Industry figures have been giving their reaction to Boris Johnson’s roadmap plan to lead England out of lockdown.
What’s clear is that this is the plan. There’s plenty of criticism of, not so much the detail, but the speed of re-opening, but no-one can now claim that they don’t know what the plan is.
Attention now turns to the chancellor’s Budget speech next Wednesday (3rd March) and the measures that, hopefully, he can provide to save jobs and relieve financial pressure of hospitality businesses.
Shpherd Neame chief executive, Jonathan Neame, said: “Today’s announcement has provided welcome clarity on a roadmap out of this crisis. We will be able to open some pub gardens from April 12, and all of our pubs for indoor service from May 17.
“We are disappointed that we cannot open for indoor service earlier and believe that pubs should open at the same time as non-essential retail. But the critical point is that from 21st June all legal limits on social contact will be removed. This is the moment that we can finally come together again to enjoy everything that defines the Great British pub — music, sport, laughter and chat. We are in the business of bringing people together not keeping them apart.
“We also welcome the government’s decision to remove the more unworkable restrictions introduced in the autumn such as the ‘substantial meal’ rule. Instead, we will follow the same exemplary hygiene and social distancing measures introduced last summer to ensure a safe environment for our team members and customers.”
UKHospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said: “The job for the government now is to make sure that our sector survives this further period of closure intact. The chancellor has just nine days to save thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs that simply will not be there without a substantial package of compensation. According to the latest Government data nearly two-thirds of hospitality businesses will run out of cash before May, before they are allowed to re-open.
“In the immediate term, we need a generous compensation package that goes beyond what was offered in January if we expect businesses to survive, with a commitment to eliminate new costs that are due to hit, such as HMRC tax bills and loan repayments. An extension of the VAT cut and business rates holiday must be confirmed, along with a targeted extension of the furlough scheme.
“We must also have an extension of the rent moratorium, with loan repayments and HMRC debt delayed in order to give businesses some breathing room from the ruinous mountain of debt that has built up for too many. Asking businesses to start paying this money back when they are not even open could be terminal for many.”
‘If the roadmap is rushed, it will cause more harm than good’
Jon Knott, head of consumer insight at Paymentsense, said: “The UK’s indie pub scene is a core feature of our culture, so it’s vital that when pubs do re-open, we as a nation consider supporting small and local businesses. Unfortunately, many smaller family-owned businesses, classed as self-employed, may have not qualified for the furlough scheme so will be more desperate than ever for custom as we ease out of lockdown.
“If done correctly, this could be the start of the hospitality sector seeing its earnings increase just in time for the summer months, where nicer weather will see more Brits out and about and ready to spend. However, if the roadmap is rushed, without seeing fully fleshed out Covid-safe guidelines in place, it will likely cause more harm than good. This could potentially spell further restrictions and not allow all social restrictions eased by June 21.”
Phil Whitehead, Western Europe managing director for Molson Coors Beverage Company, said: “While we welcome the roadmap for re-opening hospitality from the prime minister and the removal of the substantial meal and curfew restrictions, for thousands of pubs up and down the country holding out until the middle of May is going to be impossible without continued financial support.
“The government must use the forthcoming Budget to deliver the financial bridge that our sector desperately needs — extending the furlough and grants scheme, expanding the VAT reduction for hospitality to include alcohol, and extending the business rates relief.”
Chris Soley, chief executive of Camerons Brewery, tweeted: “There must also be a rent solution and longer time to pay on tax liabilities/government loans. Otherwise, all the public money spent so far is wasted, and the consequences are that hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost, thousands of vital community pubs are closed forever, and hundreds of viable businesses are bust causing economic catastrophe.
“Step up Rishi Sunak so we, the hospitality sector which is such a major part of our economy, can eventually lead us out of this financial crisis.”
Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, said: “Opening pub gardens in April simply isn’t viable, so many pubs will have to remain closed and, with a phased reopening from May, next week’s Budget needs to bring positive news as we continue to burn tens of millions of pounds in cash every month. As we look to June, we need clarity on what the full lifting of restrictions looks like so we can plan for pubs to be open as normal once more.”
Peter Borg-Neal, founder and chairman of Oakman Inns, tweeted: “The prime minister has just said that for businesses ‘the end is in sight’. An unfortunate use of words for many…”