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Executive urged to plan for hospitality reopening as 'desperation setting in' for business owners

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The hospitality sector has urged the Executive to plan for the end of lockdown.

The hospitality sector has urged the Executive to plan for the end of lockdown.

PA

The hospitality sector has urged the Executive to plan for the end of lockdown.

Northern Ireland's hospitality sector has urged the Executive to form a plan for when the industry can reopen its doors.

Hospitality Ulster Chief Executive Colin Neil said many business owners were now at financial breaking point after a year of changing restrictions.

He called for politicians to work alongside public health advisers and the Covid taskforce to publish detailed guidelines well ahead of any reopening date.

The Executive is set to meet on Thursday to discuss Covid regulations, though it is unlikely restrictions on hospitality will ease in the immediate future.

Mr Neil said that this week's review of restrictions must include hope for the sector.

Hospitality premises have been closed since the latest lockdown begun in December, with pubs that don't serve food only being open for a number of weeks since the pandemic began.

Bars and restaurants that serve food have been allowed to reopen at various points as restrictions ease, with a number of mitigations in place including social distancing, limiting the number of people at a table and an 11pm curfew.

Mr Neil laid bare the full impact of lockdown on the industry.

“The hospitality sector has been the worst hit and suffered almost an entire year of being closed or heavily restricted. We are now in a frightening situation. Bounce back loans have been burnt up and cash reserves have been depleted and desperation is really beginning to set in," he said.

“Both the industry and government now need to learn lessons from past restrictions, what worked, and what didn’t."

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Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster (Brian Lawless/PA)

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster (Brian Lawless/PA)

The hospitality chief called for a "new approach" to reopening which would include reversing the previous strategy.

He suggested that rules be clearly set out, with businesses able to fully comply allowed to reopen.

Businesses that cannot operate sustainably under the new rules should remain closed and receive financial support, he said.

"Simply choosing a business type as criteria to open and removing financial support rather than a risk assessed approach can actually be counterproductive, pushing a business to open even though it can’t be compliant," Mr Neil said.

“Let’s be proactive, let’s get a plan in place well in advance and fight back and accelerate the recovery. We have already been through the wringer prior to previous lockdowns and have developed a significant level of experience in relation to safety measures and understanding restrictions and how to implement them.”

Mr Neil businesses must know well in advance what standards would be required for reopening.

“If we need to do more, we need to know now. If its greater ventilation for example, give us the specification and the financial support so that business owners can go off and source well before the reopening phase, just don’t land this on us last minute – we are in too fragile a state to survive last minute rule decisions and rule changes," he said.

The statement was echoed by Retail NI's Chief Executive Glyn Roberts who called for a high street reopening roadmap.

He acknowledged a firm date for the reopening of non-essential businesses was unlikely to be given this week, but said planning must begin.

"We need to hear a lot more hope in the messages coming from the Executive to give businesses and the broader community confidence that the vaccine rollout will lead to recovery and some degree of normality," Mr Roberts said.

“More light and less tunnel is needed from the Executive in its communication.”

Belfast Telegraph


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