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Hospitality Ulster calls on banks to provide interim support

Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster.

Hospitality Ulster Chief Executive Colin Neill has called on all NI banks to provide interest-free overdraft facilities until government money starts to flow, following a conference call with NI Finance Minister Conor Murphy on April 2.

Neill painted a grim picture when he spoke to the Finance Minister, saying time has already run out for many hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland amid the Covid-19 crisis.

“We are being inundated with messages from members from all business types, province-wide, and they’re all telling us the same thing,” he said. “They have simply run out of money and will be closed for good in a matter of days, if not already. I cannot be any clearer; time has run out.

“Whilst we welcomed the original measures taken by the NI Executive and the UK Chancellor to aid our staff and businesses as this crisis rolls on, the delays in payment are causing irreversible damage to a key economic driver in Northern Ireland.

“Before Covid-19, the hospitality industry here employed over 65,000 people, and contributed well over £1bn to the economy annually.

“Many of our suppliers have already taken pain to support the industry, with some even buying back stock at their loss as it will go out of date and be destroyed. Likewise, banks now have to play their part and offer additional help beyond what the government is giving them.

“With delays in the UK government’s staff furloughing money and NI Executive grants, we are calling on all NI banks to provide interim support from their own reserves – to provide interest free overdraft facilities using the money owed by Government to businesses as security – or we will face mass permanent closures in our stricken industry.

“Here’s an example of the heart-breaking messages I am receiving:
‘We are on the verge of pulling the pin. I’m paying my 276 staff £24,000 per week under furlough. We are waiting for grants on multiple outlets, and I am simply going to run out of money by next week if we don’t get support now. I have tried my best by paying staff myself, but if I continue doing this, we will be bankrupt in days.’”

Neill said: “I am calling on all NI Banks to do the right thing; dig deep and help their customers and particularly their customers’ staff in this hour of national crisis.”

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