The tourism and hospitality industry is of massive importance to West Cork, providing thousands of jobs, and bringing substantial revenue to the local economy. Lately we have seen a lot of press coverage on the topic of small cafés and restaurants going out of business due to the ever-rising cost of essential supplies and services. Sadly, for people working in this industry, this is something they have been warning about for some time, but they have been ignored by government.

The closure of a restaurant or café is not just a loss to the proprietor, but to the whole community: staff lose jobs; local farmers and suppliers lose customers; our towns and villages become less appealing to tourists, and our accommodation providers lose bookings; more jobs are lost, less money is spent in the local economy – it becomes a vicious cycle. We can’t afford to lose these businesses. I fully stand behind the campaign to have the VAT rate on food service dropped back from 13.5% to 9%, so these businesses can afford to stay open, and so we can all afford to support them.

Well done to Jamie at Budds Ballydehob, who I had the privilege of joining today on the Cork’s 96FM Opinion Line with PJ Coogan. Jamie has taken the brave step of sticking his head above the parapet to take a stand for small hospitality businesses that have been absolutely hammered financially over the past 3 years. Please sign his petition for the return of the 9% VAT rate on food in the hospitality industry so these businesses can afford to stay open, and so we can all afford to support them.

Furthermore, if elected, I will call for an overhaul of the commercial rates system. At present businesses are charged rates by the County Council based on the value of their premises, a matter largely determined by the size of the building they occupy. This system penalises businesses like cafés and restaurants since they require a far greater amount of floor space to comfortably accommodate their customers than a shop typically would. Our commercial rates should take into consideration the turnover/profitability of the business, and not just the size of the building it occupies.

This change could not only make small hospitality businesses more viable, but could also help to prevent vacancy of commercial buildings in our towns and villages. As mentioned above, these small businesses provide much more to their communities than just the odd meal or cup of coffee; they provide a place for friends and neighbours to meet, a place to take a break while shopping and running errands, and another reason for tourists to visit a town or village. A café’s customers typically go on to visit at least one or two other businesses while they are in town; restaurant customers will often call to a nearby bar for a drink after their meal; tourists will often factor in the selection of local food and drink options when choosing their accommodation…

Cafés and restaurants, whether large or small, generate enormous amounts of local business, investment and employment. It is my intention to do all that I can to ensure that they have a future in West Cork.

As well as the commendable “buy local” campaigns that we are reminded of every Christmas, we need to see more support from all levels of government, local and national.

  • 💡 Energy prices are still at extortionate levels; in the short-term grant aid needs to remain in place and the criteria for qualification need to be broader so all struggling businesses can avail.
  • 🛟 Grant supports for business development, expansion, training and promotion need to be more widely available and as easy to access as possible.
  • 💶 Our regime of taxes, rates and charges needs to be assessed under a fairer system, that looks at the reality of operating a small business, and not the current system which favours larger operations and national/international chain retailers over small independent Irish businesses.

Small businesses are the beating heart of West Cork, and without them, we all suffer.