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Hospitality Ulster launches in Belfast

On 26/05/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

I was delighted to accept the invitation of Colin Neill, the CEO of Pubs of Ulster, to attend their relaunch as Hospitality Ulster in Belfast. BBPA has worked closely with Colin on beer duty and Northern Irish MPs have supported the cause, signing the EDM and writing to the Chancellor. It is also good to share best practice and pick up policy proposals in Northern Ireland which may also be considered in the rest of the UK!

Professionalism in any organisation often attracts political support, but even I was surprised to find myself speaking to, and being photographed with, Peter Robinson, the First Minister of Northern Ireland and his Finance Minister, Arlene Foster. Both attended and spoke at the morning launch. I am particularly sorry to learn that the First Minister is now unwell. He is an exceptionally good speaker and clearly passionate about the importance of hospitality and tourism to the Northern Ireland economy.

On the previous evening, I sat next to the Environment Minister Mark H Durkan (the H is to distinguish him from his Uncle Mark Durkan who is a Westminster MP). Environment in Northern Ireland is a department which has a wide ranging remit. Roads (so we discussed drink driving and their decision to reduce the blood alcohol limit to 50mg as in Scotland); Entertainment Licensing (which is up for amendment), climate change (so we discussed Packaging Recovery Notes) and of course support for the pub!

Hospitality Ulster commissioned Oxford Economics to undertake an economic overview. They found that their sector supports 65,000 jobs, contributes £1.2 billion to the NI economy, paying £635 million in wages. They are looking to grow the numbers employed by 5,000 by 2020.

Following the morning launch, I was invited to become a member of the Strategic Advisory Panel. Around 30 operators, trade associations, civil servants and other professionals met to discuss the priorities. There are a range of issues where the competitiveness of the North is struggling against lower costs in the South. The Republic of Ireland has removed Air Passenger Duty entirely. Set against an average £13 per person in NI, this means that many fly in and out South of the border. VAT is another clear area for concern and the NI Assembly has agreed to undertake a study into VAT for discussion with the UK Government.

Other issues are devolved, but taking time to change. A change in licensing laws which are in some cases archaic has been agreed, but is held up by the arguments over welfare costs. Familiar tales of red tape (you have to have your ceiling inspected in Belfast - and pay for the survey) as if it was an ancient theatre, but not in Derry! Business Rates are a shared concern for the hospitality sector and uniting the whole province for their 2016 Year of Food is a priority.

Hospitality Ulster will have representatives in every major town. It is an exciting, ambitious organisation, well connected, very well led by Colin Neill and his team and keen like the BBPA to reach out to the world of tourism, restaurants, hotels and leisure and make changes which benefit them all. Congratulations on your launch and we look forward to working with you closely in the coming months and years.


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