The latest Covid-19 restrictions announced for Northern Ireland have been branded “unacceptable and unforgivable” by a leading business representative organisation.
Belfast Chamber of Commerce heavily criticised the fact that no additional financial support package was agreed to accompany the measures.
Chief Executive Simon Hamilton, a former DUP minister in the Stormont Executive, said businesses had already suffered significant losses due to heighted consumers fears about the prospect of a lockdown.
“For weeks now, businesses who have experienced a difficult 2021, have been subjected to a drip feed of speculation and scaremongering about possible lockdowns and further restrictions,” he said.
“As the rhetoric ramped up, the impact on businesses was very real as millions of pounds of trade disappeared, causing owners and their teams huge distress.
“Today, the Executive has added insult to injury. As well as having to deal with the impact of additional measures, businesses haven’t been offered a single penny in financial support. That is simply unacceptable and unforgivable.
“What sort of a message does that send to the thousands of people who rely on jobs in the affected sectors and their supply chains to heat their homes and feed their families?
“It is shameful that they now face into an uncertain future after all they’ve endured already. It feels like businesses, their owners and their staff have been cast aside without a care.”
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said his members were “extremely disappointed” at the lack of financial package.
“To leave so many businesses in financial limbo like this is unfair and needs to be addressed immediately,” he said.
“We welcome the decision not to significantly change the regulations around retail. Our members have been and will continue to work hard to keep staff and shoppers as safe as possible throughout the pandemic”.
In a statement, the CBI in Northern Ireland said: “While Stormont is right to prioritise reducing transmission, the latest restrictions on hospitality, leisure and events businesses will leave them reeling after working tirelessly to claw back two years of lost takings.
“Once again the economy’s hardest-hit sectors are being asked to carry the can for protecting public health, yet are not being adequately compensated for restrictions that will clearly put operations and livelihoods at risk.”
The constant drip, drip of speculation + scaremongering in recent weeks has cost businesses millions of pounds + caused owners + staff huge distress. They now face further restrictions but there’s not a penny of support in place. This is totally unacceptable from the Executive
— Simon Hamilton (@SimonHamilton) December 22, 2021
Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) chief executive Janice Gault said the new measures had not come as a surprise.
“The hotel industry has in effect not been able to trade under normal conditions since March 2020,” she said.
“Many thought that we were moving beyond the Covid-19 crisis but once again we are moving into a period of increased restrictions. The hotel sector has shown its resilience and ability to adapt over the last nineteen months. These are attributes that the sector will need to draw upon for the foreseeable future.
“As always, the health of guests and staff remain the primary concern of hoteliers. The industry will continue to try to work within this new framework and hope that the future will bring better times for the sector and society as a whole.”