Bill Wolsey calls for appointment of NI hospitality minister

Bill Wolsey calls for appointment of NI hospitality minister

One of Northern Ireland’s leading hospitality entrepreneurs has called on the executive to recognise just how big the sector has become and appoint a minister to fight its corner.

Beannchor Group boss Bill Wolsey told LCN: “When I first started out we had the shipyard, Shorts and Mackies but hospitality will soon be a bigger sector than agriculture and engineering combined here.

“We need a minister who speaks for us and who promotes and protect our industry. This will never be sorted by tinkering around the margins.”

The entrepreneur, whose portfolio includes The Merchant and Bullitt hotels in Belfast, The Dirty Onion in Belfast and the Hillside in Hillsborough, said the industry’s current recruitment crisis was down to Covid and Brexit and that a long-term solution required joined-up thinking.

“One of the difficulties is that there is no confidence the industry won’t close down again,” he explained.

“The Brexit shambles coupled with Covid has hit the industry hard. Eastern European workers are not coming in or are staying at home and there is real lag when it comes to training up local workers too.

‘Massively overlooked’

“Stormont needs to reach out and we need a system in place whereby government, schools and colleges all work together to produce a stream of young people who are willing and trained to enter a sector that for too long has been massively overlooked here. I’ve been saying this for more than 10 years.”

The hotelier, who is planning a new venture in Dublin, said while his biggest venture has fared relatively well it wasn’t the case across the board.

“In the Merchant we were lucky as we are only down about 10% as most of our staff have returned. In some of our other venues we now don’t open at lunchtime because there is not the demand and there are not the staff,” said Bill.

“It made no sense that people on furlough could then go and work another job. People went to work in call centres and other places and some didn’t come back because of worries over more lockdowns and others were resentful of the wages when they only had one income.

“Businesses are desperate – some of them have offered really crazy money for my chefs. There’s no doubt that some will fail.”

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