Survey of hospitality sector shows Christmas sales of food and drink up on last year.

Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill.

Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill.

A survey of NI hospitality owners has shown an improvement on last year’s Christmas trading figures for many hospitality businesses. 

The survey was conducted by Hospitality Ulster of its members which includes pubs, restaurants and hotels across Northern Ireland.

More than 60% of businesses who responded reported an increase in beverage sales this year compared to the same period in 2017, with 29% of businesses showing an increase in sales of more than 10%.

In food sales, more than 51% of respondents reported an increase in 2018 Christmas trade, with 22% showing an increase of more than 10%.

However, the improvement was not the same for all businesses across the board and between 20-26% businesses also reported a decrease in food and beverage sales during the same period.

The survey was conducted by Hospitality Ulster in the first week of January 2019.

Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill commented:

“The figures in general are quite heartening after what has been quite a difficult year for business in Northern Ireland.

“The positive survey results demonstrate a clear resilience in the industry and a willingness to adapt and plan ahead with great offers of food, drink and entertainment put on over the festive season.

“I think the fact that trade was up for many members shows that people really do enjoy the experience of a night out. We are seeing a boom in craft products like gin and beer, where people enjoy sampling a wide range of different types of drinks. We have also seen a sharp increase in non-alcoholic spirits and beers. Customers are seeking the overall experience, rather than just the product.

“Food sales continue to grow and again that comes down to the wide and growing range on offer out there, right across Northern Ireland.

“It is worth noting however that this upturn hasn’t been the case across the board and there are still many business owners facing an uphill struggle, particularly as we enter what is to be a very precarious year for business in Northern Ireland.”

Keith and Kristyn Getty set to return for one off concert at SSE Arena

Award-winning Northern Ireland modern hymn writers, Keith and Kristyn Getty, are returning to Belfast next year for a one-off concert in the SSE Arena.

Sing! Belfast will take place on 15 June 2019 and is part of a worldwide tour of major US and European cities. The Belfast date follows previously sold-out concerts in the Waterfront Hall in 2012 and 2016.

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The special night will feature a 1,000 voice choir in partnership with New Irish Arts and special guests.

Keith Getty, who was awarded an OBE last year, will together with Kristyn perform much of their best-known music, including ‘In Christ Alone’, which was the number one most-frequently-sung hymn in UK churches for a record-setting nine consecutive years.

The announcement of the concert in Belfast follows the Getty’s sold out 5th Annual Irish Christmas Concert of numerous concert halls including Carnegie Hall in New York this year.

During their time in Belfast in June 2019, Keith and Kristyn Getty, who are known globally for revolutionizing modern hymn development, will also host a conference focusing on equipping, educating and encouraging church leaders towards a deeper and more dynamic congregational worship.

This will focus on the teaching in Keith and Kristyn’s book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church, which was published internationally last year and received critical acclaim.

Tickets for Sing! are now on sale and can be purchased via the SSE website.

Keith Getty said:

“It is always an honour to play for any audience, but there is something deeply special about coming back home. Northern Ireland is where we met and where we come back to every year. It has an important place in our lives and we cannot wait to play for a Northern Irish audience.

“Kristyn and I are both extremely fortunate to be able to travel the world and share our music and our passion with amazing audiences. Our last two concerts in Belfast were truly memorable evenings and we want to see even more people next year come together to sing their faith. 

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“The Conference, taking place the Friday before the concert, is designed to help church leaders and pastors develop a deeper and more dynamic view of theology, artistry and the importance of congregational singing. 

“The last 12 months have been particularly special for us and we are looking forward to what 2019 will bring and our return to Belfast is definitely part of that.”

Hospitality Ulster reacts to Home Office Immigration White Paper

Reacting to the White Paper published today by the Home Secretary on post-Brexit rules for migrants, Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster commented:

“The issues around the migrant workforce within the wider Brexit debate is a concerning issue for the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland.”

Colin Neill, CEO, Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill, CEO, Hospitality Ulster

“We are encouraged to hear that areas which we have pushed for, such as a review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) specifically for Northern Ireland; Understanding of the special challenges locally due to the border with the Republic of Ireland; and the need to lower the minimum salary threshold from £30,000 to £24,500 for NI, have been raised directly with the Home Secretary at the House of Commons. It is clear that our voice is being heard.”

“We are actively reviewing the white paper which has just been published and will be highlighting any impacts on the hospitality sector during the consultative period.”

“We will be inviting the Home Secretary to Northern Ireland in the New Year as part of this process and will continue to press our case that the hospitality sector is vital to the local economy and that it must be protected.”

Head of Eversheds Sutherland Employment & Immigration practice reacts to Government White Paper on Immigration

Lisa Bryson, Eversheds Sutherland, Belfast

Lisa Bryson, Eversheds Sutherland, Belfast

Reacting to the Government White Paper on immigration published today, Lisa Bryson, Head of the Employment & Immigration practice at Eversheds Sutherland in Belfast commented:

“The White Paper may provide some comfort to businesses in Northern Ireland that our voices have not been ignored. The proposed new skills-based immigration system in the UK post-Brexit, builds on the existing one but accommodates the changes necessarily caused by withdrawal from the EU and the end of freedom of movement. There are commitments to seek to ensure that the future system works for every part of the UK, to look at whether there is a need for a specific Northern Ireland ‘Shortage Occupational List’, and to understand concerns linked to the unique nature of the border with the Republic.

“Many suggestions in the White Paper regarding business immigration would be positive for our clients. The removal of the quota, the end of the resident labour market test, assistance to students seeking to remain and greater possibility to apply in-country for permission to work would all reduce the regulatory burdens on businesses.    

“Of course in Northern Ireland not only do we rely on skilled migrant labour but we also have a high reliance on unskilled migrant labour in certain sectors including agriculture, food processing and hospitality. Although the White Paper indicates an intention to accept the MAC’s recommendation that there is no requirement for a route specifically for low skilled workers, it does go on to expressly acknowledge that the future immigration system must work for every nation, region and community in the UK. Our concern remains the proposals regarding lower-skilled workers and whether the suggested visa route contained in the White Paper would adequately serve those who rely heavily on large numbers of EEA staff. We hope the consultation period referenced in the White Paper will allow evidence of the impact of this in Northern Ireland to be fully assessed.” 

New President appointed to head up Londonderry Chamber of Commerce

Brian McGrath has been appointed as the 76th President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

Brian is currently the Chief Executive of Foyle Port and Harbour and was appointed at the AGM on Thursday 13 December, taking over from outgoing President, Jennifer McKeever.

In his address to members, Brian highlighted the enormous challenges that 2019 will bring with the impact of Brexit, as well the huge opportunities that exist with work ongoing on the development of a City Deal proposal for the North West city region.

Brian will be supported in the role by Redmond McFadden, the Head of Danske Bank’s Western Region Finance Centre, who becomes the Chamber’s new Vice President.

Brian McGrath takes over as the new President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

Brian McGrath takes over as the new President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking after his appointment, Brian McGrath said:

“It is an honour to be elected as the new President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

“I would like to pay tribute to our outgoing President, Jennifer McKeever, who has done a tremendous job in representing our membership over the last year.

“The next 12 months will bring unprecedented upheaval for businesses right across Northern Ireland and it is hugely important that they have a strong voice during these uncertain times.

“We will be listening intently to the membership during this time. Over the next year, I would like to ensure that the Chamber continues to provide strong guidance, leadership and support to its members.

“I will also be keen to demonstrate that the North West city region remains open for business despite the uncertainties, and I am determined to meet these challenges head on.

“Our geographical location on the doorstep to Europe is going to be critical for us, and this must be both promoted and harnessed in the coming months.”

Outgoing President Jennifer McKeever with new President Brian McGrath.

Outgoing President Jennifer McKeever with new President Brian McGrath.

Outgoing President, Jennifer McKeever said:

“It has been a privilege to serve as the President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce over the last year. I have had the opportunity to represent businesses across the North West during some of the most challenging and exciting times.

“I am thrilled to have Brian as my successor and I wish him all the best for his term as President.

“2019 will present a unique set of circumstances for the business community in the North West but I know that Brian will be able to provide powerful leadership, insights and vision during these turbulent times.”

Northern Ireland has everything it needs to be a world leader in FinTech by Georgina O'Leary.

It’s coming up to Christmas and more and more of us these days will go online to shop with the likes of Amazon and other websites to buy presents. This online trend is not just for Christmas but one that consumers partake in all year round, official statistics released in September show that UK retail experienced record spending online.

This is just one of the most visible signs of a revolution that is sweeping across the UK and global economy. FinTech is here, and it is changing everything.

FinTech is short for Financial Technology. It’s the apps, computer programmes and other technologies that support and improve how we bank and access finance. It also encompasses payment technologies that make it so easy to buy those Christmas presents online.

The UK Government has recognised the incredible opportunities this sector presents, and earlier this year Chancellor Philip Hammond appointed four “FinTech envoys” to drive it forward and show what a central part it is now playing in our knowledge economy.

I was honoured to be one of the envoys chosen to lead the charge here in Northern Ireland. As the Director of Innovation, Research and Development at Allstate Northern Ireland, I have witnessed first hand the impact innovations in FinTech has already had and will continue to have on every aspect of the economy.

Georgina O’Leary is the director of innovation, research and development at Allstate and FinTech envoy for Northern Ireland

Georgina O’Leary is the director of innovation, research and development at Allstate and FinTech envoy for Northern Ireland

As envoy, it’s my job to champion Northern Ireland as a place for firms to develop and grow their business. There are reasons why Belfast is the world’s number one destination for FinTech development investment projects.

World class Universities, an exceptional talent pool and an international reputation as a world leading cyber security hub are just a few of the reasons why big multi-national firms have decided to invest in the FinTech sector in Northern Ireland.

It’s not just big multi-nationals, however, the start-up scene in Belfast is also vibrant.

Start-ups and big companies are both reaping the benefits of these changes and collaborating to do so. Barclays is one of the major partners of the Ormeau Baths, which is well established and full of some of the brightest and best indigenous tech start-ups, competing on a global scale.

This start-up scene is also growing. The newly announced Belfast FinTech hub, the product of a partnership between Danske Bank and Catalyst inc, is hugely ambitious and will help boost and grow the next generation of FinTech business start-ups.

Northern Ireland isn’t just good for FinTech, FinTech is good for Northern Ireland. The sector currently contributes around £ to the UK economy and employs 61,000 people across the country. Thousands of those jobs are in Northern Ireland, with 2,000 people already employed as software engineers and systems architects in the development of trading technology platforms.

The sector is not just providing jobs, but high skilled, high paid careers that drive economic growth across Northern Ireland.

The UK is backing FinTech because the opportunities, especially to Northern Ireland, are incredible and can revolutionise our economy, if we embrace them.

This article first appeared in the December 2018 copy of Ulster Business.

GLL become first JAM Card friendly leisure provider.

Social enterprise and gym operator GLL has become the first leisure provider in Northern Ireland to become JAM Card friendly.

GLL currently runs 14 leisure centres in partnership with Belfast City Council, under the brand name ‘Better’.

The JAM Card was developed by another social enterprise, the NOW Group for those with learning difficulties, autism and communication barriers.

It can be used to show that a person might need ‘just a minute’ more time when doing everyday things such as taking the bus, buying goods in a shop or using their local leisure centre.

Regional Human Resources Business Partner, Catherine Sweeney said:

“We are really proud to be partnering with fellow social enterprise the NOW Group, who are training our staff to understand the needs of JAM Card users.  

“With almost 2 million visitors each year, we pride ourselves on providing excellent customer service and that means making sure everyone who uses our leisure centres receives a warm welcome from our team.

“We see the JAM Card as a simple yet effective way to help people with learning difficulties, autism and dementia feel confident to take part in regular physical activity.  Whether they are learning to swim, keeping fit in any of our classes or using our gyms across the city, we are here to support them.

Diane Hill, Director of Business Development at NOW Group added:

“Having a learning disability or communication difficulty means that doing the everyday things we take for granted can be stressful for lots of people. JAM Card allows people in these situations to signal that they need a bit more time.

“The success of JAM Card depends on businesses and public service providers getting onboard with the initiative, so it is really heartening to see GLL commit to training its staff to be JAM Card friendly.

Eversheds Sutherland nominated for NI Law Firm of the Year

International law firm, Eversheds Sutherland, based in Belfast has been nominated by industry bible ‘Legal 500 UK’ for the prestigious title of Northern Ireland law firm of the year.

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The winner will be revealed at an awards ceremony in early February next year at the Guildhall in London.

The law firm, which only set up in Belfast in 2005 with six staff, has grown in strength to now boast 15 lawyers including 3 partners.

The Legal 500 UK awards recognises and rewards the best in-house and private practice teams and individuals over the past 12 months. Assessed on merit, the awards highlight the practice area teams who provide the most cutting edge and innovative advice.

Recently, Eversheds Sutherland announced its intention to double its size in Northern Ireland to bring its headcount to over 30, due to the demand for its services.

Eversheds Sutherland Ireland managing partner Alan Murphy said today:

“This is outstanding recognition of our team in Belfast and the work that they have done to build our international network here.”

“Legal 500 is the benchmark by which the legal industry is externally measured and to be nominated against other established and well-respected firms is hugely encouraging for us.” 

“Over the last year we have worked on many wide ranging and complex deals which have shown the ability and dedication of our entire team.”

“The turbulence caused by Brexit has been challenging for our clients who often work across international borders, but with our network of offices and our strong presence across the island of Ireland we have been able to help them navigate this difficult period and will continue to do so right into 2019.”

“As we move towards the awards event in London in February we will continue to grow the team and attract the sort of talent that wants to work with a leading international law firm.”

Community Pharmacy NI welcomes council motion to save pharmacies

Community Pharmacy NI has welcomed a motion that was unanimously passed by Belfast City Council last night in response to the critical funding crisis facing local pharmacies.

The motion that was tabled by Alderman Sonia Copeland recognises the invaluable contribution that community pharmacies make to society and the serious level of underfunding in the sector.

Belfast City Council will also seek an urgent meeting between the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health, a delegation from the Council and representatives of the sector to discuss the funding crisis.

Despite an independent report that shows the total cost of running the community pharmacy service here is in the region of £130 - £136 million annually, the pharmacy network remains underfunded by at least £20 million per year.

The motion comes at a time when the Department’s funding announcement was deemed by Community Pharmacy NI to fall well short of what is required to save the service.

From 1 December, community pharmacies in Northern Ireland have been forced to stop offering Monitored Dosage Systems (medicine trays) to new patients because of safety fears caused by the Department of Health budget cuts.

The medicine trays are used by patients on a combination of drugs, for example the frail elderly and those living with complex, chronic conditions. Pharmacists now fear that taking on new patients would put both new and existing patients at risk.

Alderman Sonia Copeland, who brought the motion to Belfast City Council said:

“Community pharmacies provide vital services to society with 123,00 people on average visiting a community pharmacy each day. Despite the important role that they play in the health and wellbeing of the population, community pharmacies are facing a continuing underfunding of some £20 million per year.

“I was pleased to bring this motion to Council to recognise the important role that community pharmacies play and to highlight the serious issue of continued underfunding.

“We as a Council will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health along with representatives from the community pharmacy sector and will be making the case for additional funding for the vital services that they provide.”

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI said:

“In recent weeks the Department of Health announced a funding package for community pharmacy that falls well below what is actually required to solve this crisis.

“The risk of pharmacy closures therefore remains, as does the risk of patients being left without access to many of the services and the drugs they need.

“I welcome the fact that local Councillors have brought this issue forward to Belfast City Council and Community Pharmacy NI welcomes the chance to engage with the Council further following this extremely important motion.”

Airporter Move Customer Drop Off And Pick Up Point To City Centre Following Recent Growth

North West transport firm Airporter has announced that it will be moving its customer drop off/pick up point to the city centre to deal with a substantial increase in demand. 

The firm, which provides a vital transport link between the North West city region and the two Belfast airports, will begin operating from a new bus stop at the Foyleside Coach park, beside the shopping centre, from 7 January 2019.

The announcement of the new bus stop comes just weeks after the unveiling of a £1million investment in a new 14,000 square foot hub on a 2.5 acre site at the site of the old Lough Swilly bus company, in the Springtown Industrial Estate.

The company made the decision to move its pick up and drop off points as part of its wider strategic move to deal with a steep rise in demand for services.

Founded in 1996, the company has seen passenger numbers increase from around 5,000 in its first year to approximately 155,000 last year. It has a fleet of 21 vehicles and operates 30 journeys every day.

The company has evolved from one that transports holiday-makers to one which ferries thousands of people every year who commute to the UK and beyond for work and study.

It has become a crucial part of the infrastructure linking the North West city region to the rest of the world.

Niall McKeever, Director of Airporter and Fergal Rafferty, Foyleside Centre Manager at the Foyleside Coach park.

Niall McKeever, Director of Airporter and Fergal Rafferty, Foyleside Centre Manager at the Foyleside Coach park.

Niall McKeever, Director of Airporter said:

“We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people using our service and this move is a direct reaction to that. We want to ensure there is a seamless connection between the North West city region and the UK and Europe.

“The reason more people than ever are visiting the North West City region, including Derry/Londonderry, is because it’s an attractive place for both tourists and investors. The reason those people are choosing to travel with us, is because we provide a reliable and efficient service.

“Airporter connects the North West with the rest of the world and we know that people are more likely to come here if there’s a fast, cost effective and efficient service to get them here. We know that we haven’t built that reputation on standing still and the fact that we have 150,000 more customers this year than we did in the year we started is because we have made investments and changes to maintain the quality of our service and make it work for our customers first and foremost.

“Tourism is an incredibly important part of the Northern Irish economy. Tourists provide a vital boost to the local economy and recent work that has started on the A6 will only make it easier for people to travel to and from the North West. We expect that more and more people will use our service as the travel time will reduce even further once those road works are complete.

“The investments that we have made as a company over the last twenty years have shown our commitment and dedication to the North West City region. There is a lot of energy, passion and talent in this region and what we need now is a functioning Executive that can take long term strategic decisions on the best way to invest in infrastructure and promote economic growth.”

Fergal Rafferty, Foyleside Centre Manager added:

“It’s great news for Airporter’s thousands of passengers that they have chosen Foyleside as the location for their new customer contact point.

“The central location and ease of access to other means of onward travel will undoubtedly prove popular, as will the discounted parking rates they can enjoy in our Eastside Carpark.

“This partnership between Foyleside and Airporter now means that those travelling to see this part of the world for the first time will find a warm welcome right in the heart of the city.”