Following the inundation of businesses in Newry, Downpatrick and Portadown, as well as other individual businesses more locally, FSB has called for every layer of government to step up and respond as a matter of the highest priority – councils, Stormont Departments and the UK Government.
Speaking about the type of response needed, FSB NI Policy Chair, Alan Lowry, said: “The damage we are seeing is not only a massive blow to many individual businesses, their owners and families, but has also been so intense that it is threatening the viability of entire business communities.
“This is not a time for recrimination about the causes of the flooding, or the lack of an Executive at Stormont to deal with it. The time will come for each of those, but the need right now is for each of the three layers of government to step up and give leadership, support and finance.
“We are calling for immediate financial assistance from Councils in affected areas to help businesses with short-term clear-up costs, as well as for them to take the lead in coordinating and funding wider operations, in partnership with the Department for Infrastructure, so we can try to start to put things back together in time for Christmas.
“We are also looking for assistance from Stormont Departments. In the first instance we are calling for immediate rates relief from the Department of Finance as it’s unacceptable to keep charging businesses that are unable to trade. Secondly, we would like to see rapid grant assistance from the Department for the Economy to help get these ordinary businesses back on their feet following an extraordinary natural disaster. The Department for the Economy, via Invest NI, has a great track-record at assisting inward investors, but we need them now to adapt that capability to mobilise a rapid support system to stabilise existing economies that have never needed grant aid before and only do so now because of extraordinary events outside their control. And thirdly, we want a proper clear-up followed by better river management and drainage from the Department for Infrastructure.
“Finally, we are calling on the UK government at Westminster to respond as generously to Northern Ireland businesses as they did to those in England who were so badly impacted by the recent Storm Babet. If ever there were a need to step in and “Level up”, this is it. It is not one where niceties such as “Barnett Consequentials” can get in the way; we need the strength and firepower of the Treasury to be deployed to assist as part of a national response. The Covid-19 response proved that this sort of extraordinary and rapid assistance was possible; we need that same ambition and drive to prevail again.”