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NI Executive urged to develop plans for reopening hospitality

Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster.

Hospitality Ulster has called on the Northern Ireland Executive, public health advisers and the Covid Taskforce Strategic Oversight Board to work with industry and develop parameters well ahead of reopening the hospitality sector.

With Northern Ireland’s third lockdown potentially relaxing from the first week of March, subject to review later this week, Hospitality Ulster is urging the Executive to learn from past mistakes and develop a strategy allowing trade to prepare in advance and ensure all mitigations are in place.

“The hospitality sector has been the worst hit and suffered almost an entire year of being closed or heavily restricted,” said Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster. “We are now in a frightening situation. Bounce back loans have been burnt up and cash reserves have been depleted and desperation is really beginning to set in.

“Both the industry and government now need to learn lessons from past restrictions, what worked, and what didn’t. We also need a new approach, reversing the previous reopening strategy from ‘who can open, here are the rules’ to ‘here are the rules and those that can comply can open’ whilst providing financial support for those that cannot operate sustainably under the rules.

“Simply choosing a business type as criteria to open and removing financial support rather than a risk assessed approach can actually be counterproductive, pushing a business to open even though it can’t be compliant.

“Let’s be proactive, let’s get a plan in place well in advance and fight back and accelerate the recovery. We have already been through the wringer prior to previous lockdowns and have developed a significant level of experience in relation to safety measures and understanding restrictions and how to implement them.

“If we need to do more, we need to know now. If its greater ventilation for example, give us the specification and the financial support so that business owners can go off and source well before the reopening phase, just don’t land this on us last minute – we are in too fragile a state to survive last minute rule decisions and rule changes.”

Meanwhile, Hospitality Ulster welcomed Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey’s announcement of a reduction in fees for the renewal of entertainment licences.

“This is very welcome news at a time when the sector is going through such a terrible and sustained experience,” said Neill. “Moves such as this cannot be underestimated and is responsive and appropriate to assist businesses which have had to close for the majority of the last year.

“We understand that this will be reviewed early next year and would encourage the Minister to keep the measure in place as the sector will be striving to recover for such a long time to come.”

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