The leaders of four leading business membership organisations in Northern Ireland have announced that they have established a COBRA style committee aimed at supporting businesses through the COVID-19 crisis, whilst acting as a direct conduit to Government.

The Business Alliance is a partnership between the Confederation of British Industry Northern Ireland (CBI NI), and the Centre for Competitiveness, the Institute of Directors Northern Ireland (IoD NI), the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the business bodies said:

“The business COBRA committee has been established in order to support businesses through the COVID-19 crisis, whilst acting as a direct conduit to Government.

“We have been in contact with the Department for the Economy who, along with Invest Northern Ireland, wholly supports our course of action and today we will begin by surveying our memberships to understand the most pressing issues facing the business community in order to develop a wider strategy to assist.

“We will also provide businesses, through webinars, with expert counsel on issues as diverse as employment law, deferment of taxation, new strategies for the manufacturing sector and possibly the re-deployment of business staff to assist within the community.  Law, accountancy and business advisory firms are on board to offer guidance at this extremely challenging time.

“At today’s committee meeting the following issues were discussed and will be pursued:

  • Asking businesses involved in manufacturing to shift production, if possible, to ventilators, hand sanitisers or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Ensuring leading businesses and Government provide prompt payments to suppliers
  • Asking commercial and residential landlords to give some relief to keep tenants
  • A mechanism to pay businesses immediately for the cost of 14 days sick pay
  • Making grants for up to £3k to SMEs
  • Extending HMRC time-to-pay tax suspensions
  • Childcare vouchers for key medical and emergency staff
  • Extend the small business rates holiday implemented by the Chancellor to Northern Ireland
  • Seeking more information on the coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme via the British Business Bank
  • Retailers should explore dedicating shopping hours for older people to avoid social exposure
  • Immediate winter fuel type payment for households that include someone over pension age
  • Universities and colleges to redeploy resources to support SMEs
  • Hardship fund for hospitality, tourism and production firms given that factories will close
  • Emergency working capital to be made available with flexible payment terms on borrowings and trade finance for those sourcing products from new suppliers internationally
  • Introduce a possible short-time work (STW) scheme where the employer, government and employees would all play a part if hard times persist
  • Encouraging employees to volunteer within the community
  • Organising donations to older people or those with underlying health issue

“Whilst we must assist our membership navigate the next few months, the Northern Irish business community has a vital role to play in supporting the wider community in the months ahead and our membership stands ready to help, where help is required.

“The Business Alliance also welcomes the offer from Invest NI to work closely with the business organisations to develop and deliver a co-ordinated approach to providing businesses with the best possible support in these unprecedented times.”

The leaders of the organisations that form the Business Alliance include: Adrian Doran, Chair, CBI NI; Stephen Kingon, Chair, Centre for Competitiveness; Gordon Milligan, Chair, IoD NI;  Ian Henry, President, NI Chamber; Angela McGowan, Director, CBI NI; Ann McGregor, Chief Executive, NI Chamber; Bob Barbour, CEO, Centre for Competitiveness and Kirsty McManus, Director, IoD NI.