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Plight of café and restaurant owners high on Council agenda

Café Chloe in Portadown
Cafe Chloe in Portadown was forced to close its doors recently

The plight of café and restaurant owners forced to close their operations due to rising costs was high on the agenda at a recent Economic Development & Regeneration Committee meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council.

With this in mind, ABC head of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Brian Johnston was keen to reassure businesses struggling to recruit staff, that the local authority is being proactive in providing support.

Speaking at the committee meeting, the senior council officer stated: “We’ve seen a number of high-profile restaurants, even in the vicinity – there was one in Aghalee (Clenaghan’s restaurant), just outside our borough – who are closing.

“There are a number of pressures in terms of staff and costs, in terms of running facilities and so forth.

“We’re listening to businesses, responding to them, and [offering] any bespoke help we can give them.

“Any business queries or whatever that we can help with, we’ll pick that up. Sometimes that can be grant applications or it can be assistance with different sorts of policies and procedures.”

The issue was also mentioned as part of a wider agenda item providing a full update on the current ABC Tourism, Arts & Culture strategy.

The report states: “Recruitment and retention of staff in the Tourism & Hospitality sector remains challenging.

“Further opportunities to collaborate with local Jobs & Benefits teams to facilitate placements, together with sector-specific capacity building initiatives with local colleges and other networks, will be realised.”

Referring to the impending closure of Clenaghan’s restaurant, Councillor Peter Lavery (Alliance, Lurgan DEA) commented: “It came as a shock, even though we know all the difficulties that are going on in the hospitality sector, and the reactions from their post just shows the kind of touch that that business had, not just across the borough but across Northern Ireland and further afield as a whole.

“And we’ve got a lot of businesses like that, we’ve got a lot of activities like that.”

Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon (SDLP, Armagh DEA) felt that the Council needed to take action on this issue: “[Regarding] the struggling hospitality sector, I would propose that we write to the Economy Minister, and urge the Executive to bring forward a support package for it, be that rates relief, be that whatever.

“Whenever we engage with people in the hospitality sector, it’s a sector that’s really struggling at the minute.

“Anything that the local and regional government can do, I think they should be doing, and I know some look to us as the local authority in terms of rates.

“And whilst there’s an element of the rate-setting process [which is] us, rates policy is dictated by the Executive, and I propose that we write to the minister and urge the Executive to bring forward a support package for the hospitality sector.”

Councillor Robbie Alexander (Alliance, Craigavon DEA) seconded the proposal, stating: “I absolutely agree with that. The hospitality sector over the last few years, Covid was a big dig to that sector and it just seems that every time they get a bit of bad turn with rising costs and things like that.

“There was another one in Portadown, Café Chloe had to close its doors quite recently as well and it was rather abrupt.

“There were queues to get into it and it just seems quite odd that a business that seems busy all of a sudden has to close its doors.”

“Very expensive rates bills and rising pressures across that sector seem to be something that’s just far too common, and I would absolutely agree that we need to write to the Minister for the Economy and the Minister of Finance, and see if there’s anything that we can do in terms of support for those types of businesses.

“So I’m happy to second that proposal by Cllr O’Hanlon.”

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