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Coronavirus: Firms say NI leisure industry is 'at risk'

By Clodagh Rice
BBC News NI Business Correspondent

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
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A group of businesses has claimed that the future of the entertainment and leisure industry is "at risk" because some businesses fail to qualify for government Covid-19 support.

Many well-known venues have been forced to close their doors due to lockdown.

Now a number of firms, including Eddie Irvine Sports, Movie House cinemas, Drumbo Park, We Are Vertigo and Odyssey Bowl, have launched an industry forum.

They have called on the government to extend support to their sector.

The group, called the Entertainment and Leisure Forum, has written to the economy and finance ministers to seek support for the sector, which it says employs 10,000 people and contributes £100m to the economy each year.

The letter recognises the job retention scheme and three month rates holiday are helping with cash flow, but says rent, bank repayments, insurance, utility and other costs are "rapidly eroding cash reserves and placing the future of many members at risk".

It is likely that entertainment venues will be the last to open, once lockdown restrictions are eased.

At the Stormont briefing on Tuesday, the deaths of another 20 people with coronavirus were announced in Northern Ireland.

That brings the total number of deaths to 329, although this figure, which relates mainly to hospital fatalities, is likely to rise.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said it was not yet time to relax social distancing and measures to ensure "we break the cycle and chain of infections".

Small business grant support is available to firms with a rateable value of between £15,000-£51,000, but this forum says the majority of its members exceed that criteria.

The letter reads: "This makes no practical or economic sense because our members are under exactly the same business pressures as small firms, but the sums involved are larger.

"The consequences for employment are also larger if they fail."

'Fluid situation'

In a statement, Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: "I do understand that some businesses, employers and individuals will not be able to avail of this grant scheme.

"The £40m Hardship Fund was recently announced in order to support those who have been unable to avail of assistance on offer thus far.

"This is still a very fluid situation and I would ask that all stakeholders continue to monitor the NI Business Info website where information on support options is updated continuously."

The forum would also like to see the three-month rates holiday extended to 12 months, in line with the rest of the UK.

'Targeted relief'

In response, a Department of Finance spokesperson said: "The 12-month rates holiday in Britain only applies to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses.

"In contrast the three-month rates holiday here applies to all businesses. If the English scheme had been adopted, 60% of properties here would be paying rates this month.

"As part of the next stage, the minister recently announced that the department is working in partnership with the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre to develop a targeted rates relief response for the months ahead so that limited public resources can be targeted at the businesses and sectors hardest hit by the pandemic."

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has agreed to meet the Entertainment and Leisure Forum later this week.

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