Lockdown easing: NI Executive decisions today ‘make or break’ for small businesses

The reopening plan expected from the Stormont Executive later today could “make or break” thousands of small businesses, industry bodies have warned.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 7:01 am
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 14th April 2021 People pictured in Belfast City Centre which continues to be under COVID-19 lockdown with the rest of Northern Ireland. Some restrictions were eased at the start of the week by the Northern Ireland Executive. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts described today as “probably the most important day since the start of the pandemic”, while Hospitality Ulster chief Colin Neill said pub and restaurant owners are “staring down the barrel of a gun”.

Speaking to the News Letter ahead of today’s crunch Executive meeting, Mr Roberts said: “I think we need to see non-essential retail, close-contact services and hospitality being given a clear reopening date.

“In terms of non-essential retail, we expect the 26th of April to be the date and I can see no reason why that should not be the case.”

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He continued: “I think it is worth pointing out that there are still some questions about just how much of the hospitality industry will be allowed to reopen. Hospitality is absolutely crucial for our retail sector and our high streets.

“You know, we can’t do half a high street so in a sense no one is really fully open until everyone is open.

“We would hope that hospitality as a whole is given clear timelines and dates when it comes to reopening.

“All of our members in retail know just how important hospitality is for creating a vibrancy, for bringing that footfall. It’s important to have as much of our high street open as possible.”

He said the expected opening date for shops deemed ‘non-essential’ of April 26 should be “doable” despite the preparation work required.

“There’s a lot of work to do because they’ve got to talk to suppliers, they’ve got things to do with staff – it’s not about flicking a light on and opening a door,” he said. “But they want a date because it’s something to aim for. I think April 26 is doable.

“This is probably the most important day since the start of the pandemic. There are thousands of small business owners and independent retails who will be watching this very closely. It is make or break for them. They can’t keep accepting handouts. They want to get open. It is time that the Executive allow them to do that.”

Mr Neill said: “What we’ve seen suggests that we’re going to see non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality possibly reopen on the 26th of April, and then indoor hospitality in May, possibly the 17th of May along the same lines as England.”

He added: “These kind of decisions are huge. There is absolutely no reason that alcohol should not be allowed. Indeed, when you look at the measures that the hospitality industry has taken, the money we have spent, we have the highest level of Covid measures of any hospitality industry in the world as far as I can see.

“I can’t emphasis enough how vital this decision is. People are desperate. We’re staring down the barrel of a gun. We don’t know how many businesses have survived, but those that have are in the very last throes of survival.”