Ibec CEO Danny McCoy calls for Government to engage with business and prioritise reopening retail, hospitality and travel businesses.

Footfall in Irish shops has fallen faster than anywhere else in Europe since the Covid-19 crisis began, a report from Ibec body Retail Ireland reveals.

The information is taken from Google mobility tracking data, and excludes grocery and pharmacy.

“It is intolerable after all the months of adaption and perseverance that at the promised 4-week review the Government is not setting out the easing of restrictions on the businesses upon which the resources of the State ultimately depend”

According to the report, people started adjusting their behaviour long before the most recent level 5 restrictions were formally announced.

Retail Ireland said retailers were increasingly concerned about their ability to manage social distancing, queueing and stock replenishment in a narrow three-week December window, especially giving the significant pent up demand due to store closures. The Government must now move to unwind retail restrictions in advance of December.

In response to falling Covid case numbers and the need to manage Christmas trading safely over the coming weeks, the government should move to unwind retail restrictions in advance of December. A short three week shopping window in December will create significant additional challenges for retailers working to manage numbers in stores and reduce the need for queues. Public health is the priority and retailers are taking extra steps to ensure a safe Christmas for customers, including extended opening hours.

“As we have seen from earlier lockdowns, heightened Covid concerns have depressed consumer sentiment. We are hopeful sentiment will rebound when restrictions are lifted and the effects will not significantly impact subsequent spending patterns. The run up to Christmas is make or break for many retailers and every day counts. Many are relying on the period to make up for the major financial hit taken earlier in the year.

“After a period of increased spending activity in the latter weeks of September, total spending declined through the first half of October. The latest daily data, up to 25 October, only covers the first four days of the nationwide ‘Level 5’ restrictions. As seen with the original restrictions, spending increased in the days leading up to, and in this case peaked on the day prior to, the new restrictions being introduced. While significant government supports are welcome, more is needed to help retailers manage commercial rent liabilities that continue to accrue during lockdown,” Dillon concluded.

Call for Ireland to plan easing restrictions ahead of Christmas

Ibec CEO Danny McCoy said he wrote a letter to An Taoiseach to express the very serious and urgent concerns of business in relation to ongoing uncertainty around Covid restrictions on non-essential retail, hospitality, international travel and office-based environments. He told the Taoiseach that the blanket suppression of these sectors continues to lack any refinement despite learnings and evidence accumulated since last March.

“The blanket suppression of these sectors continues to lack any refinement despite learnings and evidence accumulated since last March,” McCoy wrote.

“This approach lacks empathy and is at this point in the crisis creating much greater economic and social damage than is necessary. Opening businesses in a controlled manner would be a far safer option than keeping everything closed and seeing restrictions ignored by the general public. The six weeks of Level 5 restrictions, in addition to prior weeks of restrictions in many counties, has had the desired effect of bringing about a substantial decline in the targeted metrics. Greater enforcement is required to drive the metrics down further.

McCoy urged the Government to engage with business as a key stakeholder in this crisis prior to any decision being taken.

He also called on the Government to prioritise retail, hospitality and travel for reopening and suggested a sequential easing of restrictions to begin from the last week of November for both retailers and supply chain providers into hospitality.

This should be a Level 3 reopening by the start of December, transitioning to Level to by early December.

“While Ibec fully acknowledges the continuing need for vigilance, the manner of communications in the media from members of NPHET continues to be a source of uncertainty and irritation for businesses and the public in making necessary plans for the coming crucial period of Christmas.

“This pattern, now seemingly embedded, in limiting the choice for Government is one we understood you and colleagues were going to address. It is intolerable after all the months of adaption and perseverance that at the promised 4-week review the Government is not setting out the easing of restrictions on the businesses upon which the resources of the State ultimately depend.”

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 18 November, 2020

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