Bill Wolsey: Politicians need to have courage to provide clarity over lockdown exit

Northern Ireland’s politicians need to have more courage to spell out when businesses can exit lockdown, a leading hotelier said.
Leading hotelier Bill WolseyLeading hotelier Bill Wolsey
Leading hotelier Bill Wolsey

Bill Wolsey furloughed large numbers of staff as his Beannchor hospitality group shuttered its bars and hotels during the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the enormous cost to the country could see people having to work longer for their old age pensions, and warned livelihoods depended on clear guidance around reopening dates.

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The hotelier added: “It is important for us that we get some sort of clarity as to when we can move forward and it needs our politicians to have more courage.”

Mr Wolsey has spent decades in business and his bars survived the most violent years of the Troubles.

His group’s portfolio includes the luxury Merchant Hotel in Belfast city centre, Bullitt Belfast, The National and The Dirty Onion.

The businessman said: “I have come across in the bad old days when you were shut down due to one event or another, one bomb scare or tragedy.

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“I have come across in my career when people were frightened to come into city centres or towns.

“I have come across that, but in 45 years of being in business I have never made anyone redundant, I have never laid off anybody.”

The forced shutdown to limit the spread of the virus has devastated the hospitality industry and threatened thousands of jobs.

A £25,000 grant aimed at the hospitality industry has been introduced.

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Mr Wolsey said in the Republic some hotels were booked out for August after ministers there set dates on projected reopening.

Stormont ministers have said they will be guided by science on when to ease the restrictions rather than setting “caveated” dates.

Many businesses have criticised politicians for not outlining when they hope five stages of easing the restrictions will happen.

Pubs are expected to be amongst the last to reopen.

Mr Wolsey said: “This is really worrying, it is hugely emotional and we need some sort of clarity so that we can get that message to people who have worked for us, so they can get on with their lives.”

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The Government’s furlough scheme, which Mr Wolsey has used for his staff, has been extended to October, but a contribution from businesses is expected this summer.

Mr Wolsey asked how that could happen if premises were still shut.

He said publicans recognised the need to protect health.

“If they are saying that you need to maintain social distancing, coming into summer, why not give us footpaths or roads outside premises which are lying empty?

“We are sensible people, but we need some sort of clarity.

“This is an opportunity to have some clever thinking.”

He said nobody had been discussing how the enormous cost to the economy would be paid for.

“Nobody has said we will put retirement ages back, taxes will be increased and there will be a freeze on all sorts of wages.