Morale ‘on the floor’ as hospitality awaits Stormont decision

Morale is on the floor across the hospitality industry, a Northern Ireland business owner has warned.

Bill Wolsey said he does not know what to tell more than 1,000 demoralised staff members.

And he warned of a “tsumani” of redundancies in January if pubs are not able to make some money over Christmas.

Mr Wolsey, founder of the Beannchor group, a series of pubs, restaurants and hotels, said: “Our politicians are a bit like track and trace – not fit for purpose.

“How can I be sitting here and not knowing if I am able to open tomorrow?

“How do we get to this state?”

He said four weeks ago, when they were put into lockdown, they were told that if they brought the R number down they would be reopening.

Mr Wolsey added: “Here we are with R below 0.7 and still not able to open.

“How did those politicians not talk through these scenarios four weeks ago and agree that?

“It is almost laughable.”

Mr Wolsey, whose Beannchor group includes the five-star Merchant Hotel in Belfast city centre, has been fielding lots of questions from employees about what happens next.

“I have not a clue what to say to them,” he said.

“It is completely demoralising that we cannot tell them.

“Morale is on the floor for the whole industry.

“We are the fall guys for this.”

He warned of the dangers of displacement, with people having unregulated house parties, and said police had told him it was a major problem over Halloween.

The veteran businessman, who has more than 40 years’ experience predicted that house parties would recur over Christmas if pubs are not allowed to reopen soon.

“If we cannot open next week or on the 27th, giving us some sort of chance to make some sort of money over Christmas, there will be a tsunami of redundancies in January.”

He said it would be naive of politicians or medical experts to think people would cancel Christmas.

“Parties will transfer to homes – with the associated risk.

“It is like the emperor’s new clothes – the truth of the matter is these rules are being broken left, right and centre.

“There is absolutely no strategy, no longer-term thinking, in this case four weeks.

“We should be thinking this could be with us by the summer and how do we deal with it.”

He said he is not a dangerous employer and hospitality is not a dangerous industry.

Before they were shut down his premises were inspected three times a week.

“I have no desire to increase the R number or spread this dreadful virus but we believe that, by closing us, displacement will raise the R number far more,” he said.