Belfast Telegraph

'Emma was right to quit, running a restaurant in this country is hell'

By John Porter

A prominent Belfast restaurateur has said - if an offer was made - he would sell up his business and go because of the harsh realities of trying to forge a living in the city.

Bob McCoubrey was reacting to revelations by English woman Emma Bricknell who told this newspaper she was leaving the city for Ibiza.

The Made in Belfast proprietor blamed poor transport links, the level of bureaucracy required and social attitudes for harming business.

The restaurant owner caused a stir when she said trying to forge a successful business here had "beaten the life out of her".

Now the man behind the renowned Mourne Seafood Bar has said he sympathises with her.

"If someone offered me the money, I'd leave," Mr McCoubrey told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's very tough to do business. You are nothing more than a glorified tax collector at times."

Mr McCoubrey operates four restaurants in Northern Ireland and one in Dublin.

He went on: "In Dublin rates are a third of what they are in Belfast and VAT is 9% compared to 20% here.

"Staff wages are higher but I would rather pay them than give money over to the taxman."

Mr McCoubrey described the process of obtaining a license to sell alcohol in Belfast as "outdated and archaic".

He added: "You have to employ solicitors and barristers and then have to rely on the whim of a judge. It can cost up to £9,000 whereas in England I could fill out a few forms for a council and pay around £300." He added: "I asked Invest NI for help in translating my website into Chinese to help attract tourists - and they laughed at me."

Following Saturday's article in the Belfast Telegraph, a lot of people hit out at the way in which Ms Bricknell attacked the city.

Ms Bricknell, who has two Made in Belfast restaurants and chicken fast-food joint Le Coop, lambasted Northern Ireland as "backward" and said the majority of people were not represented by Stormont's "scumbag minority".

Mr McCoubrey added: "It's sad to see Emma go - she set up three businesses and employed a lot of people."

SDLP Belfast councillor Claire Hanna said she understood the frustrations facing business.

"I'll not be one to say there needs to be less regulation. But certainly we can probably do more to make Belfast more accessible and more progressive," she said.

Online reaction

Reaction to Emma Bricknell's decision to leave Belfast provoked a strong reaction on the Belfast Telegraph's website - with opinion divided on whether she was right or wrong.

User Donaghadee Bill urged the businesswoman to ensure she "closed the door on her way out" while some criticised her restaurants.

Others were more sympathetic to Ms Bricknell's stance and spoke of similar experiences in doing business.

Is she correct?

Yes: There is a lot of red tape says retail expert Glyn Roberts

The Northern Ireland Independent Retailers' Association has urged business people to "stick it out" and to help provide solutions on how to break down barriers for improving trade.

Glyn Roberts said: "We have to make it as easy as possible for businesses to start up, operate and grow. There are big challenges on the way.

"While Stormont does have its part to play, the new super councils will have a lot of new powers that will help change the economic landscape for trade. They will have to hit the ground running."

He added: "It is a sad loss when any business decides to close its doors.

"There is a lot of red tape and regulations for running any business.

"But it is not just up to the politicians - we need to be putting forward solutions to problems.

"I would encourage anyone to stick it out and be vocal in what can be done."

No I'm offended by her remarks says DUP's Christopher Stalford

DUP councillor Christopher Stalford described Emma Bricknell's comments on social attitudes as "grossly insulting".

Emma said the controversial 'conscience clause' paper making its way through Stormont showed how attitudes were not progressing. If the paper were to become law it would allow businesses the option of refusing to provide services to individuals if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Belfast councillor Stalford said: "Despite her rant, figures show that tourism is increasing year on year and they many people are experiencing and enjoying some of our wonderful services and entertainment."

He added: "I'd like to thank Emma for her contribution to the city and would wish her well and hope she finds more amenable services for her needs wherever she jets off to. I just hope she is better at making friends and influencing people."

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