by Richard Buckley, Editor, Business Eye

Hospitality Ulster has called on the NI Executive to recognise that the current restrictions and isolation policy are still impacting the viability of hospitality businesses, and to be definitive in it decision making when it meets tomorrow to give the sector certainty.   The organisation has warned that current Covid restrictions, plus the isolation policy, are making many businesses like non-food pubs, nightclubs and music venues, unviable.

It adds that reduced capacity and table service, coupled with the isolation policy is creating havoc, causing some establishments to close unnecessarily, without any support available.


Hospitality Ulster is pressing the Executive to work in partnership with the industry to find a way forward for the removal of restrictions or step in and provide support until restrictions can be removed. It has also said that there needs to be urgent introduction of a ‘test to remain at work’ system for fully vaccinated staff, and a ‘test to release’ process for partly vaccinated staff, so that whole teams don’t have to isolate, as increased numbers of hospitality businesses have been forced to close if one member of staff tests positive.


Currently, the isolation method means that some establishments have been hugely understaffed or have been forced to close as they abide by the guidelines. No financial support is available for those businesses that have had to suffer from this which needs to change, says Hospitality Ulster. The body has stated previously that there are significant recruitment challenges in the sector anyway, without needlessly taking out staff.


Rules around table service and social distancing mean that non-food serving pubs are still struggling to regain any viable trade due to the numbers they can accommodate at any one time, and table service is placing unsustainable pressures on staff. The organisation says that the lack of progression in the reopening phases have held the hospitality sector in the same situation since early June and has severely curtailed trade to the point that many are finding that being open is increasingly unviable. Whilst music venues are unable to operate properly, nightclubs are still legally required to remain closed with no financial support.


Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster said:


“As a responsible industry are not seeking the freedom day style lifting of everything as witnessed in England earlier this week, but we definitely need to progress the alleviation of the current restrictions which are having a massive impact on the viability of many hospitality businesses.”


“Eighteen months in, we now know a lot more about the spread of the virus, but are still using the same restrictions. We really need to sit down with the health officials and explore all the options to provide a Covid secure environment whilst allowing businesses to operate a viable business model, as well as the rules around close contact and isolating, as it is forcing large parts of staff teams or even whole teams to isolate.”


“We need government to enter into a real partnership with us, to understand the impact of the restrictions and the isolation policy. We recognise they have the health experts but we have the hospitality experts and surely a cooperative approach will deliver better results, rather than just imposing restrictions from above. This is a far more responsive approach and could provide responsible solutions to the problems being experienced by the entire sector who want to be open and serving their local customers.”


“If this does not happen, then we require the NI Executive to urgently bring forward financial support to offset the losses on businesses that are made unviable by the restrictions and forced closures. Once furlough ends, businesses will be unable to pay staff that are isolating or when premises are forced to close.”


“How else are we going to get round this? If we are forced to continue with what we are doing now, this is going to get extremely worrying for the future sustainability of hundreds of businesses. In effect, the current government policies are crippling the hospitality sector right now by not understanding or appropriately assessing what is actually going out there.”


“The hospitality industry is probably the only sector where restrictions are impacting the actual viability of the businesses, and, as such, deserves the specific focus of the Executive and the departments. It cannot be left to wither on the vine”

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Hospitality Ulster's Colin Neill



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