Coronavirus: trade needs more support if social distancing measures extended

‘Pragmatic, evidence-based plan’ needed to help hospitality businesses reopen

FURTHER support for hospitality businesses is needed if social distancing measures are to be extended, trade group UK Hospitality has said.

Responding to UK chief medical officer Chris Whitty’s comments yesterday (April 22) that social distancing could be in place until the end of the year, the organisation said one million jobs could be at risk unless measures to protect hospitality businesses are put in place.  It comes as the Scottish Government today (April 23) published its ‘COVID-19: A Framework for Decision-Making’ document, which states: “We are likely to require that gathering in groups, for example in pubs or at public events, is banned or restricted for some time to come.”

UK Hospitality has written to cabinet minister Michael Gove, recommending a six-point plan to help the country’s hospitality businesses reopen following the crisis.

The trade group said the diverse range of businesses in the sector means some may be able to reopen earlier than others, following government guidelines; and stressed the need for a phased approach to avoid a “yo-yo effect” of openings and closings, which it said could result in businesses failing and up to one million jobs lost.

The recommendations include the extension of the furlough scheme beyond the end of June for hospitality; legislative intervention on rent payments; improved access to capital; a comprehensive fiscal package to stimulate demand post-crisis; an overhaul of business regulation; and a guarantee of a “functioning and responsive” insurance market.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “With social distancing measures still in place, reopening the hospitality sector without a plan would be catastrophic.

“The hospitality sector was one of the first hit by the crisis and the hardest hit in terms of lost revenue. It will also be one of the last to fully emerge from the lockdown.

“An extended period of social distancing will mean that many hospitality businesses will not be able to operate fully, and many will not be able to open at all. Hospitality is a sector built around socialising, so there must be government support for businesses that continue to be hit by this crisis.

“We need a plan of phased opening for our sector. For those businesses that can trade safely with social distancing measures still in place, they should be able to. For the many venues where it is not possible, support, such as the furlough scheme, must be extended to make sure these businesses stay alive and jobs kept open. We can’t have a situation where, overnight, the entire sector is suddenly expected to hit the ground running.

“If the correct support is not in made available to help businesses get back to work when the time is right, then businesses will have survived the immediate crisis only to find themselves out of business during the aftermath.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, underlined the need for greater support if social distancing is to be extended.

“Pubs are the original social network, so reopening them with social distancing restrictions is going to be extremely difficult – both for staff and customers alike,” she said.

“It’s clear that the government are going to need to give pubs special consideration for a restart, as well as specific support just for them. The Job Retention Scheme must continue for pubs throughout their closure along with a ‘back to work’ scheme with the same level of support when they can re-open. Such measures will save jobs whilst the trade slowly recovers.

“Further extension of the grant support from government for pubs, including the 10,000 pubs above the threshold for such support at present, will also be needed. Pubs will be lost if such measures are not taken.

“We need these measures put in place now, to ensure that pubs can survive and be ready to reopen when safe to do so and then help as they slowly recover.”