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We Need to Open to Survive: Retail and Chambers Plea to the Executive

Retailers and Chambers of Commerce from across Northern Ireland have issued a plea to the Executive to bring forward plans to safely reopen shops and retail destinations across Northern Ireland. The group has developed a report on restarting retail entitled “Fighting Back: The Way Back for Retail in Northern Ireland”. The initiative organised by the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and Belfast Chamber of Commerce has outlined the challenges and support needed to get high streets and shopping destinations across Northern Ireland up and running. The business groups say the consequences of not doing so soon will be significant.

Fighting Back: The way back for retail in Northern Ireland

Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said “This is make or break time for retailers across Northern Ireland as the longer that this lockdown goes on the harder it will be for them to reopen. This will have a significant detrimental impact to towns and cities as well as for shopper choice. Those shops who have been open have led the way in providing a safe environment for shoppers and staff, but many other sectors of the retail industry are investing time and money to be ready to open safely in accordance with the guidelines produced by NIRC and shopworkers union USDAW. Retail can be a springboard for the economy to bounce back but they must be able to open.”

Simon Hamilton, Chief Executive of Belfast Chamber said “Retail has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the restrictions imposed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The Executive’s decision to allow some non-food retailers to reopen from 8 June is a welcome step in the right direction. With hotels now working towards a reopening date of 20 July, because of the symbiotic relationship between the retail and hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors it is important that the rest of retail is also given a date when it can start trading again. Retailers want to get going again and make a positive contribution to the recovery of our economy. For us, what should guide the Executive in their decision making should be the ability of shops to reopen in a way that is safe for staff and customers and not what they sell, where they sell it and how big their store is”.

The group, made up of the NI Retail Consortium, Belfast Chamber, and the chambers of Causeway, Derry, Newry, Bangor, Newtownards, Holywood, Lisburn, Ballymena, Banbridge, Portadown and Retail NI, has highlighted the partnership approach needed to ensure the successful reopening. They have asked for a multiagency approach including government departments, local councils and the PSNI to deliver support including:

• A full time frame to let retailers prepare to open.

• A tapering off of financial support rather than a quick stop that will provide a shock to the industry that will be hard to absorb.

• Support in safely getting shoppers to and through our towns and cities.

• The repurposing and reimaging of public space to ensure satisfactory space exists for queuing customers and pedestrian movement

• Unequivocal guidance to the public about shopping during this period and to encourage them back to our shopping destinations

• A NI version of the £50 million Reopening High Streets Safely Fund to allow local Councils and retailers to implement plans for the safe reopening of city centres and high streets

Mr Connolly added; “We need all levels of government to work with us. This is not just about agencies and destinations taking responsibility, this has to be shoppers’ responsibility too. We hope that the Public Health Agency will work with us to provide guidance and strong messaging that lets shoppers know it is safe to come back shopping. The public need to be aware of how to keep themselves and other around them safe. Everyone has their part to play in making the reopening of Northern Ireland a success.”

Mr Hamilton concluded “Retail plays a hugely important role not just in our economy but our whole society. Vibrant city centres and high streets need shops as part of a mixed offering to attract visitors and serve the local community. With support, retail can bounce back from the impact of COVID-19 and solidify and strengthen the contribution it makes”.

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