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Pub aid welcomed but insufficient to save hospitality jobs

Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster.

Inclusion of £10.6m for wet pubs and £5m to top-up the tourism and hospitality scheme, in the £300m Covid-19 business support package announced by Finance Minister Conor Murphy yesterday, will not prevent job losses, says Hospitality Ulster.

“Pub aid is very welcome, but the overall package won’t stop job losses in hospitality,” said Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster. “We welcome the additional support of £10.6m to wet-only pubs that have been virtually closed since March without support.

“We have made a strong case for this support and now await the detail of exactly what businesses will be eligible for this but hope that it will be delivered promptly.

“However, today’s financial package, whilst significant in value, does not address the unique situation faced by the hospitality sector, that even when open, is so heavily restricted it is not financially sustainable.

“During this second lockdown of hospitality, which will be eight weeks on the 11th December, businesses are paying £30 per head, per week, to keep staff on furlough. Also, the current grant levels don’t cover these payments, never mind the fixed costs being incurred which run into thousands of pounds for every business.

“The NI Executive must realise that all our hotels, restaurants and pubs have been operating under severe restrictions since March and have been in lockdown for a much longer period than any other sector and have not had a chance to secure any income to help them through closure.

“If the Executive cannot, or will not, provide adequate financial support for the businesses that they close, then they must open up hospitality in a sustainable manner.

“The voucher scheme will be helpful in the Spring, and whilst welcome, will do nothing to help hospitality businesses survive the next few months. With an indicative date of 11th December for reopening and the potential of further lockdowns after Christmas, the level of financial support for pubs, restaurants and hotels must be increased now before it is too late.

“Even if hospitality is reopened on the 11th December, it is clear that many businesses will still not be able to open sustainably due to the Covid restrictions on closing time and table sizes.

“If these businesses are to survive into the Spring and beyond, flexibility must be allowed so that businesses can be open and trading, or closed and availing of the continued financial support, however meagre it may be.

“Many have said that things could get better after Easter and it is encouraging that the Finance Minister is considering extending this rate relief further, but it is of little help for those who won’t see it.

“There has been a lot of talk around saving Christmas, but today’s package was no Christmas present for the hospitality industry.”

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