Soaring bills mean Northern Irish business situation now ‘worse than during Covid’ for many – ‘Last year it cost £100-a-day to run a pizza oven. Now it’s £300.’

As householders Province-wide reel from yet another Goliath-sized hike to their energy bills, one leading business spokesman says that for many firms the current cost crisis is “worse than Covid”.

Colin Neill
Colin Neill

Colin Neill spelled out how basic running costs have spiralled for eateries, pubs, and hotels in the past year, adding that at least during the pandemic the government dug deep into its pockets to shore up firms’ flagging finances.

His comments came as a rise in gas prices from SSE Airtricity kicked in across greater Belfast, pushing prices up by over two-fifths at a stroke.

Meanwhile Firmus Energy’s gas price in the same region also went up, by a quarter.

At the same time Power NI hiked up its electricity prices by over one quarter right across Northern Ireland.

The inflation rate is currently 9.1%, according to the Bank of England – which said that it expects this to climb to a whopping 11% later this year.

Its target is 2% (which it say will not be achieved for another two years).

And of course all this financial pain does not just hammer households.

Mr Neill (pictured), chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, told the News Letter last night that he knows restaurant owners whose total energy bills have gone from £7,000 per month to £20,000 per month over the past year.

He gave the example of a simple pizza oven. One of these used to cost about £100 per day to operate. Now it could be three times that.

“And how many pizzas can you sell on a Monday or a Tuesday? So guys are turning off their pizza ovens ‘cause they can’t make them viable.

“And every time the consumer’s energy costs go up, that’s less they have to spend.

“So we lose out both ways – our prices are getting pushed up, and our customers’ spending power is going down.

“A piece of codfish has gone up 120% in the last year. Chicken’s up I think somewhere around 50, 60%. Even mayo is up 40%.

“It’s the perfect storm. It’s worse than Covid. In Covid there was help, and we have to recognise the government help really worked. Now there’s no help.”

He expects prices to soar even higher later in the year, driven in part by a predicted shortage of grain.

“It’s a building tsunami,” he said, adding that he knows some businesses that have closed already.

“It’s out at sea at the minute, taking out lone swimmers. But it’s heading everybody’s way.”

The price hikes meanwhile spurred another spat between the DUP and SF over resurrecting Stormont.