Colin Neill: Restrictions must be lifted to pave way for sustainable recovery

STOP: The Executive can't keep saying no to a full reopening of the hospitality sector
Colin Neill

AS we move into peak summer, it is becoming clearer that without substantive change to current restrictions, the hospitality industry will really start to feel the impacts of curtailed trading.

With foreign holidays less likely, the ‘staycation’ opportunities for our industry should be there for the taking. However, with the stifling restrictions still in place, trade is being lost as we are working around social distancing and a table only service which is crippling our non-food serving outlets.

The emergence out of the lockdown period is going slower than required for the hospitality industry. This has had a severe impact on business owners, especially our traditional pubs and nightclubs who are trying to plan out the best pathway to recovery and often find themselves in a precarious position with no end in sight. The Executive needs to understand that for the sector to operate properly and remain financially viable, it needs assurances and confidence when it comes to dates.

Research and data supplied by ONS and insights agency CCG shows that Northern Ireland has significantly lower infection rate than the rest of the UK, but we are the most restricted in terms of our hospitality trading abilities. This, along with the great success of the vaccine programme with over 80 per cent of the adult population vaccinated with at least a first dose, leaves us to question why are we so behind?

In the past month, the hospitality industry was given a major boost with the Assembly passing the Liquor Licensing Bill which is likely to come into law in early autumn. However, this good progress continues to be curtailed by lingering regulations that continue to strangle the profitability of many in the industry.

This period of limbo cannot go on much longer. The Executive must step in as soon as possible to stave off more heartache in our sector. Business owners need the data examined and used properly and a firm plan to lead us out of lockdown and accelerate the bounce back.

There needs to be recognition that we are going the whole nine yards and not be unnecessarily penalised without an evidence base to support the reason why we cannot move on from the first stage out of lockdown in June. The Executive must settle on a date or indicative dates and provide financial support and not just expect them to scrape along.

Last summer was the hardest period in a generation for our sector. Let’s make sure this one is much better. Accelerated recovery is what is needed now. There can be no delay. The hospitality industry is relying on it.

:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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