One of Northern Ireland’s leading hospitality figures has told LCN that if the government doesn’t extend its furlough scheme for the trade, there will be a ‘bloodbath’ in the industry here.
At present, the scheme – which has provided a vital lifeline to workers and businesses across the UK since lockdown began – has been extended to run until the end of September.
But speaking to this magazine on July 1 – two days before the trade was set to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown – Beannchor’s Bill Wolsey delivered his own stark assessment of the industry’s prospects.
‘If the government drops its furlough scheme and if it keeps the one-metre rule in place until Christmas, then there is going to be a bloodbath in our industry,’ he warned.
Beannchor was one of the first to act as the threat from coronavirus became clear in mid-March, laying off 800 staff and temporarily closing most of its considerable portfolio of hotels and bars. All those premises will be re-opening today in line with the new coronavirus guidelines, but Mr Wolsey, who is known for his candour, is realistic about the chances of success:
‘We don’t think that we’re going to make any money,’ he said. ‘The best that we can hope for is to break even and be able to keep staff working. What we’re going to do is give this two weeks to see how we go. If there isn’t sufficient trade, then we’re going to have to make redundancies.’
Mr Wolsey believes that the very best outcome he can hope for by the end of July is 70 per cent of pre-coronavirus turnover in Beannchor’s bars and 50 per cent in its hotels. In August, however, employers will have to start paying a portion of the furlough scheme’s expenses themselves and Mr Wolsey believes that could be the breaking point for many hospitality businesses:
‘If they expect us to pay people from businesses that are losing money, that won’t work,’ he said. ‘It would be difficult for us and impossible for smaller businesses. You can’t pay five percent, never mind 20 per cent, of something you don’t have.’
The hospitality trade in NI employs around 65,000 people and Mr Wolsey believes that in a worst case scenario, as many as 25 per cent could be made redundant:
‘That’s 16000 people losing their jobs,’ he added. ‘There was a hue and cry recently over job losses at Bombardier, so I can only imagine what it would be like if our industry was to lose up to 16000.’
He does, however, hold out some hope of a brighter future for the trade, providing government support is forthcoming:
‘If the R number stays down and if they allow ‘wet bars’ to open in August, then hopefully we will be back to normal by September,’ he said. ‘And from September to Christmas, I think we will be able to trade at the level we were at before, perhaps even stronger.’