Britain’s hospitality industry has issued a stark warning to the government, saying that any delay to the scheduled relaxation of restrictions this month would have a “devastating effect”.
UK Hospitality, a trade body, said that any hold-up in the removal of “all legal limits on social contact” due on June 21 under the prime minister’s road map to recovery would badly hit “an already fragile hospitality sector”.
Although Boris Johnson had initially insisted that there was nothing to prevent the plan from proceeding, the surge in the Indian variant of the coronavirus has caused leading scientists to recommend a postponement.
Kate Nicholls, UK Hospitality’s chief executive, said that the latest market data from CGA and Alix Partners showed that a quarter of licensed premises had yet to reopen after the latest lockdown because the restrictions prevented them from making a profit.
“A delay would push many businesses closer to the cliff edge of failure, meaning more job losses,” she said.
Nicholls, 51, added that any slip in the June 21 date would require further government support, including the pushing back of business rates until at least October, an extension to the rent moratorium and a permanent reduction of VAT on hospitality goods and services.
“Businesses need a swift, publicly stated commitment that such support will be in place in the event of a delay, giving them much needed reassurance after more than 15 months of closure and severely disrupted trading,” she said.
Sacha Lord, 49, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said that the uncertainty was “creating a wave of panic” and that any delay would have “severe consequences” for operators, with many likely to “fall by the wayside”. He added: “While the ringing of tills and clinking of pint glasses have been welcome sounds to the ears of bar owners, the scars of the pandemic will take years to heal. Having spent half a billion on measures to create safe environments, the vast majority are currently trading at a loss.”
Lord said that the uncertainty was being most keenly felt by nightclub operators, who had been forced to keep their venues closed for more than a year, adding: “If they remain closed, we are bound to see the return of unregulated, unlicensed illegal mass gatherings, which quickly surge out of control and bring with them an increased likelihood of illegal substance misuse.”
Phil Urban, 58, the chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers, the All Bar One and Toby Carvery operator, said that he was not surprised by the fears that the government may not lift all remaining restrictions in three weeks’ time.
“If I’m honest, I’ve always been slightly sceptical about June 21, purely because over the past year we’ve had ever-moving goalposts,” he said. “It would obviously be very unhelpful if they prolonged the restrictions because as a sector we can’t return to real profitability until they are lifted.”