Hospitality Ulster: Gov a ‘disgrace’ as business rates relief not granted in NI

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Disgrace: Hospitality Ulster's Colin Neill said the sector is being unfairly and disproportionally impacted in Northern Ireland
Disgrace: Hospitality Ulster's Colin Neill said the sector is being unfairly and disproportionally impacted in Northern Ireland

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Hospitality Ulster members have demanded an explanation of why the sector has not been afforded business rates relief in the Autumn Statement in line with England, Scotland and Wales.

The group has branded the lack of direct focus and lack of support by the British Government and the Northern Ireland secretary of state as a “disgrace” and “dereliction of duty”.

The comments come after what the trade body called “a disappointing Autumn Statement” and a “sustained period of neglect from Westminster for the industry”.

Hospitality Ulster said the sector in Northern Ireland is being unfairly and disproportionally impacted. Both Hospitality Ulster and Retail NI have now written to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, to seek an urgent meeting.

Doesn’t seem right

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: “Why is the secretary of state turning his back on the fourth largest employer in Northern Ireland?

“Why has he not intervened with his colleague, the Chancellor [Jeremy Hunt], to ensure the 75% rates relief for our counterparts in the rest of the UK has not been ring-fenced and directed towards the sector, but instead being used to pay off our wider deficit?”

He added the move “doesn’t seem right” at a time when the support is vital with rising costs and reducing disposal income of customers in the country.

“Our members are now sick to death about hearing how great they are and the role the play in communities when speeches are being made, yet are not considered or supported when factors outside of their control have created such a difficult trading environment,” Neill added. “This is compounded by the fact that we see others getting help, whilst our own Secretary of State stands idly by.”

Optimism plummets

The trade body boss said a recent survey, conducted by CGA, showed business optimism in Northern Ireland has plummeted to 22%, which is down 10% from the summer while over 15%of businesses have said they are at risk of closure within the next 12 months.

Some 69% of operators told Hospitality Ulster they have increased their menu prices but more than half have not passed on the full cost of increases in food and drink supplies to consumers, and that energy prices are a significant concern for 62% of hospitality operators, as they have seen an average increase of 41% in monthly bills.”

He concluded: “We need to be able to find the revenue to pay for the rising costs and the likes of the uplift in the minimum wage – that is only possible with targeted business rates relief and a reduction in hospitality VAT, the secretary of state must recognise that and work with his colleagues in the Treasury to create a level playing field for our sector in Northern Ireland.”

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