Food, drink and equipment suppliers have called for a speedier return to a fully operational hospitality industry despite a reluctant acceptance of the prime minster's roadmap for reopening announced yesterday.
Hugo Mahoney, chief executive of Brakes, said: "We welcome the notice that the prime minister has given for the reopening of schools, which will allow wholesalers and their suppliers sufficient time to restock and be ready for what looks like a complete school re-mobilistion on 8 March. We have also been working closely with the Welsh and Scottish administrations to reopen schools to their timetables.
"However, despite the positivity in the reduction in Covid transmission, vaccination successes and mass testing kit availability, it is extremely frustrating that the hospitality industry continues to be at the back of the queue for full reopening.
"While we understand and fully support the need to ensure people's safety and wellbeing and to protect the NHS, we urge the government to introduce a data-driven explanation for why hospitality is not yet reopening.
"Hospitality businesses, wholesalers and their suppliers across the country have invested heavily in creating appropriate working practices and customer environments that safeguard the health and wellbeing of both staff and customers. This successful self-regulation by a highly responsible industry needs to be recognised and supported.
"We call on government to review its decision not to reopen hospitality earlier, before irrevocable harm is done to businesses which are a vital part of the fabric of life in Britain, and the country's third-largest source of jobs."
UKHospitality reported yesterday that the UK's hospitality sector supply chain is facing devastation, with 324,000 jobs at risk unless businesses receive immediate financial support from the government.
The research from UKHospitality highlighted the impact of the Covid crisis on the hospitality supply chain and the lack of financial support that has been received by businesses.
A survey found that one in five jobs in the supplier workforce have already been lost, with the sector's workforce at just 82% of its February 2020 level. One in three businesses have received no government grants or loans and, without support, two in five businesses will have to close, with one in five facing insolvency with a possible 324,000 redundancies.
Keith Warren, chief executive of the Foodservice Equipment Association, said: "We welcome the roadmap – it gives a reasonably concrete schedule against which the supply chain can start planning. Foodservice operators now need to talk to suppliers about the things they might require to adapt their processes and systems – for example, if they are changing their menu or operation in order to offer a takeaway or delivery service. Automation of processes will be a key driver for efficiency.
"Operators will also have to adapt to big changes in the supply chain. There could be major challenges here – for example, the supply chain has slimmed down over the past year, and there will be manufacturing and supply issues, because of both the pandemic and Brexit."
Andrew Selley, chief executive officer at Bidfood, commented: "We are certainly pleased at least to have a clearer picture of the timelines in which our customers will be able to reopen, and to finally see light at the end of the tunnel. However, it is disappointing that there is still some time to wait before restrictions can be lifted for the hospitality sector which has suffered for such a long time, and the wholesalers that supply it. Let's hope that the government is able to stick to these dates, as if they are pushed back with a week's notice, it will add further cost, create food waste, and potentially have a knock on effect on consumer confidence which we know is currently fragile.
"It's so important now with the next budget that hospitality, including wholesalers, are supported until things return to normal. We're certainly behind the Federation of Wholesale Distributors' (FWD) petition highlighting the support that wholesalers, who have seen no sector-specific support for over a year, will need to invest up front in the stock that is essential for re-opening and reviving the out of home economy. "
Justin Cadbury, chief executive of equipment manufacturer Synergy Grill Technology, added: "The last year has been ghastly for everyone, but right now the key goal is to break through the ‘lockdown gloom'. The hospitality industry has suffered the double whammy of being unfairly put forward as a Covid spreader when the evidence shows the opposite.
"The industry has also invested in lots of equipment and staff training to give the public a safe experience and, again, this has not received its fair recognition in the daily media broadcasts."
As announced yesterday, pubs and restaurants in England will be able to start reopening outdoor areas from mid-April, but indoor spaces including hotels will have to remain closed until at least 17 May. Businesses will only have one week's notice of confirmation for reopening, and nightclubs will be some of the last businesses to reopen, from 21 June at the earliest.
Although target dates have been provided, Boris Johnson said there would be at least five weeks between each step to ensure the data reflects the impact of the prior step, and government decisions would be "led by data, not dates".
Commercial laundries have been severely affected by the pandemic, and David Stevens, chief executive of the Textiles Services Association, which represents commercial laundry and textile rental businesses, said: "The chancellor needs to protect the supply chain – laundries are being asked to survive until 17 May at the earliest without any extra support. That's no surprise – we've had no support from the government throughout the pandemic. We were shut by the government last March and, apart from six weeks in summer 2020, we have seen volumes at 10% of the norm at best.
"Ninety per cent of the commercial laundries supporting the hospitality market have borrowed money to survive. Now they are being told to wait until June before they will see any proper recovery.
"Without support, many of our members will disappear, along with tens of thousands of jobs."
Smaller start-up businesses have also felt the impact of Covid-19. Henry Chevallier-Guild, founder of Nonsuch Shrubs, said: "2020 was due to be our ‘break-out year', with a number of premium listings confirmed in the on-trade. The March lockdown brought an abrupt end to that and, like much of the industry, we have been treading water ever since.
"We are cautiously optimistic that trade will bounce back and our ongoing financing of the business reflects our confidence that this will happen. However, the prospect that so many of our peers could potentially face bankruptcy within touching distance of the starting line, and so affect the operating capacity of the whole hospitality sector, must be a concern, not just for the industry but the broader economy as a whole. Continued government support is imperative from the top to the bottom of our trade, lest all the investment and Herculean effort put in thus far be wasted."
Michelle Jee, senior brand manager (out of home) at Tata Consumer Products, added: "We're truly proud of the work done by our teams, our suppliers and distribution partners who have worked so hard to ensure that we have been able to maintain supplies of Tetley throughout this pandemic, while giving priority to important customers like the NHS, care homes and front-line services. There are still some big challenges ahead for the industry and we support calls to provide help across the whole supply chain as it works towards recovery."