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Delayed on-trade reopening redoubles calls for support

Published:  23 February, 2021

The government’s roadmap for re-opening has brought little cheer for hospitality, with already financially-stricken restaurants, bars and pubs languishing towards the back of the queue.

As it stands, on-trade outlets will be allowed to offer table service outside from 12 April at the earliest, with a return to indoor service proposed for 17 May, but with groups limited to six people or two households.

This, says the sector, will cause substantial numbers of businesses to fail, with further job losses, unless significant further support is offered by government.

Many in the trade also pointed out that large numbers of restaurants and pubs do not have any significant outside space, making the April date redundant.

Speaking to Harpers as Boris Johnson announced the reopening plans yesterday, Des Gunewardena, CEO of D&D London, described the mid-May date as “amazingly late” given the fast roll out of vaccines, adding that post the first UK lockdown, “government support has been shockingly bad”.

Highlighting that closure is costing D&D London group £1.5m a month, Gunewardena called for renewed lobbying of government from business that are “on their knees”, imploring government to listen and offer further support.

With restaurant outposts in Paris and New York, he also contrasted the generous support offered in France and the US with the far more limited support in the UK, while arguing that healthy restaurants could play a key part in helping revive moribund city centres as part of the wider economic recovery.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that more support will be forthcoming, with relief measures to be announced in the March budget, but many still fear it will not be enough or come too late for the sector.

“The sector is obviously devastated that its reopening will be so far away. From the start of November, the sector will have been closed for nearly 200 days, with just a couple of weeks of heavily restricted trading in December. A major package of financial support is imperative if hospitality is to survive,” said UK Hospitality (UKH) CEO Kate Nicholls.

“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.”

Vagabond Wines owner Stephen Finch went further, saying “it is really unfortunate to hear [government] change the metric from deaths to infections”, suggesting that “once people stop dying, good luck trying to keep people out of pubs and restaurants”.

Nicholls also took to Twitter, reiterating the results from a UKH-backed survey showing that “only one in five hospitality business have enough cash to get to March let alone May”, joining the chorus of disappointed voices across the trade.

Gunewardena perhaps best summed up the mood, saying that the government needed to stop acting retrospectively and focus instead on recovery, ensuring that hospitality and its key role in the economy was central to its plans.