24 May 2018

Following a discussion with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Hospitality Ulster CEO Colin Neill said;

''This was an excellent opportunity to explain to Jeremy Corbyn the issues which the hospitality sector is facing in Northern Ireland, especially given the absence of the Assembly in NI and the challenges which will be posed by Brexit.

''The Hospitality Sector is a vital cog in the economy of Northern Ireland, sustaining as it does more than 60,000 jobs and delivering £1.1 billion to the economy annually. Our sector is growing and we are attracting evermore overseas visitors.

''We explained to Jeremy Corbyn that the common travel area between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland must be maintained, given the number of visitors who come across the border every year. Indeed recent figures show a 27 percent increase in the number of cross-border trips to Northern Ireland. The continued free movement of people, post-Brexit, is essential.

''Our hospitality and tourism sector is also highly dependent on access to services and goods from both ROI and GB and for this reason the free movement of goods and services around the UK and between NI and the Republic of Ireland needs to be maintained.

''We also emphasised to Jeremy Corbyn that access to labour is essential for the NI hospitality sector if it is to continue to grow, especially given the skills shortage that we face.

''It is estimated that the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland will need to recruit an extra 2,000 chefs and fill 30,000 vacancies by 2024, yet there is no joined-up thinking from government on this, there needs to be. The hospitality sector can’t become a victim of its own success.

''At the very least we need a commitment that there must be no changes to the rights of Republic of Ireland citizens to work in NI and there can be no changes to the rights of existing EU or overseas workers here.

''We also explained to Jeremy Corbyn how the hospitality sector in NI is being forced to compete with other destinations on an unfair playing field.

''Our tourist VAT rate is one of the highest in Europe and is more than double the nine percent rate enjoyed by our nearest, and biggest, competitor – the Republic of Ireland.

''That situation isn’t sustainable and clearly a reduction in the VAT rate would be of benefit to the hospitality sector here, helping drive up visitor numbers and spending. Of course a boost to our industry also helps stimulate the wider NI economy.

''Likewise Air Passenger Duty needs to be scrapped in order to boost visitor numbers from the rest of the UK and indeed further afield.

''We also explained to Jeremy Corbyn how the absence of a functioning executive is leaving us behind.

''This Easter for the first time, pubs, restaurants and hotels in the Republic of Ireland were able to open as normal across the whole Easter period, thanks to a decision taken in the Irish parliament that recognised restricting licensing hours over the Easter holidays was an ancient and outdated measure which deterred tourism and unfairly punished those in the licensed trade.

''Yet we in Northern Ireland are still burdened with outdated, antiquated licensing hours which sees our pubs, hotels and restaurants unable to sell alcohol as normal across the whole Easter period.

''This is a ridiculous position to be in and is completely untenable. It is also the direct result of the collapse of the Assembly.

''In conclusion, we emphasised to Jeremy Corbyn that the hospitality sector is working in Northern Ireland, it is growing and it is contributing positively to the economy and also to the global image of NI.

''That is the result of the hard work of all of those in the industry, but we are facing challenges and need reforms to be made on key issues like VAT and APD as well as protecting free movement and retaining access to skilled labour in the face of Brexit.’’