Leading article

Important to support local business

The past nine months have been exceptionally difficult for businesses across Northern Ireland, particularly the hospitality sector which has suffered severe and prolonged restrictions since March.

Others badly hit include those providing close contact services such as hairdressers, who have been given a brief respite this week but will have to close their doors again on Friday.

Non-essential retail was the surprise element of last week's announcement by the Stormont Executive, its closure for two weeks in the run up to Christmas sparking a less than surprising upsurge in footfall over the weekend.

Given the pressure on our hospitals, there will be a widespread acceptance that tighter curbs are needed if we are to have any semblance of a festive season this year and to prevent the health service being overwhelmed in the weeks ahead.

Many traders will understand the rationale behind the decisions taken to suppress the virus but where frustration lies is in the delay in receiving financial support to help them through this bleak period.

Business leaders have repeatedly expressed exasperation at the uncertainty they have faced and the tardiness in disbursing money provided by Westminster.

Yesterday, the executive agreed a multi-million package of measures which is broad in terms of its reach and will directly impact on every home in the north.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has allocated more than £200 million for businesses and £98 million to support the most vulnerable with a further £150 million earmarked for rates relief.

These are positive steps but the one that will receive the most attention is the plan to give every household around £200 in vouchers to spend in the new year.

According to Mr Murphy, this scheme, which was previously rolled out in Jersey, is designed to stimulate activity on our high streets and help local business.

It is not something that we have seen before and while the proposal has grabbed the headlines, there is much we do not yet know about how it will work.

It goes without saying that people will be delighted at the prospect of having extra money to spend in the lean post-Christmas period but we also need to get the full details of what it entails and how it will be administered.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Leading article