“HELP is needed on an unprecedented scale if the institution known as the Irish pub is to survive.”
This is the view of local publican and councillor, Raymond Barr who was speaking in the wake of confirmation from Finance Minister Conor Murphy that hospitality, tourism, leisure and childcare businesses across the North are to be exempt from rates.
Whilst he said he welcomed this announcement, Cllr Barr said “more needs to be done.”
Mr Murphy also explained that as part of new measures to mitigate against the impact of Covid-19 most retailers, aside from larger supermarkets and off licences, will also be exempt for the whole year.
At the start of the current crisis the Sinn Féin minister handed all businesses a three month rates exemption. This, he said, will now be extended by another month.
“The announcement that rates relief is to be extended until next April for the hospitality sector is to be welcomed,” Raymond Barr said.
“The hospitality sector has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus lockdown, however I feel more needs to be done in the coming months if the industry is to survive.
“Speaking as a publican I feel the road back to any semblance of normality is going to be long and hard.”
Cllr Barr pointed out that the pub industry was struggling before the lockdown and on reopening will face a battle to return to viability under the inevitable social distancing measures.
“To me it is vital that rate relief continues for the foreseeable future after reopening,” he explained.
“Hospitality Ulster have proposed a 12 point recovery plan with proposals which include a targeted rolling rates holiday with quarterly reviews, and also a business suspension fund for businesses that are unable to meet social distancing requirements. This would enable them to meet ongoing costs until they can start trading again.”
He also cited a cut in the VAT rate and a government hardship fund to support tenants and landlords.
“Culture changes, social distancing and customer confidence along with extortionate demand from Sky TV and BT Sport are going to prove to be hurdles, resulting in closures with job losses,” the Strabane publican warned.
“Pubs were among the first businesses to close. I closed on March 15 as did others, missing out on St Patrick’s Day and Easter, periods of business that would have kept you going through the quiet part of the year.
“Some publicans I’ve talked to are terrified of opening again with so much uncertainty about the future.”