// Large retailers urged to stop selling non-essential goods in Northern Ireland
// Small retailers want essential retailers with large shops to restrict their sales to essentials, such as food or medicine
// Meanwhile, Retail NI wants the Executive to include essential indie food retailers in its financial support scheme
Essential retailers that have larger stores have been urged to stop selling non-essential goods in Northern Ireland.
Ministers have had a “positive and productive” meeting with the retail industry, First Minister Arlene Foster said.
Small traders asked Stormont to create a level playing field amid the current Covid restrictions.
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Non-essential stores have been closed as part of a six-week lockdown to inhibit the virus’ spread.
Essential retailers with larger shops that sell both essential and non-essential items have remained open, and their smaller rivals want them to restrict their sales to essential items, such as food or medicine.
“As part of our ongoing engagement with partners across society on the implementation of the public health measures we have had a positive and productive engagement with representatives of the retail sector,” Foster said.
“We heard today about the significant work going on in stores of all types and size across Northern Ireland in response to the pandemic.
“From the local corner store to the supermarket, there has been significant investment in new ways of operating to keep the shelves stocked and to ensure the safety of customers and staff.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said discussions were “constructive and open”.
“All retailers can support this effort by limiting numbers in stores; creating space to ensure social distancing is possible; promoting compliance with the public health measures; and ensuring good hygiene practices, including regular cleaning of touchpoints,” she said.
The two ministers and their junior ministers held discussions with retailers on Friday.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI which represents small and medium-sized firms, said: “Retail NI wants to see a level playing field on the pandemic regulations for all retailers that are currently trading.
“It is blatantly unfair that local independent retailers who sell books, toys, clothes and homeware are unable to open nor operate a click and collect service while large supermarkets can remain open, sell these products and continue to make substantial profits.
“The Executive needs to give these local independent retailers a lifeline by immediately permitting them to operate a click and collect service on a strict appointment-only basis, which would be subject to inspection.”
Retail NI also wants the Executive to include essential independent food retailers, who have lost trade and footfall, in its financial support scheme.
“Many of these businesses are trying to trade in town and city centres which are virtual ghost towns, with most of their neighbouring businesses closed,” Roberts said.
He listed five interventions ministers could take:
- Vaccination for frontline essential retail workers at an “appropriate” point
- A financial support scheme for independent food retailers who have lost trade
- A rates holiday for a further six months from April for struggling small traders
- Restoration of click and collect on an appointment basis
- The immediate establishment of a high streets taskforce
“We are absolutely committed to supporting all efforts by the Executive to combat the pandemic and to ensure that vital food and other products can be safely sold to the community that our members proudly serve,” Roberts said.
with PA Wires