‘Frustration with Stormont is off the scale’ over lockdown, warns NI business group

Frustration with the Stormont Executive over the lack of clarity on easing lockdown is “off the scale”, a leading business representative has said.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 7:01 am
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th March 2021 General view of Belfast city centre as most of retail remains closed. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, also spoke out against the “political instability” that has rocked the Northern Ireland government in recent days, following the decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to pursue anyone in relation to the funeral of Bobby Storey.

While he did not weigh in on the wider debate surrounding that incident, he branded the resulting political fallout as “bad for business” and spoke about the need for “clear leadership” from Stormont.

Mr Roberts made those comments in a hard-hitting interview with the News Letter, after more than 400 mostly small, independent businesses wrote to the first and deputy first ministers to express serious concern about the lack of information about possible reopening of society.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK without specific dates for the reopening of the economy.

In the letter, the business owners wrote: “We are increasingly anxious that without a timely reopening of our economy, a huge amount of the more than 100,000 people on furlough in Northern Ireland will be made redundant.”

Mr Roberts, whose organisation represents mostly smaller, independent retailers, said: “Frustration with the Executive is off the scale. There is no doubt about that. There are huge question marks about the level of preparedness in terms of getting cities ready for reopening. It is not being done in a coherent or sustainable way. If it is being done, nobody has been telling any of the leading trade bodies.”

He continued: “Nearly 99% of those 400 businesses are small, usually family-owned businesses that form the bedrock of our economy. Many of them have been through the Troubles and various recessions and they are very fearful they may not survive this lockdown.

“It’s crucially important that the Executive listen, that they heed their concerns and give them a broad timeline to reopen.

“What they were saying was certainly very heartfelt.”

He said businesses do not feel they are being listened to by those in government.

“I am getting increasingly frustrated that the Executive is not moving in a coherent way,” he said. “It is not engaging with business. There is a disconnect. The big frustration that we continue to have is that when decisions are made they don’t ask business. We are told afterwards.”

On the political aftermath of the Bobby Storey funeral decision from the PPS, Mr Roberts said: “Political instability is bad for business and it’s bad for the economy, so we need to see a functioning government which makes clear decisions. We’re in the middle of a pandemic so we need a strong government at Stormont showing clear leadership.”