According to a report by Ignite Economics, hospitality could increase its direct contribution to the UK economy by £29 billion and create half a million jobs by 2027. But there is a caveat to this. This is only possible under the right conditions.
As it stands, hospitality businesses are operating in a persistently challenging environment, and the path to realising this potential is fraught with challenges, demanding concerted efforts and strategic measures to foster this level of growth.
Hospitality is proven to be a driving force behind economic growth and job creation, with the right economic conditions. This is why UK Hospitality and Hospitality Ulster have developed a three-point plan to allow the sector to meet its potential. The plan encompasses Growth, Investment, and Jobs.
The first pillar of the plan, Growth, focuses on stimulating growth by advocating for a lower rate of VAT for the hospitality sector. As a general election looms on the horizon, driving growth for the hospitality sector through a reduction of VAT rates, should be top of the Chancellor’s agenda ahead of the Spring Statement in March. It is a measure that will cost the government in the short-term, but the benefits it will reap are worth it – it will help businesses overcome rising costs and prevent further price rises for consumers.
In terms of Investment, root and branch reform of business rates have long been promised yet remain the biggest barrier to investment in the high street. We need a permanent, lower rate multiplier for hospitality, leisure, and tourism.
To see the hospitality industry thrive and create more jobs, the third component of this plan revolves around incentivising businesses to invest more in their most valuable assets – their workforce.
In Northern Ireland, this needs to come in the form of targeted support from the Treasury, and not just support through the Barnett Consequential which can vanish into our budget black hole.
We need support that will give businesses more control and flexibility over how funds are spent, support recruitment and development, with an overarching aim of fostering a skilled workforce that can meet the evolving needs of the sector.
The power lies in the Chancellor’s hands come March, and I fear it will be his last opportunity to deliver some positive news and hope for businesses.
In the meantime, Hospitality Ulster will soon launch the Northern Ireland element of the UK wide campaign encouraging businesses to write to their MP and urge them, and their parties, to support a lower rate of VAT for hospitality as a matter of immediate concern.
Our industry has the potential to be a linchpin for economic growth if VAT is lowered and business rates overhauled; it’s time for us all to unite in the pursuit of a revitalised Northern Ireland powered by hospitality.
:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster