David Moore questions how the government is preparing to support the industry through reopening
If you were very sharp on Sunday 14 March, watching The Andrew Marr Show, you would have heard Marr quote yours truly to chancellor Rishi Sunak: "It is massively disappointing and sheer lunacy to try to get an industry that hasn't had any revenue for probably five months to start contributing. A lot of businesses are heading down the pan."
Sunak retorted that he had created furlough. He mentioned the grants, which most of us can't get as we operate out of high rateable value sites. But I do thank him for the help with business rates and the easy access to bounce-back loans, which are much needed.
Last week Westminster Council announced that the West End was to become a continental-style outdoor dining district. But where is the joined-up thinking – the citywide thinking? Where is the London mayor? Pied à Terre is on the boundary of Camden and Westminster, so there's no outside space for us. Sadiq, step up! Set the agenda. Be brave. Be bold.
Close streets, allow operators to trade on the pavement and road – it's only going to be for a short time before the summer is over. No new licences, new regulations, new fees – just let it happen. Zero tolerance on core issues, but deregulate it for the time being. Allow vertical drinking – let this be a summer of fun and business redevelopment after months of lockdown.
What sense is there in a 14-day quarantine for new arrivals in UK? New arrivals should be tested. This is what is done in the Czech Republic – the country with the lowest number of Covid-19 deaths in Europe.
Under the current system, few will come to the UK – pre-Covid-19, more than 100,000 people a day came here to spend money. We need to welcome people, but test them and charge them for the test – there's a great new business opportunity.
We need a campaign to adapt "mindful distancing" with no metric. Hospitality locations are not designed for "distancing". Our sector operates on tight margins; if we are stuck with a two-metre or even a one-metre rule, businesses are going to unwind like we have never seen in our lifetime.
When will Pied à Terre reopen? I truly don't know. I know I can't operate with a two-metre distancing policy – change that to "mindful distancing" and we are back in business. The current rules could invalidate my insurance, my public and employee liability and there could be criminal implications.
I know I can't operate with a two-metre distancing policy – change that to ‘mindful distancing' and we are back in business
What will happen if we are contacted by ‘track and trace', saying Mr Jones dined with you last night and he is now diagnosed with Covid-19? Do I send my front of house team on sick leave and close the restaurant just after I have reopened? Will there be any support? Will we get priority testing to bring staff back quickly? We would need walk-in testing with quick results or the business closes again.
I truly hope the chancellor has some very clever ideas up his well-tailored sleeve to help us out of this most dire episode – maybe he could tinker with VAT, lowering the rates on menus and food sales. Every little helps.
When will the government and landlords wake up and smell the coffee? Q3 rents are due this week – how can we pay? The recent landlord voluntary code of conduct is not fit for purpose from an operator point of view.
But what can be done? #NationalTimeOut is a great idea; it is probably the most wide-ranging industry assistance that the government could support and at no cost to the taxpayer.
We may be able to reopen on 4 July, but whether we're able to remain open is another question.
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