Bosses Warn ‘Freedom Day’ Delay Will Destroy Hospitality

Bosses are pleading for the opportunity to trade out of trouble as they fear another month of curbs will hit sales by £3bn.

Amid rising expectations that the Prime Minister will delay the ending of Covid-19 restrictions later this month, pub and tourism bosses representing more than 150,000 workers have issued a desperate plea for support.

In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the bosses of pub chains including Greene King, Mitchells & Butlers and Stonegate Pub Company warn that the UK risks ‘a wave of business failures’ if the roadmap is pushed back beyond June 21.

The bosses say around 300,000 jobs are at risk if restrictions remain in place. They also fear that a one-month delay to the removal of social distancing guidelines would cost the industry around £3bn in sales.

Other signatories to the letter, arranged by trade group UKHospitality, include Merlin Entertainments, which operates tourism hotspots Alton Towers and the London Eye; UK holiday park owner Park Dean Resorts; and bar operator Revolution Bars.

Bosses urge govt to ‘act decisively’

The bosses wrote that there is increasing concern and despair within the hospitality and tourism sectors because of reports of a possible change to the roadmap and a delay in lifting all restrictions on June 21. The consequences of restrictions remaining would be profound, as it would further jeopardise the future of thousands of businesses, including many that have still not reopened their doors since March of last year.

Despite the huge sums invested in the venues to restrict Covid transmission, confidence in reopening would be shattered.

The bosses urge the Government to ‘act decisively’, remove all restrictions and extend a raft of support packages which have shored up the hospitality industry after more than a year of lockdowns. These include the business rates holiday and the rent and debt moratoriums which prevent landlords from evicting tenants who cannot pay their bills during Covid-19 restrictions.

The signatories wrote that they appreciated the PM has a delicate path to tread but the huge success of the vaccine roll-out has provided people with the opportunity to return to a sense of normality, enabling hospitality businesses to trade their way out of difficulties and contribute to the national recovery.

The letter comes amid growing anxiety that the spread of the Indian or Delta variant across the UK will encourage Boris Johnson to delay the final stage of the Covid-19 roadmap, thereby keeping restrictions in place beyond June 21. He is due to make an announcement later today. Figures released by Public Health England (PHE) yesterday, showing the latest variant was 60pc more transmissible than the Kent strain of Covid-19, has prompted health officials to call a halt to easing restrictions.

Staff shortages cause problems

Restaurants and pubs can only operate at a reduced capacity and are unable to serve customers at the bar, under the current rules.

Hospitality companies are set to face a £95m monthly cost if support schemes are terminated from July. Employers will also have to start paying contributions to the furlough scheme.

A Treasury spokesman said while they have provided support to hospitality and tourism businesses since the start of the pandemic, this support continues, with furlough in place until the end of September and a VAT cut to continue until March 2022.

However, to add to their woes, many of the SMEs that managed to survive the pandemic now face another threat: a shortage of staff. Although business bosses are desperate to make up for months of lost trading due to lockdown restrictions, a lack of available staff means many are having to run their companies at reduced hours, such as remaining closed on Mondays or shutting early at weekends.

Hospitality has been especially hard hit by a ‘perfect storm’ of Brexit, Covid-19 and people not returning to work after furlough, resulting in many jobs going unfilled.

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