Lack of leadership at Stormont ‘couldn’t be clearer’ as Westminster moves to end lockdown, says Simon Hamilton

The contrast in “leadership” between Stormont and Westminster when it comes to easing lockdown “couldn’t be clearer”, the chief executive of Belfast Chamber has said.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 8:01 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 8:41 am
Belfast Chamber chief executive and former Stormont minister Simon Hamilton

Simon Hamilton, a former Stormont minister who quit frontline politics in 2019 before taking on his current role with the Chamber of Commerce, said the “growing sense of frustration” from businesses over the continuation of lockdown restrictions here have been “exacerbated” by the reopening of large parts of society elsewhere in the UK.

Mr Hamilton, who held the finance, health and economy portfolios in the Northern Ireland Executive during his time as a DUP MLA, was speaking to the News Letter after other business leaders expressed frustration with the lack of engagement or information from Stormont.

“The growing sense of frustration felt across the business community in Belfast at the ongoing lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland has been exacerbated by the confirmation by the prime minister that, next week, much of the economy in England will reopen again,” he said.

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“Whilst yesterday (Monday) we witnessed the prime minister stand alongside the Chief Medical Officer Professor Whitty to spell out the four tests the government has set to move England along its roadmap and how the health data supported reopening on April 12, locally, we have no such transparency.”

He continued: “We have no idea what tests, if any, the executive are applying and whilst we have data published which shows the hugely positive impact that the vaccine rollout programme is having, we have no sense whatsoever where that data needs to be in order to reopen our economy and society. Why can’t we see what tests have to be met in Northern Ireland? The contrast in leadership shown by the government and the lack of it being exhibited by our executive couldn’t be clearer.”

He added: “Businesses in Belfast and right across our region look enviously at the exact same businesses in England, Scotland and Wales.

“They have put in place, at their own expense, the same safety measures. They see our health data is comparable and sometimes even better. And they wonder why they are still forced to stay closed whilst businesses in GB are open or are preparing to reopen next week.

“They feel totally and utterly let down by the executive. ministers need to offer these businesses some hope and give them the proper, timetabled reopening plan they’ve pleaded for or else, I fear, that we are facing into a jobs crisis.”