Baroness Margaret Ritchie demands strong action from government to save the economy as she spoke in the House of Lords on Monday.
“Government ministers must draw up a blueprint for getting Northern Ireland back on its feet again after the Covid-19 pandemic,” Baroness Margaret Ritchie said as she called for substantial state help to ensure that jobs and communities are saved during the economic storm to come.
She added: “The spread of the virus has already taken billions of pounds out of people’s pockets and there are fears the UK could now see a return to the high levels of unemployment seen in the 1980s.”
During a debate on the Business and Planning Bill in the House of Lords, Lady Ritchie said the government needed to draw up a “responsive and imaginative” national action plan, both for Northern Ireland and other regions in Britain.
She told the Lords: “Our High Streets have been decimated during the lockdown. On one day alone last week, 6000 jobs were lost in the retail sector, and sadly there will be many more closures to come.
“We need a national programme for action and we need it now. Government needs to be responsive and imaginative.”
Her demands include:
- A reduction in rents for businesses
- Lifting restrictions on Sunday trading
- Reform of business taxes
- Giving fast track approval for pavement cafes
- Making the government’s so-called Bounce Back loan scheme more flexible
- Easing rules on working hours in the construction sector
- An expansion in Business Improvement Districts
A keynote speech to be given by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday must include more help and flexibility for businesses as well as substantial plans for job creation, Lady Ritchie added.
“In the medium term, we must also draw up detailed plans for the regeneration of our town centres, supported by government.
“Our economy stands on a precipice. Jobs, our communities and our urban spaces must be empowered to thrive, not abandoned to wither.
“Covid-19 must not be allowed to win. I hope we can trust this government to ensure that it does not.”