Businesses forced to cease trading due to the COVID-19 pandemic need to be financially supported by the government in order to survive, East Londonderry MLA Claire Sugden has said.
While some businesses were eligible for previous government grants and hardship funds, many had still received no support at all. Ms Sugden quizzed the Minister for the Economy and senior civil servants on the issue at Wednesday’s economy committee meeting.
“These businesses, through no fault of their own, had to stop trading in March,” she said. “The government told them they had to close, but many have received no compensation whatsoever and remain unable to get back to business.
“The government has a duty to provide support to those businesses they forced to close.”
Many of those in the greatest need were independent entrepreneurs or sole traders, Ms Sugden said.
“We need to encourage new entrepreneurs, but we need to show them that, not only will they be supported by government, but that we are actively supporting the entrepreneurs we already have,” she said.
“The furlough scheme is due to end at the end of October. The Executive, and the Department for the Economy in particular, needs to do everything it can to make sure people have viable jobs when this happens, otherwise we will see huge numbers of people moving straight into unemployment.”
Businesses such as “wet” pubs – those that don’t serve food – were among those businesses still waiting to be given a date for reopening. There were legitimate public health reasons for their closure, but safety measures used in other businesses could be incorporated by these, and other businesses waiting to reopen, Ms Sugden said.
“Of course we need to take action and maintain measures to protect the health and well-being of the public. But we also need to support those who have seen their businesses disappear because of the decisions taken by the government,” Ms Sugden said.
“The money that exists within the Department for the Economy needs to be put to best use as soon as possible. Action needs to be taken, and taken swiftly.”