The owner of a chain of nine upscale hairdressing salons in Dublin claims his business has fallen by “30-40 per cent” since further restrictions were imposed on the hospitality sector in recent weeks.
Mohamed Alkurd, the owner of the L'Ombré group, called on the Government to widen targeted financial supports beyond the hospitality sector, and to delay the tapering of taxpayer wage subsidies.
Mr Alkurd, a Palestinian businessman who set up L’Ombré in 2010 and now employs more than 180 staff, says the restrictions on hospitality have resulted in a glut of cancellations.
“We were almost fully booked for Christmas week before they started to bring in the new restrictions. But now, we have 60-70 per cent availability again.”
The fresh hospitality clampdown, which includes capacity restrictions, truncated operating hours, and official warnings against socialising, have resulted in widespread cancellations of Christmas parties. As a result, Mr Alkurd says, there has been a decline in demand among women for hair and beauty services.
“The business was doing quite well after we reopened in May, but now we are still struggling,” he said.
Mr Alkurd criticised the Government move last month to press ahead with a reduction in payments to businesses under the employment wage subsidy scheme (EWSS), which pays a portion of the salaries of workers in pandemic-affected businesses with revenue declines of more than 30 per cent.
Rates of pay
He says three of his nine Dublin salons – Dundrum, Tallaght and the Swan Centre in Rathmines – qualify for EWSS payments.
“With the latest reduction in business, the reduction in EWSS will have a big impact and will make it harder to pay employees. They should keep the rates of pay the same as they were,” he said.
While the Government has come in for criticism from, in particular, the hospitality sector for tapering EWSS rates, the dangers of abuse of the scheme have also been highlighted by State officials. Niall Cody, chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, last week warned some “unscrupulous” newly set-up businesses could be using it to claim for fake employees.
Mr Alkurd, meanwhile, said EWSS was vital to support his three eligible salons. The scheme has cost the Government more than €5.5 billion since it was introduced. Mr Alkurd acknowledged taxpayer support “can’t go on for ever”.
“I agree with that. But it should at least go on for as long as the pandemic is hurting businesses.”
To counter some of the economic pain of recently renewed restrictions, the Government has reopened the pandemic unemployment payment scheme for new entrants, promised targeted revenue supports for hospitality and hinted it may raise the €5,000 weekly cap for each business on State subsidies.