Northern Ireland news

Economy minister urged to detail support for firms affected by Covid restrictions

Mike Nesbitt said it was unacceptable that the executive appeared to have money yet businesses faced bankruptcy. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

STORMONT'S economy minister has been urged to detail what support businesses affected by Covid restrictions will be entitled to.

Ulster Unionist economy spokesperson Mike Nesbitt has written to DUP minister Gordon Lyons asking for an urgent meeting to discuss the roll-out of aid to firms.

The latest Covid-19 restrictions announced on Wednesday have been branded "unacceptable and unforgivable" by Belfast Chamber of Commerce, while Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said his members were "extremely disappointed" at the lack of a financial package.

Belfast Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Hamilton said businesses had already suffered significant losses due to heightened consumer fears about the prospect of a lockdown.

"For weeks now, businesses who have experienced a difficult 2021, have been subjected to a drip feed of speculation and scaremongering about possible lockdowns and further restrictions," he said.

"As the rhetoric ramped up, the impact on businesses was very real as millions of pounds of trade disappeared, causing owners and their teams huge distress."

Mr Roberts said many businesses had been left in "financial limbo".

"We welcome the decision not to significantly change the regulations around retail. Our members have been and will continue to work hard to keep staff and shoppers as safe as possible throughout the pandemic," he said.

The regional arm of CBI and Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) have also raised concerns about the financial impact of the latest measures.

Mr Nesbitt said it was "frankly unacceptable" that the executive appeared to have money available yet businesses "face bankruptcy".

"The whole idea of devolved government is to empower local ministers to react with imagination and speed when the local economy needs help," he said.

He said that if a dispute between the finance and economy ministers was responsible for a delay in distributing funds it was "unacceptable".

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