EAST Londonderry MLA Claire Sugden has again appealed for financial support for guesthouses, B&Bs and other tourism businesses that are still falling through the cracks of the government grant system.
She first highlighted to economy minister Diane Dodds that businesses not eligible for the government’s £10,000 and £25,000 grants – or rate-relief – at an Assembly committee meeting in May. The minister subsequently announced the creation of a micro-business hardship fund, but many tourist businesses remain unable to meet the criteria for the grants.
“I represent a constituency reliant on tourism and without support many of these micro-businesses will not survive,” Ms Sugden said.
“Luxury guesthouses ad B&Bs have emerged to fill the gap in hotel numbers, particularly since the 2019 Open was held in Portrush. There are businesses that haven’t received a penny.
“They were hopeful when the Hardship Fund was announced as it was understood the intention of this fund was to support businesses like theirs, but subsequently very disappointed when eligibility criteria was published which did not include them.”
Most guesthouses and B&Bs were operated out of people’s homes, so, as domestic ratepayers they were not eligible for the business rate relief scheme. There remained, however, an opportunity for them to be included in the scheme, Ms Sugden said.
“The Executive needs to support these businesses so they can continue operating and reopen safely,” she said.
Many tourism-related businesses employed staff seasonally and through agencies. The Hardship Fund states that businesses that employ agency staff are not eligible.
“I believe there is an opportunity through the June Monitoring Round to extend the Hardship Fund and 12 months’ rates relief to the above businesses and ask you to bid for resources on their behalf,” she asked the ministers for the economy and finance.
Tourist accommodation, restaurants and bars are now allowed to open from July 3. Ms Sugden welcomed the move, saying it made sense to open businesses such as restaurants alongside tourist accommodation.
“People won’t be travelling abroad as much this summer so it makes sense to offer tourists the best holiday experience we can – as long as it is done safely and with clear guidance,” said Ms Sugden.
“We need to reclaim as much of the summer as possible for those businesses who are reliant on the season to survive.”