More than 45 hospitality, tourism, wedding and event companies have jointly written to the prime minister today threatening legal action should the July reopening date face further delay.
The open letter, led by Sacha Lord (pictured), night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, has called for sector-specific support following the four-week extension to the Covid-19 roadmap until 19 July.
The letter urges the government to reconsider its decision to withhold further financial aid and has been signed by industry names including Alex Reilley, chair of Loungers; entrepreneur Luke Johnson; chef-restaurateur Paul Heathcote; Jeremy Roberts, commercial director of Living Ventures; and Sarah Weir, managing director of Albion and East.
The hospitality sector is expected to lose £3b over the course of the four-week delay. The sector is already estimated to have lost £87b over the past year and has accounted for a third of job losses during the pandemic.
The letter read: "We wish to put you on notice that Mr Lord and the representatives with whom he is in discussion are jointly considering taking legal action to challenge the government, should the easing of restrictions fail to take place on 19 July as promised…
"The treatment of these sectors' employees and business owners is deplorable and cannot continue. Industries such as hospitality, events, exhibitions and travel simply cannot endure further hardship."
Lord, who successfully pushed the government to drop the 10pm curfew and substantial meal restriction, said: "As of the end of the month, we'll not only see a 10% increase in furlough contributions, but the relief rate for hospitality drops from 100% to 66%. Factor in that huge parts of the nightlife sector are not even open yet, and we have a clear and inevitable crisis about to take place. We demand absolute confirmation we will reopen on the 19 July and we need urgent financial support to give businesses the best possible chance to survive until then."
Chris Naylor, managing director at Boutique Hotel Group and chairperson of the UK Weddings Taskforce, said: "Whilst we welcome this week's announcement regarding weddings, the contrast between our sector and others has been brought into sharp contrast this week as the football, cricket and horse racing industries roar back to life. By 19 July, we will be into 18 months of low season or heavily restricted trading and the sector is simply unable to cope. With the help of testing at weddings – by nature highly organised and meticulously planned occasions – weddings can and will be safely operated."
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA), added: "The eleventh hour delay to reopening announced by the prime minister on Monday was yet another devastating blow to nightlife businesses, and the government then rubbed salt into the wounds by indicating that support programmes like furlough and business rates relief would not be extended. Our sector simply cannot countenance another delay. That is why today – along with a number of trade bodies and businesses from other affected sectors, we are putting the government on notice that we intend to take legal action should they deviate from the extended roadmap with full reopening on July 19."
In response to an enquiry from The Caterer whether the furlough scheme will be extended or whether sector-specific exemptions may be made in response to the delay, a Treasury spokesperson said: "The furlough scheme is in place until September – we deliberately went long with our support to provide certainty to people and businesses over the summer.
"To date, the furlough scheme has supported over 11.5 million jobs at a cost of nearly £65b. The number of people on the furlough scheme has already fallen to the lowest level this year with more than a million coming off the scheme in March and April – showing our Plan for Jobs is working.
"Businesses can continue to access other support including business rates cuts, VAT cuts, and our Recovery Loan scheme."
From the start of July, employers will be expected to start contributing 10% of their furloughed employees' wages, even though some business may have been closed for over a year and could still be unable to open.