Challenging time for hospitality as family-run Mearns hotel sees gas bill rise by £1,000 per month

The owners of a Mearns hotel are at the end of their tether having come a cropper to increasing operational bills which continue to soar.

Husband and wife team Sheila and Mick Howarth of The Belvedere Hotel on Evan Street in Stonehaven took to social media to voice their horror at their gas bill increasing from £450 to £1,457 per month.

Their electricity bill has also increased from £600 to £1,000, and costs of food and drink are also up, with Sheila explaining that some of their suppliers have put costs up various times during the last two to three months.

Rising costs

The main concern for the owners is the lack of customers visiting the venue and income being “non-existent” at the moment.

The hotel, which has 11 rooms, was once busy 365 days of the year and Sheila and Mick had a packed hotel filled with guests.

Now, due to the increase of living costs across the board, current restrictions on hospitality, and the pandemic in general, the duo are struggling to come to terms with the costs of operating their business.

The Facebook post.

Sheila, who is 58, has been running the venue with her husband for the past decade. They work 80 hours each week to keep costs of staff down.

She said: “I was with CNG and they went into receivership. Ofgem automatically transfer you to a different supplier and we got put with Positive Energy. My electricity and gas have always been sourced by a broker firm and they look at all the deals for me.

“They came back and said the prices were ridiculous and all about the same – plus, they are about to get worse. I was advised to lock in a deal for the year and I just got a bill in December for £1,457. My average has been about £450.

“I was obviously on quite a good deal before but I’ve gone from paying 3.26p per unit to 7.5p. Positive Energy also charge a standing charge of 50p per day which is around £15 per month – that’s something I wasn’t paying before. Costs for my gas has more than doubled!

“The costs have gone way up and the income has come way down.”

Less people spending money

With her food and drink bills also skyrocketing, everyone working at home and reducing their business travel, the hotel has seen less people staying, meaning less people have been spending money on food and drink, too.

Sheila says this is a result of the restrictions constantly being placed on hospitality and the cost of living going up.

Sheila Howarth outside the hotel.

“We had a letter from Brakes, who put their prices up in November, and then did the same at the end of November, too. All of our drinks have gone up phenomenally,” she said.

“I come in cook and serve breakfast and then I’m back in later on for the evening and my husband is in during the day – or vice versa. It is hard, but in some ways it is less stressful as there is nothing I can do about it. You’ve worked so hard all of your life.

Posted by Belvedere Stonehaven on Saturday, 13 July 2019

“I couldn’t sell this place if I wanted to. The business has never recovered since the oil and gas downturn – we’re almost trapped.

“I’d hoped to retire sometime but it’ll be another 10 years.”

Constant challenges

While most hospitality businesses are generally quieter until March, the introduction of business rates in April will have a huge impact on firms again and Sheila isn’t looking forward to the rise.

Her rates went up 103% around five years ago and she received notification during the pandemic that her appeal was unsuccessful. Her rates will change from £23K to £40K per year.

Sheila has had to fork out an additional £1,000 for her gas alone in the past month.

“There’s a factor in that which takes it down 50%, but it is such an unfair system. There’s something like 85 out of 300 businesses that don’t actually pay anything.

“That’ll be another £1,500 plus a month I’ll have to find.

“They (the Scottish government) have to open up the economy. If not they have to fully subsidise us or let us open fully. They’ve done the most damage by restricting us.

“At Christmas we had 100 cancellations following the announcement to cancel Christmas parties and with the restrictions in place over New Year, that resulted in the Fireballs being cancelled and our fully booked hotel reservations for a minimum two night stay go overnight. That was around £2K in total.

“I know the government are giving us money, I think around £4,500, but my daughter has a wee coffee shop (Nikki’s Coffee Shop and Bistro) in the town and she gets the same amount as I do. One size does not fit all.

“There’s no end in sight. My breakeven was £260 per day but it is now nearly £500. It is horrific.”

Lifestyle – The Courier Dundee