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Freedom Day sees long-awaited return of late-night economy

Published:  19 July, 2021

The UK is celebrating the final end of the restrictions on hospitality today (July 19), with just under 12,000 venues finally able to open their doors after being shuttered since the first quarter of 2020.

Freedom Day sailed into view last night on the back of a much-awaited spell of warm weather. Streamers were set off at 12am outside clubs and music venues in celebration of re-opening for the first time following 16 months of closure.

It’s a turning point for the hospitality sector which has seen the permanent closure of nearly 10,000 licensed premises and lost more than £87bn in sales over the course of the pandemic.

According to the latest Market Recovery Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners, released last week, just under 89% of all known UK hospitality venues were open by the end of June 2021, leaving 11,928 sites yet to recommence trading. Many of these were large and late-night venues.

According to the Monitor, nearly one third (31.2%) of large and late-night businesses were still closed as of the end of June 2021. The hope is that many of these will be able to open today, now that restrictions have come to an official end.

Karl Chessell, CGA’s director for hospitality operators and food, EMEA, said: “After a hugely difficult 16 months for hospitality, and an unwelcome extra four-week delay until ‘freedom day’, it will be a huge relief to see many more sites open. But with so many venues still closed and restrictions still in place, it will be a very anxious wait to see how many are able to reopen. Hospitality has already lost more than 9,000 sites during the Covid-19 crisis, and sustained government support is essential to prevent further damage.”

In spite of a celebratory mood, challenges lie ahead with the number of Covid cases rising in England and the sector still suffering from unrecoverable losses. In net terms, the UK has lost 25 hospitality venues per day since June 2020. At the end of June 2021, Britain had around 106,000 licensed premises – more than 9,000 venues less than the total number of venues in June 2020. This represents an 8% contraction of the market in just 12 months.

In recognition of hospitality’s struggles, further government support was announced on Friday by Business Minister Paul Scully.

The new Hospitality Strategy, based around the ‘Three Rs’ of reopening, recovery and resilience, includes sustainability commitments and a focus on vocational training schemes in a bid to boost the sector productivity post-Covid.

It will also see the government work with the British Business Bank and other lenders to “support access to finance for hospitality firms so they can invest in their businesses”.

UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said: “The pandemic has devastated the hospitality sector and businesses are desperate to bounce back strongly and return to profitable trading. That’s why the launch of this new Hospitality Strategy is so important – it offers a strong platform to deliver the supportive regulatory and trading environment we need to recover, rebuild resilience and thrive.

“Building and training our workforce is a top priority if hospitality is to quickly revive and drive a national recovery, so it’s incredibly positive that a key part of this strategy is focused on addressing the current recruitment challenges and raising the profile of long-term sector careers.

“On the focus on carbon reduction, significant work is already ongoing in terms of leading the sector to a net zero future, so measures that will help support the industry’s roadmap are welcome. Ultimately, this strategy sets out a positive vision for the future of hospitality and how a thriving sector can help regenerate high streets and tourism destinations across every part of the country. We look forward to working closely with government to deliver a plan of action.”