Changes to the furlough scheme could be “incredibly difficult” for some Northern Ireland companies, the economy minister has warned.

Diane Dodds was speaking after the chancellor announced that employers are set to contribute 20% to the salaries of furloughed employees by October.

She said: "This would be incredibly difficult for some employers, particularly those in hospitality and retail sectors which have been closed for three months.

"It is uncertain whether they will get back to full operations for a number of months yet to come.”

Ms Dodds went on: "I have been urging the chancellor to consider very wisely what he is going to do."

Meanwhile Conor Murphy, the finance minister, said the chancellor's announcement that the scheme would taper off was "premature".

He added: "I am concerned it could lead to redundancies, particularly in the hardest hit industries such as hospitality, retail and leisure.

“I will be raising these issues with Treasury and stressing the need to protect jobs and livelihoods."

Around 200,000 people here have taken part in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is aimed at saving jobs during the lockdown.

The Government pays 80% of furloughed workers’ salaries up to a cap.

So far the scheme has covered the wages of 8.4 million staff in the UK unable to work during lockdown - at a cost of £15 billion.

Aodhan Connolly from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said official support had helped retailers remain viable.

"A tapered end to the furlough scheme means that there will not be another huge shock to an industry which has suffered so much over recent weeks,” he said.

"Retailers have been working hard for weeks to prepare to reopen safely for staff and shoppers, and the NI Retail Consortium has published guidance with USDAW the union to do exactly that.

"The Northern Ireland Executive now need to let us play our part in restarting the Northern Ireland economy."