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London's night czar: hospitality cannot be scapegoated and left in financial wilderness

18 December 2020
London's night czar: hospitality cannot be scapegoated and left in financial wilderness

London's night czar Amy Lamé calls for more support for hospitality and night-time industries in the wake of the latest tier restrictions.

At 00:01 on Wednesday 16 December, a devastating blow was dealt to London's valued hospitality and night-time industries.

Pubs, restaurants, bars and other venues were forced to cancel bookings, work out what to do with their stocks of food and drink, and furlough staff yet again as the government moved the capital to Tier 3 and told them to close their doors.

Hospitality businesses have suffered terribly this year and have worked incredibly hard to become Covid-safe environments, yet they can no longer welcome guests in the run-up to Christmas or for New Year's Eve.

These are businesses that saw incomes completely collapse when they had to shut for months during lockdown in the spring and summer, coped with an unjustifiable 10pm curfew, had to close again under lockdown in November, and managed a week-and-a-half of trading in December before being told to shut for their most lucrative time of year.

It's no secret that that the income generated across December can help to keep businesses afloat for the rest of the year. Of course, we knew that this festive period was going to be different – there wasn't going to be night after night of packed Christmas parties or a full capacity New Year's Eve – but businesses had made huge changes to ensure they could safely welcome guests.

I've seen this with my own eyes. Over the past few weeks since lockdown was lifted and hospitality was able to reopen, I enjoyed a delicious and Covid-safe meal at Dishoom in Covent Garden, served with a friendly, masked smile, and popped into my local café for a cooked breakfast where they have introduced contact-free ordering, among other Covid safety measures.

These – and thousands of other venues across the capital – were ready to safely give us the Christmas cheer we all so badly needed after such a difficult year, but instead they were given just over 24 hours to close with no reopening date in sight.

There is no doubt that cases of coronavirus are rising at a worryingly fast rate in the capital. The number of people testing positive are rising across the boroughs and the number in hospital are going up – and that's why the government has to take action to stop this. However, infection numbers were rising during the last week of lockdown, and continued to rise when hospitality was allowed to reopen under increased restrictions. There is little evidence hospitality is contributing to the spread of the virus.

There is, however, clear evidence that the numbers have been rising rapidly in secondary school children. So why has the government shut hospitality venues with robust, Covid-safe protocols, yet are so slow to bring in testing to schools that could tackle the spread of the virus?

The government has chosen to single out an industry that is incredibly adept at meeting strict restrictions and ensuring safety – and it's going to cost us dearly if the government doesn't step up with financial support. UKHospitality has warned that Tier 3 alone could see £2.7b wiped off our economy and put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk.

At City Hall we've been doing all we can to support businesses with the mayor's £2.3m emergency fund to help some of the most at-risk small businesses within the culture and night-time industries. Our Pay It Forward scheme is helping to raise more than £1m for businesses by allowing customers to buy goods and services in advance, and the London Business Hub has been providing one-to-one advisory sessions.

But we need the financial force of government to intervene; the mayor of London and I have been calling on ministers to provide the support that is so desperately needed. That means immediate, targeted financial support for those that have had to close, a compensation scheme for all lost income based on last year's returns, an extension to the business rates holiday, and support for the freelancers who are so integral to the industry but often excluded from the support packages.

This isn't a drill. The government must step in immediately to save the hospitality and wider night-time economy in the capital.

This isn't a drill. The government must step in immediately to save the hospitality and wider night-time economy in the capital

These are the businesses and the people that make London what it is: the envy of the world, drawing people to our capital and driving our wider economy forward. The government has unfairly put these valuable businesses and jobs on a knife-edge.

It's now up to ministers to decide if they want to save the industry, and let it play its part in London's desperately needed social and economic recovery.

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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