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Industry expresses disappointment as full reopening in England put on hold until May

22 February 2021 by
Industry expresses disappointment as full reopening in England put on hold until May

Today's reopening roadmap announcement by the prime minister has been met with disappointment as hospitality businesses will not be able to begin reopening until May at the earliest, and operators have said further financial support in next week's Budget will be critical.

Pubs and restaurants in England will be able to start reopening outdoor areas from 12 April, but indoor spaces including hotels will have to remain closed until 17 May, Boris Johnson confirmed this afternoon.

Elizabeth Haigh, operator of Mei Mei London in Borough Market, welcomed the confirmation, but expressed concern that the furlough scheme finishes at the end of April.

She said: "If most restaurants are not allowed to operate as fully as possible until mid-May, there's going to be this gap inbetween when we're going to be short of work, money and hours for our staff. There needs to be more extended support for the furlough scheme and, if possible, an extension to the VAT cut."

Victor Lugger, founder of the Big Mamma Group, which operates Circolo Popolare in London's Fitzrovia and Shoreditch's Gloria, said: "We need to be open, and we need to be open now. This attitude of ‘keep calm and carry on', that we can stay in lockdown for another few months, seems insane at this point. And I am not talking just about business, I am appalled that there is no one fighting for our individual rights… Am I supposed to open my restaurant, with a 60-capacity terrace (which is big for London standards) and think that turnover will be viable? We can't open halfway. We need to be fully open."

He added: "Every week that the industry and businesses remain closed, is a huge cost not only financially but emotionally and mentally for our workers, who, thanks to the government for not including tronc in furlough, are only receiving 40% of their pay. How can they live off that? How can they support families and mortgages? In France, we have a furlough scheme that pays 80% of worker's wages, including tronc, not to mention that the government speaks to our landlords. The weight of lockdown is shared between the landlords, banks, insurers and restaurants. We have none of that in the UK."

Chef-restaurateur Michael Caines described the news as "a bitter pill to swallow" and "staggering and disappointing". Although the government has said hospitality is a core part of the UK's economy, he said this "has not been recognised in their roadmap", and that: "It doesn't make much sense that our sector must wait another month to open while other closer contact sectors can go back."

He added: "We must hold onto the hope that this will be the last enforced lockdown and that 17 May will be the start of the building blocks for the long-term recovery of the industry and the millions that have been affected. We anticipate there will be a pent-up demand for dining out and that staycations will continue to be a popular choice for many."

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the sector was "devastated" that its reopening is "so far away" and that a major package of financial support was "imperative if hospitality is to survive".

She said: "The prime minister says that the reopening schedule is driven by data, yet all the data points to hospitality being relatively safe and linked to only a tiny number of cases. Vaccinations and the fall in infection rates has de-risked our reopening even further. Over the past year, the government has repeatedly miscalculated the risks posed by hospitality.

"This delay in reopening will make the job of survival all the more difficult for businesses only just clinging onto existence. It is much more than just an inconvenience for many employers in our sector, it is another delay that they cannot afford and, for too many, will not be able to survive."

Only 40% of hospitality businesses are understood to have an outdoor area and further restrictions such as the rule of six and a maximum of two households, said Nicholls, "will see businesses trading below sustainable levels".

She said the chancellor has nine days to save thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs that will not be there without a substantial package of compensation. According to government data, nearly two-thirds of hospitality businesses will run out of cash before May, before they are allowed to re-open. She called for an extension of the VAT cut and business rates holiday along with a targeted extension of the furlough scheme and an extension of the rent moratorium, with loan repayments and HMRC debt delayed to "give businesses some breathing room from the ruinous mountain of debt that has built up for too many".

Mohammad Paknejad, co-founder of Nutshell restaurant in London's Covent Garden, said Johnson's speech should have been followed by further information from the Treasury informing businesses on how they will be supported for the remainder of mandated closures.

He said: "Now, the only thing that businesses know is that they won't be having any revenue anytime soon. Thus, a lot of businesses might resort to laying off more staff or closing their premises until the government scrambles for another pathetic attempt at supporting economy while costing taxpayers billions with Brexit and awarding contracts to their friends."

It was confirmed that the government will look to reopen nightclubs from 21 June. Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night-Time Industries Association, welcomed the news, but pointed out recent evidence that 85% of those who work in the night-time economy are considering leaving the sector. He said the sector needs additional clarity "urgently" and "critical" financial support from the chancellor, who is due to deliver the Budget next week.

The prime minister also said that international travel would be reviewed with a successor to the global travel taskforce to report to the government by 12 April. UKinbound's chief executive Joss Croft said it was important the UK government works with the devolved nations on this, as a fragmented approach "will hinder recovery".

Photo: Shutterstock

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