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Hospitality Covid support better in NI than rest of the UK… but not everyone will benefit

Individuals impacted by nightclub closures will not be covered


Conor Murphy announced the support scheme. Credit: Brian Lawless

Conor Murphy announced the support scheme. Credit: Brian Lawless

Conor Murphy announced the support scheme. Credit: Brian Lawless

Hospitality venues were finally delivered a Christmas gift from the Executive yesterday in the form of a new Covid support scheme — although individual workers impacted by the nightclub and event shutdown will not be covered.

Ministers agreed to set aside £40m for restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, bistros, snack bars, nightclubs, pubs, social clubs and private members' clubs, but not sporting clubhouses. An estimated 3,000 are set to receive grants between £10,000 and £20,000 — more generous than the £6,000 on offer elsewhere.

Yesterday’s announcement by Finance Minister Conor Murphy came after earlier criticism of ministers for announcing new restrictions on hospitality without any financial support package.

Under the scheme, those eligible will receive sums depending on the rateable value of their business, with those under £15,000 to receive £10,000, over £15,000 to £51,000 will get £15,000, while those over can expect £20,000.

But club owners and promoters, while recognising the difficult position the Executive is in balancing public health with the economic damage of closures, said the sums that will be lost this festive season far outstrip the amounts on offer.

Stephen Boyd, of Thompson's Garage club in Belfast, said his company has already refunded £300,000 worth of pre-sold tickets.

Mr Murphy said the scheme “is much more generous than the scheme in England”.

He added: "It will bring some measure of confidence in these difficult times and we know there will be very challenging times for them over the Christmas period and we hope to get the scheme out on the ground as quickly as possible in the new year."

Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt had earlier in the day blamed a delay on the announcement on a possible dispute between the Ministers for the Economy and Finance over which department should take the lead in delivering a new support package.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson described the hospitality industry as a “vital component of our economy” and welcomed the package.

Joe Dougan, who runs events at venues such as Belfast’s Limelight under the Shine banner, said his company has cancelled around two dozen events between Christmas and New Year that would have generated estimated revenue of around £1m.

Independent contractors, suppliers, DJs and bar staff will be the hardest hit by the shut down of night clubs and other events over the holiday season, according to Mr Dougan.

He said he and others in the events business were not surprised at the decision to shutter nightclubs, but he feared workers will not be compensated or supported in the absence of a formal furlough scheme.

He added: "Now we have just lost our entire festive trading. No amount is going to compensate what all this has cost.”  

Belfast Chamber of Commerce chief Simon Hamilton said: “At last, the Executive have listened and agreed to compensate businesses for some, but nowhere near all, of the financial damage and distress caused over the last few weeks. 

"There won’t be many saying ‘thank you’ for belated and inadequate support as they face more uncertainty.”