Northern Ireland news

At least 80,000 still furloughed in Northern Ireland - new Ulster University analysis

Sixty per cent of arts and entertainment businesses in the north remained closed at the end of June.
Ryan McAleer

BETWEEN 80,000 and 85,000 people are still furloughed in the north, a new report from Ulster University has estimated.

The university’s Economic Policy Centre (EPC) estimated that two-thirds of the 250,000 people who were furloughed at the peak of the scheme, have now returned to work.

According to the report, authored by Dr Karen Bonner, at least 80,000 jobs are still being subsidised by the UK Treasury scheme, which ends on October 31.

It states “there is concern about the longer-term prospects for those who currently remain on furlough when the scheme ends”.

Some business groups in the north have warned that thousands of workers may not be able to avail of the UK Chancellor’s replacement for the furlough scheme, the Job Support Scheme (JSS), which requires employees to work at least one-third of their normal hours.

The UK Government will pay up to £698 to top up wages, but employers will take on the bulk.

The chief Executive of Belfast Chamber, Simon Hamilton, said yesterday: “It is clear that for many in sectors like retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism, the Chancellor’s Job Support Scheme is not likely to be the lifeline it has been heralded as by some.”

Commenting on the JSS, Dr Bonner said: “There is a risk firms may retain full-time staff and let part-time staff go, or even not participate in the scheme at all.”

The Ulster University analysis said business activity in Northern Ireland remains suppressed, with many businesses still trading below normal expectations and cash reserves stretched.

It found that one in ten businesses remained closed in the north even as restrictions were lifted at the end of June. Approximately half of accommodation businesses and 60 per cent of arts and entertainment premises remained temporary closed, just under 5,000 businesses in total.

The report calculated that £2.7 billion had been spent on interventions for Northern Ireland businesses at the start of August.

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