By Emma Bricknell, restaurant owner
The welcome re-opening of hospitality after long, depressing months is something everyone in the sector has been longing for but the government needs to back us after such a tough time.I have had to take seriously the impact on my business, and will be changing the brand of all my Made in Belfast restaurants, starting in Hill Street with the rebrand of my steakhouse grill restaurant into Prawnagraphic offering fresh, fun, seafood.
Some of the aid from Stormont is indeed welcomed as financially some of the packages were good. But the fact that it has just been a case of that you can get on a plane in close proximity to others, there’s a tent in Cathedral Quarter with a film crew drinking and eating but yet we still have to socially distance. The rules and regulations are simply not consistent.
I think, unfortunately, hospitality is one of the industries that has been hardest hit by the inconsistencies of regulations.
However, there are some relatively simple steps that the Executive Office can take by way of support and everyone in the hospitality sector would happily work with ministers in partnership.
We need better licensing laws, cheaper licensing, longer hours, better Sunday trading hours, access to outside street spaces, pedestrianisation of streets and much more.
These, collectively, would make a difference right away as we look to the long term recovery from the pandemic.
In addition we need more clarity on Brexit so we have access to goods and items that we need to sell.
We need more people to come into this country and work here because we have such a shortage in staff. We had no choice but to restructure the business. Many staff didn’t tell us they were moving on until the last minute leaving us with three restaurants and not enough staff to open. I had to make a hard decision, which of the restaurants would open and how.
There’s no chefs right now, we are 600,000 short in hospitality across the UK and the government should be taking action on that. We are struggling with chefs. But we also intend to turn it round for our new brands.
Hospitality is a massive part of our tourism industry and if they don’t help us it will have an effect on the whole economy of the country.
With the fantastic job being done by the health and social care teams in delivering the vaccination programme we should be looking at our road map to reviving Northern Ireland.
Yes, there are many priorities such as reducing hospital waiting lists, but what I am suggesting will not have a major economic cost to the government. Indeed, the rates and taxes that it generates when we return to normal trading will benefit the government in the long run.
With my new restaurant Prawnagraphic, the ethos is short, sweet and fun and out quickly. I would like ministers to adopt that approach with the sector, short not lengthy decision-making, sweet rather than confrontational, fun for all involved collaborating, and the results out quickly to make an impact.
No longer should we see apparently arbitrary rules like having food huts that can do coffee but not soup. No longer should we see the ridiculous decision that allows live music in churches but not in pubs and restaurants.
We are willing to do our bit in the recovery of Northern Ireland, the question is, are our politicians willing to work with us?
Murphy Announces Business Rates Revaluation
Finance Minister, Conor Murphy has today announced a revaluation of all 74,750 non-domestic properties, delivering on his commitment for more frequent revaluations here.
Known as ‘Reval2023’, this process will result in a new non-domestic Valuation List being used to calculate business rate bills from April 2023.
Announcing the revaluation, Minister Murphy said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the economy resulting in changes between business sectors and this will feed through to changes to the rental values of many properties.
“Although the last revaluation was just over a year ago in 2020, I have asked Land & Property Services to bring forward another revaluation in the shortest possible time.
“Reval2023 will maintain fairness and ensure businesses are paying rates which take account of the impact of the pandemic.”
Commenting on support provided to businesses, Minister Murphy added: “Since April 2020, I have provided over £500 million of additional business rates support, with many businesses paying no rates at all over two years. The Executive has also provided significant financial support to businesses in the form of grants.
“As we look ahead to economic recovery and given the large scale of a revaluation it is important this work gets underway now.”
Business rates are charged on most non-domestic premises including shops, offices, warehouses, factories, hotels and pubs as well as utilities such as gas, water, electricity and wind farms.
Land & Property Services will begin collecting property information from business ratepayers later this year. This important information will form a database of new rental values as at 1 October 2021, instead of the current 2018 values, and will be used in assessing new rateable values for every property.
Town and City Centre Investment Helping Thousands of Businesses in Their Recovery
A £19.3million funding programme to support town and city centres recover from the impact of Covid-19 has helped thousands of businesses across councils, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has said.
Launched in August 2020, initial funding for the Covid-19 Recovery Revitalisation Programme was for measures such as shop frontage and awnings/canopies; outdoor furniture; heaters and queueing systems. More recently the funding support longer term initiatives such as the creation of cycle paths and pedestrian walkways to encourage car-free shopping, small environmental improvements and the use of open space and vacant premises to provide safe facilities.
Total funding for the scheme was made up of £12million from the Department for Communities, £5million from the Department for Infrastructure and £2.3million from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
Speaking after visiting business in Enniskillen who availed of the funding Minister Hargey said: “The Covid-19 Recovery Revitalisation Programme is an excellent example of collaborative working and was created to help and support our urban and rural businesses deal with the impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic. In total the funding has supported over 3,000 businesses across the north which has helped them to reopen safely. The funding has also been used to encourage people back into our towns and city centres to spend time, to support our local businesses and ultimately to help keep our town and city centres alive and prosperous.
“It has delivered funding of £1.29million to Fermanagh & Omagh District Council to support a range of projects including grants to support businesses across the entire Council area as they prepared a pathway out of lockdown by assisting them to provide a safer shopping experience for all their customers. I was pleased to see at first hand today how some of this support has been received by businesses in Enniskillen.”
Cllr. Chris McCaffrey (Vice Chairperson) Fermanagh & Omagh District Council added: “Fermanagh and Omagh District Council is committed to working in partnership to improve the lives of all the people of the district and this approach has delivered tangible benefits making the district an attractive place to live, work and visit.
The Council has enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the Department for Communities over a number of years and it is a partnership we look forward to continuing to develop into the future for the benefit of our businesses and the wider community.
The £1.2million funding through the Covid-19 Business Recovery and Revitalisation Grant Aid Scheme has been used to support businesses to respond to the impacts of the Covid-19 health pandemic, to encourage people to support local to aid economic recovery and to deliver schemes which will promote and revitalise our town centres.
The Council will continue to work with the Department for Communities and other partners to provide assistance to local businesses and aid the recovery of the district into the future.”