A financial aid package has just been agreed for hospitality businesses in the north-west that have been impacted by the new, tighter Coronavirus regulations that were introduced there on Monday.
Proposed by Finance Minister, Conor Murphy, the new scheme will mean that beleaguered licensees in the Derry City & Strabane District Council area can receive up to £600 per week until the restrictions in the region have been lifted.
The announcement will come as a relief to hospitality venues all over the north-west, most of whom have been forced to shut their businesses since the new, harsher restrictions came into effect.
Hospitality businesses in the Derry and Strabane district are now only able to offer a delivery or take-away service or, if they have outside facilities, they can serve a maximum of 15 customers. All cultural attractions have been closed.
Making the announcement at lunchtime today (Wednesday), Minister Murphy said: “The restrictions imposed in Derry & Strabane are necessary to preserve lives, but they have a very damaging impact on the hospitality sector. Today I am introducing a Grant Support Scheme to assist those businesses forced to temporarily limit their operations.
“Small businesses will receive £800 for every two weeks they are closed. Larger businesses will receive £1,200 for two weeks. This is above comparable schemes on these islands.”
The grant scheme is in addition to the 12 months rates holiday which continues until the end of March 2021.
Speaking to this magazine yesterday, publican Niall McDermott, who owns two wet bars in Derry/Londonderry – The Phoenix and The Park Bar – said that he’d had little option but to close his businesses when the new rules were introduced.
‘We were only able to open our doors on September 23 and then we had to close again yesterday,’ he confirmed. ‘We do have an off-licence at one of the bars and it’s doing a bit of business but if it hadn’t been for the furlough scheme, there would definitely have been job losses.’
Niall, who employs 12 full and part-time staff, said that as soon as he learned of plans to introduce new, tighter measures in the north-west, he thought, ‘Here we go again.’
‘The whole thing is just up the left and all [these restrictions] will do is force more people into going to house parties rather than to the bar where there is a controlled environment.’
Welcoming news of the new financial aid package, Colin Neill from trade body, Hospitality Ulster (HU) said that it was ‘a much-needed intervention which cannot get to businesses quick enough’. But he added:
‘Right across Northern Ireland, hospitality businesses are fighting for survival especially in the Derry and Strabane area, and while this financial package will help some, for many it will still not cover all the bills which need paid. After the pressures of the last six months, it is no exaggeration to say that for many, money has simply run out,’ he went on.
‘These businesses are facing a very bleak period and it is only right that the Finance Minister has promptly delivered this grant scheme. Hospitality businesses in the north-west have not had a proper or fair chance to trade for a large part of this year and we hope that this quick fix will only be a temporary measure. The hospitality industry is particularly important to the north-west economy and it is vital that it is allowed to reopen in a safe way following the end of the current restrictions.’
Mr Neill also said that it was important for everyone in the wider community to ‘double down’ on their efforts to bring the spread of infection under control so that when the restrictions in force in the north-west come up for review in a couple of weeks’ time, hospitality businesses will be allowed to resume trading.