The plan, supported by 23 business organisations, is urgently seeking an alternative course of action from the Stormont Executive to strike a balance between protecting both lives and livelihoods.
The coalition said that the decision to place large parts of the economy into another lockdown will inevitably result in further job losses.
They now want to see a plan for communication, compliance, and compensation and support implemented to prevent economic disaster.
The measures are backed by groups including Derry Chamber of Commwerce, the NI Retail Consortium, Retail NI, NI Tourism Alliance, Hospitality Ulster, NI Hotels Federation and other Chambers of Commerce across the country.
“This pandemic has cost lives and already has driven numerous businesses to closure causing a huge number of job losses which are reflected in the latest labour market statistics which show the second highest number of redundancies ever during a period when the furlough scheme was meant to protect jobs,” the business groups said.
“We understand that action is needed to suppress the spread of the coronavirus but businesses have invested millions of pounds in making their premises safe.
“Many believed they were starting to see light at the end of the tunnel only for that to now be extinguished. They stand ready to work with the Executive to protect lives and livelihoods, but need support.”
Protecting lives, protecting livelihoods: Finding a Balance to protect our community and our economy [full text]
The group said workers have suffered either being locked down on furlough or seeing their jobs at risk, with many redundancies already confirmed.
“Many of the self-employed have seen their businesses destroyed and without any financial support.
“Those employed and self-employed now face a period of increased uncertainty, less support from Government or being forcibly closed without any safety net,” it said.
“Closing down businesses is a blunt instrument that will struggle to retain the support of people who see it diluting their household incomes every time it is deployed.
“What is most concerning is that the Executive appears to be on a course to repeat their lockdown strategy again and again and again.
“We cannot stress strongly enough how deeply, deeply damaging this would be to the Northern Ireland economy.
“Fewer and fewer firms will survive each lockdown and more and more jobs will be lost, easily sending 100,000 people to the dole queues.
“The effect of long-term unemployment on people’s physical and mental health is well known and will also plunge families into poverty.
“Surely that is a scenario that none of us want to see and should be avoided at all costs? That is why we need to strike a balance to protect lives and livelihoods.
“A different way must be found.”
Other signatories to the plan include Women in Business NI, the Construction Employers Federation, the Federation of Master Builders and Manufacturing NI.
They represent thousands of businesses and social enterprises, and employ tens of thousands.
“A three-point plan has now been proposed.
“Clarity in communication is key,” the business leaders said.
“The Executive must sharpen up its overall public health message. Clear and consistent communication is an absolute imperative.
“The Executive needs to stop the constantly changing guidance and advice which is challenging to comprehend. We also urge far better coordination of messaging.
“Instilling confidence is crucial,” they continued.
“The Executive must work better to encourage greater compliance and, where appropriate, enforcement.
“They should quickly establish a “Covid Secure” quality framework to make it crystal clear how premises can be made safe for staff and customers.
“It must also be made abundantly clear who is responsible for ensuring compliance and enforcement.
“An effective test and trace system is absolutely key and the evidence gained from the system should be used to assist businesses to boost compliance.
“Financially assisting councils to invest in hand sanitising stations and ‘Covid marshals’ will help to create a culture of compliance.
“All of this, coupled with a combination of close cooperation with business and local government and clear support and advice for firms will create an environment where greater compliance from the public can be achieved and where, if necessary, enforcement can occur.
“This needs to be simple to understand and simple to implement.”
The group said it is critical to give business and their staff certainty.
“The Executive must make resources available as a matter of utmost urgency to enable people and businesses to better comply with the measures needed to fight Covid-19.
“A fund such for those told to self-isolate is long overdue.
“Additional support for businesses to install and implement more measures to ensure they are Covid secure is necessary.”Tags: