Stormont minister in hospitality sector plea

Stormont minister in hospitality sector plea

3 August 2022

STORMONT finance minister Conor Murphy has called on the Treasury to act now to support businesses facing soaring energy prices and crippling costs.

He made the call during a visit to Portaferry last week with his trip coming after it was revealed that a Ballynahinch restaurant had closed its doors due to crippling increases in costs.

The closure of A Little Peckish came hot on the heels of the town’s Coulter Restaurant and Copper Seafood and Grill in the heart of Newcastle confirming they had ceased trading.

Tasha Smyth, owner of A Little Peckish, described her “utter heartbreak” after deciding to close her business because she could no longer fight the current climate of price hikes.

During a visit to Portaferry where he met James Higginson, proprietor of Captain Jack’s restaurant and takeaway, Mr Murphy said he heard first-hand about the “detrimental impact” the removal of VAT reduction is having for small businesses in the hospitality sector. 

He continued: “Just like households, our businesses are facing a cost crisis. The measures taken by the British Government to date have failed to deliver support for businesses, which are under immense pressure as a result of increased fuel and energy costs.  

“These pressures are set against a back of trying to recover from the impact of the pandemic.”

Mr Murphy said the Treasury cannot wait until the autumn to take action, insisting that the reality is that this may be too late for some businesses. 

“It is imperative that they take action now,” the finance minister declared.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, who was in Portaferry with Mr Murphy, said he very much welcomed his visit to the village, meeting directly with business owners and listening to the experiences of a number of sectors, including those from the hospitality industry about the pressures owners and managers are under.

“Energy prices, labour shortages, increased overheads and tightening consumer spending are making the current trading environment very difficult and there is no end in sight,” Mr Neill confirmed.

“The problems are clear, but we now have to move into solution finding mode and are willing to work with the Minister to see what more can be done to support the wider business community.”

While in Portaferry, the finance minister visited the Portico of Ards, an arts venue and Presbyterian church which recently received almost £100,000 from the Dormant Accounts Fund being delivered by The National Lottery Community Fund in conjunction with Department of Finance.

 The new funding will support the appointment of an Outreach Officer, extending the venue’s programme of events. 

Mr Murphy concluded his time in the village with a visit to Nugent’s Wood, a community woodland at the edge of the Portaferry, which received funding from the PEACE IV Programme to provide improvements to the walking trail.

The finance minister added at the conclusion of his visit: “I really welcomed the opportunity to visit the Ards Peninsula and to meet some of the organisations which have benefitted from the grants and rate support put in place by my Department. 

“There are challenges ahead but I will continue to lobby the British Government to step up and support our local business sector during this difficult time.”