Hospitality industry must not be disadvantaged.”

Colin Neill

Retail NI head Glyn Roberts said that while there is no reopening dates for shops here, the plan for England includes early June as a target date - "and we believe this is achievable for Northern Ireland with appropriate social distancing.”

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