Political farce ‘hurting the hospitality sector and threatening its future’

Damage to industries and the wider economy cannot be allowed to carry on says Hospitality Ulster chief Colin Neill
Damage to industries and the wider economy cannot be allowed to carry on says Hospitality Ulster chief Colin Neill

The ongoing stalemate at Stormont is costing the hospitality industry in the province millions and is now damaging the potential for future growth a leader has claimed.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said the lack of progress in dealing with serious issues was blocking efforts to modernise and develop the sector.

Speaking as the body holds its AGM on Tuesday he said a stalled Liquor Licensing Bill to help address antiquated laws was in limbo along with other vital issues such as business rates and alocohol pricing.

He said there was now a growing anger within the sector coupled with genuines fears for the future.

“Both the current and future potential of the hospitality sector is being damaged with outdated legislation, crippling business rates, and a lack of access to labour, due to the lack of a functioning government in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Neill

“It’s like Father Ted, where the intentions are good, but descends into never ending calamity. We have now found ourselves caught up in a farcical episode on repeat.

“It’s the ‘Careful now, down with that of thing’ scene but for seven years.

“That’s nearly a decade since the NI Assembly started the process of modernising our antiquated licensing laws - nothing has happened.

These losses can now be counted in millions of pounds to the hospitality industry and the Northern Ireland economy.”

The body has now called for serious focus to be placed on developing the hospitality offer as a key driver for the local economy and a vital element of Northern Ireland’s tourism offer.

“Since our last AGM we never thought we would continue to be in this pathetic position,” Mr Neill added.

“We need someone to take the reins and make decisions, whether that is our politicians or civil servants.”

“There is a clear need for Northern Ireland to modernise its liquor licensing legislation and introduce MUP to reflect the needs of the modern market place and tackle the misuse of alcohol.

“We simply cannot continue with no decisions being made and the political paralysis stopping our industry from growing and developing.

“We are regressing through inertia and having to live with the consequences of the fact that the Assembly and Executive isn’t in operation.”

Each failure to deal with such issues put the industry at an added competitive disadvantage, he said.

The annual meeting also comes after the recent news that every four days a pub in Northern Ireland closes for good, whilst hotels and restaurants struggle to recruit staff and Brexit threatens to stop access to vital labour markets.

“We can’t keep saying, go on, go on, go on…,” Mr Neill said.

“We need our elected representatives to get back, get stuck in and give the hospitality sector the tools it needs to do the job.”