New restrictions ‘nail in the coffin’ for hospitalityBy Nicola Carruthers
The UK government will close drinks-led venues in the highest tiers across England under new strengthened restrictions on hospitality that will be enforced once the lockdown ends next week.
Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed yesterday (23 November) that England’s second lockdown will end on 2 December.
Once the lockdown ends, the country will return to a toughened three-tier system, which will see bars and pubs in tier two regions only trading if customers have a substantial meal. In tier three, bars and pubs must shut and can only offer takeaway services.
Last orders in all on-trade venues will remain at 10pm, however consumers will have an extra hour to finish their drinks.
Shops, gyms and personal care services will be allowed to reopen. Nightclubs have remained closed since March.
MPs will vote on the proposed rules this week. Johnson is yet to detail which regions in England will be placed into tier one, two or three. It is expected that more areas will be placed in the higher tiers.
Trade group UK Hospitality called the three-tier system a ‘a restrictive straitjacket and at worst a lockdown in all but name for hospitality businesses’. The trade body said the measures will lead to permanent closures and job losses. The festive period is a key revenue driver for the hospitality sector.
UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The government is making a point of saying that these measures are needed in order to save Christmas. In reality, they are killing Christmas and beyond for many businesses and their customers who look forward to, and rely on, venues being open at this time of year. Sadly, for many staff, it will be a Christmas out of work.”
Nicholls noted the strengthened restrictions “should not come at the expense of hospitality”.
She added: “Only a small fraction of cases have been linked to our businesses and venues have shown that they can provide safe environments for customers and staff. If the government pursues this course of action, it is going to mean permanent closures and job losses.
“Tier three will be lockdown in everything but name for hospitality and will leave businesses almost no room for manoeuvre. With household mixing still not permitted, businesses in tier two are going to find revenues severely slashed at a crucial time for the sector.”
Nicholls called for the rapid increase of financial support “as many businesses will be forced to close, in some cases permanently”.
She said: “Our member survey has shown the current tier three restrictions, which will now effectively apply to tier two areas, will see 94% of hospitality businesses operate at a loss or simply become unviable.
“The new tier three simply means no chance of trading out of this. Government must also confirm that the increased State Aid cap of €3m [US$3.5m] will be applied – as this is preventing the distribution of grants to tens of thousands of businesses employing nearly a million people.”
‘Let people socialise safely’
The curfew’s flexibility will help businesses, Nicholls added, however it will stop them from generating revenue after 10pm.
She continued: “The big stumbling block for businesses is the lack of household mixing. This will be a huge hit that will be felt all the harder because it is almost Christmas. The government could throw the sector a lifeline if it adopted the Welsh model of limited household mixing to let people socialise safely without jeopardising public or business health.”
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said the measures “could sadly be the final nail in the coffin” for businesses that have to close under the new tier system. Like Nicholls, he also called for further financial support for the sector.
He said: “It will come as a relief to some of the hospitality sector – and their suppliers – that we’ll see a partial opening up of business in the run up to Christmas.
“However, with tougher tier restrictions likely to be in place it will still mean many pubs, bars and restaurants will remain closed. It’s sensible that those allowed to open will have curfews extended.
“For those businesses who will be forced to stay closed after investing their dwindling resources to ensure they can trade safely, this could sadly be the final nail in the coffin. Tiers two and three will both be more restrictive and reduce business’ chances of survival. It’s that stark.
“The government needs to continue the financial support for hospitality as well as its suppliers – at least the same level – until the pandemic is over.”