Just a little creative thinking about rates and reopening might give the industry a fighting chance, says David Moore.
Never in the history of hospitality has so much damage been caused to so many by so few.
Last year opened with a tweet from Boris Johnson, saying that "2020 is going to be a great year for Britain". Just this time last year, we were getting ready for half-term and a skiing trip with the kids. What a different world that was.
How did it all go so badly wrong? There are countries, such as Taiwan, that have had a handful of deaths and have seen GDP growth during the Covid tragedy. Europe really did get it wrong, and Britain just copied what other nations had done instead of finding its own solution.
But let's not dwell on the mistakes of the past 11 months. We are in the midst of a national trauma, with a government that has been wrong-footed and continues to be at almost every turn, and the casualties have been many.
We are in the midst of a national trauma, with a government that has been wrong-footed and continues to be at almost every turn, and the casualties have been many
We focus mostly, and rightly so, on the headline fatalities numbers, but I think about the staff I have made redundant, the suppliers who have gone to the wall, my friends who have lost their businesses, their homes and seen everything they worked for, for decades, gone.
The hospitality casualties have not even started to peak. Every ‘winding up', every company voluntary arrangement brings with it more and more casualties. The non-payment of a creditor here forces another insolvency there.
Boris and Rishi, I hope you are reading this, as it is time to start listening again! It is time to get behind hospitality. Not everything has to have big money thrown at it to make a difference. We are approaching a rental cliff-edge; a cash-flow nightmare. The loss of the lease forfeiture moratorium will put thousands of leaseholders on the streets as landlords serve notice. So what's to be done? Extend the moratorium long enough to bring landlords to the table and legislate against ‘upwardly only' rental clauses – cost: zero.
Hospitality and retail will be reopening with business rates kicking back in. Where is the creativity in Number 11? We know business rates is a broken system, but it's a system that keeps on giving; well, it won't if the high street doesn't get a level playing field with online. This is the time to do that; this is the moment to introduce a sales tax that means everyone pays their fair share – cost: zero.
Reopening: we need a date, just tell us the truth, we can cope. The industry just needs to know when it will be allowed to trade again. I'm certain the government knows the date, but is not telling us. How can any business, let alone an industry, run forecasts and cash flows with no end in sight? Give us a date – cost: zero.
I really believe that once we reopen, hospitality will have a strong and sustained return to business. We will have lost many of our neighbours on the streets; there have been four closures on Charlotte Street alone, but there have been new openings too.
I often say that this past year has been about staying in the game. If you can, there is a bright, bright future and many opportunities will be out there for those who have the staying power and are fortunate enough to survive this.
I'm personally very excited by the coming year, as we celebrate 30 years on Charlotte Street and 28 years with a star in the Michelin Guide. I feel the time is right to try new ideas and I have plans, hopes and dreams for new businesses and concepts that I want to get off the ground. Now is the time to say ‘yes' to new projects and prospects. It is a time for action.
In the words of Langston Hughes: "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly."
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