Light at the end of the tunnel for business community, but more detail required

Chambers Ireland welcomes the announcement from the Taoiseach of plans to re-open the economy in phases over the coming weeks and months.

In research published by Chambers Ireland (30th April 2020), most of the businesses who responded to our survey noted they will need at least two weeks to re-open, with approximately 25% noting that they would need at least four weeks. The research also emphasised that there are also likely to be significant costs involved in re-opening businesses, which can be attributed to re-stocking and putting appropriate social distancing measures are in place.

Speaking Friday evening, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “The announcement from the Taoiseach this evening will be welcomed and taken as a glimmer of light and hope at the end of the tunnel. The past several weeks have been tremendously challenging for communities, so indications that some restrictions will be eased in the coming days will be warmly received.

From the perspective of our own members, this evening’s news will be welcomed as we now have some indication of what we are likely to expect between now and the end of the summer. We had been calling on Government to announce what the phased re-opening of the economy will look like. This evening’s announcement that some sectors will be re-opened on the 18th May gives us some clarity and timeframes on how business can start to prepare.

In new research published by Chambers Ireland yesterday, the business community highlighted the cost and time that would be involved in re-opening, emphasising the need for clear guidance and timelines on when the restrictions will be eased. This includes advance notice of the dates that various sectors will reopen, a clear strategy on what sectors will be first, information on what protocol will need to be in place and whether support will be available to financially assist businesses.

In advance of the 18th May, we call on Government to collaborate with business to map out how various sectors, transport infrastructure and town centres will be adapted and supported to ensure that restrictions can be safely lifted. The complexity involved in ensuring that communal spaces in urban centres, workplaces and business are adapted properly to support social distancing and public health should not be underestimated. We look forward to working with Government in evolving and agreeing this guidance so the economy can restart again.

In respect of news that we are to expect further announcements tomorrow of additional business supports, Chambers Ireland reiterates its call for liquidity funds and grant aid for business to cover overheads such as rent, utilities and working capital. We also call on Government to provide clarity on supports for business and local government regarding commercial rates. The deferral announced in March was found to be insufficient by three-quarters of business who responded to our earlier survey published on the 9 May. If action on commercial rates is to have any meaningful impact, they will need to be waived for impacted businesses for at least 6 months, if not a full year. Government must also ensure that Local Authorities can continue to serve communities, and so any shortfall in funding must be replaced with central Government funds.

Without additional aid to support working capital, liquidity and cash flow, the chance of businesses successfully re-opening and maintaining employment is significantly reduced. We await Government clarity on these matters over the weekend.