Minister Diane Dodds emphasises her priority to do everything to mitigate the impact of Covid -19 on our economy.
The past few weeks have been some of the most difficult in living memory. We are in the midst of a global health and economic crisis, the scale of which seemed unimaginable only a few months ago. The magnitude of the challenge presented by Covid-19 is all too clear.
Whilst this is primarily a health crisis, its impact on global markets has been devastating. In Northern Ireland, our tourism industry collapsed overnight, our hospitality sector is under unprecedented pressure and businesses are facing crippling uncertainty. No one has escaped the economic shock. Workers face losing their jobs, business owners face the collapse of companies they have built up over a lifetime, and otherwise extremely successful firms are losing their order books and facing hundreds of lay-offs.
My priority is to do everything I can to help mitigate against the impact on our economy, protect supply chains, safeguard jobs and sustain businesses. I have spoken to countless people who need immediate help. I met with the banks to urge flexibility and a partnership approach with Government. I am working with Executive colleagues and Ministers at Westminster to ensure we have meaningful interventions.
Extraordinary times require an extraordinary response. Ideology no longer matters. Bold, immediate action was, and still is, required.
The National Government and our local Executive have already announced measures to help; business support grant schemes of £10K and £25K respectively, interruption loan schemes, rates support, deferring income tax payments and deferring VAT payments.
Whilst these are welcome and will help thousands, my primary objective has been to encourage Government to deliver a scheme that enables companies to keep staff on the payroll. Not only would this bring assistance to employees, it also provides for a solid base for sustainable growth, so when this crisis is over, businesses can kick-start economic growth.
I was therefore heartened that on Friday the Chancellor announced the Job Retention Scheme. This will have the single greatest impact on protecting the livelihood of both business and families here. It is encouraging to hear many of our companies either rescind redundancy announcements or say they are no longer contemplating it.
This scheme will provide up to £2,500 a month for those employees not working, and the increases to both working tax credit and universal credit by £1,000 per year will also help to protect our most vulnerable.
I recognise that some companies, the self-employed and sole traders still require further help. Sadly these schemes do not cover everyone, so the Executive has asked Treasury to extend support to this category, either by averaging out the past years’ earnings to calculate a figure or by paying a guaranteed income.
I am determined to do everything I can to help families and business. We will get through this. And when we do, the Executive will be there to support the recovery phase. The nibusinessinfo.co.uk website has the details on available schemes and will be regularly updated.
In the darkest of times I have seen the best of business; companies standing ready to repurpose production lines; workers volunteering to help wherever they can; staff facing lay off asking how they can use their skills to fill gaps created by sickness; others offering support in sourcing and importing vital resources.
Collective determination and can do spirit is alive and well. It is vital to get us through. Times are tough and some businesses will not survive. But through genuine partnership, meaningful support from Government and everyone playing their part by following the PHA guidance, our economy will weather this storm and be well placed to re-emerge as strong as ever.
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