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Support must continue if hospitality to begin reopening under social distancing from July, operators say

10 May 2020 by
Support must continue if hospitality to begin reopening under social distancing from July, operators say

Hospitality operators have stressed that support must continue if parts of the sector are to be allowed to reopen in July, or "3.2 million jobs will be at stake".

Prime minister Boris Johnson tonight said that restrictions on the industry could begin to lift in July if the government's five tests are met, but stressed that social distancing measures would be in place.

Nisha Katona, founder of Mowgli restaurant group, told The Caterer: "We thought it would be July before they would make any moves whatsoever, but we still don't know what that move is going to look like and the biggest concern for everyone is whether the Coronavirus Job Retention Support (CJRS) continues.

"The basic position is that it's experimentation and when the time comes for them to experiment with hospitality, we're very happy to conduct that experiment if that CJRS support is in place for the duration of that.

"They know that unless they want this massive industry to go under, that once we do open we will need continued support to get back on our feet properly, because most of us will be operating at a complete loss if there are social distancing requirements. They've got to compensate for that, otherwise there's 3.2 million jobs at stake."

No further details on what the first stages of reopening the industry were given this evening, although more could be revealed with the publication of a more detailed report by government tomorrow (Monday).

Whatever happens, operators are anticipating a gradual return of guests. Robin Rowland, Europe operating partner at Trispan, said: "Phasing is what we had expected, but for hospitality without agreed protocols and, crucially, government confidence to guests visiting restaurants and cafes in July, it's likely to be a slow recovery.

"Not having a full workforce back in London, plus travel restrictions will not help. Getting fiscal support will be crucial to exit. My sense is we will hear more tomorrow, but all a bit vague now."

Chris Mitchell, managing director of contract caterer the Genuine Dining Co, said the briefing was "confusing and doesn't give us anything to celebrate".

He elaborated: "Our sector and our clients will have a look at the guidelines that come out over the coming days and assess the situation. Our clients want to get back to work and make sure that as with other health and safety issues their staff, our customers, have a safe place to work.

"It's not practical however for many of our customers or staff to ride bikes or walk to work. So we will have to wait and see how clients deal with this. It's going to affect numbers of people in offices or more likely lead to the lack of social distancing on public transport. If public transport gets overwhelmed all other efforts from us are in vein.

"I think that for hospitality on the whole this will have a very negative impact on the sector. Many businesses hoping for lifting of restrictions sooner will be under greater pressure to decide if they will be able to survive this period. I think we will see a number of business go under in the coming weeks and a scary number when the furlough system is closed or reduced.

"As always, challenging environments give opportunity for nimble, creative businesses and we remain confident that we will get through this and take advantage of any opportunities along the way."

General manager of the Royal Lancaster London and 2019 Hotelier of the Year Sally Beck said she was also not surprised by the July date, but said the "vague" advice offered little for operators to work from. She said: "some parts of hospitality to my mind might be cafes and restaurants".

She added: "The interesting thing for me is that Johnson has put quarantine on air travel, yet no mention of the other borders – Channel tunnel, ferries etc. If you're going to secure the borders, you should secure the borders. I don't know how long that's going to be, but if it goes on for a very long time when other countries are open, it would then probably affect our ability to capture corporate travel."

UKHospitality's chief executive Kate Nicholls said Johnson's statement "leaves the door open" for support to some areas of the economy to be extended.

She said: The prime minister gave us a sense of the shape of his plan and the journey ahead. Much detail will follow but the focus on saving lives, and saving livelihoods, is an important and positive basis for progress.

"Mr Johnson was explicit about his commitment to support those workers whose businesses are not able to return soon, and we remain committed to continuing our dialogue with the government to achieve that. We have been calling for a more flexible, extended furlough system and today's statement appears to leave the door open for that.

"UKHospitality has already been working up protocols for implementation in different parts of the sector, to allow venues to confidently open their doors when it is safe to do so. This is very much consistent with the approach of ‘Covid secure' standards that the prime minister referenced. He recognised in his statement that some parts of business will be able to open and others won't – we will work to ensure that the government is well-placed to support those in hospitality that need longer, as well as on enabling those who are able to return."

Serena von der Heyde, owner of Victorian House hotel in the Lake District and Georgian House in London's Victoria, said while she was "really relieved" to hear that some hospitality businesses might open from July, she "had expected more detail".

She said: "Some industries have been told that from tomorrow they can go back to work adhering to social distancing like construction and manufacturing. For hospitality we will need more notice as to what is required to re-start. It is imperative that we know now which sectors of the industry will re-open first, what training our staff will need, and what PPE and equipment will be needed. I know that I have nearly two months to prepare, at the earliest, but I can't use the time to prepare without knowing what I am preparing for. It could be a business breaker to be given the green light to open, for the government support 'rug' to be pulled away, and then to have to wait a month to procure the PPE necessary to re-open for example...

"I am rather disappointed with tonight's announcement. I had hoped to learn when I might expect my hotels to be able to re-open and whilst we know that some hospitality businesses may open from July, it leaves me with so many questions - will that include hotels, if so in what form will we be allowed to open? I need to know how long we have to survive without any income so that I can keep the business afloat.

"If Boris tonight had given a date when hotels would open, even if it was 1 September with the possibility that the date could be brought forward, we would be taking bookings this week, and taking deposits, and those deposits would help our cash flow. I appreciate that these are uncertain times, but the uncertainty is having a desperate effect on our businesses.

"I value the health of my guests, team and local community above everything else and I want to prepare now to deliver the best, safest service possible. We know that the future is going to be entirely different, and we are ready to embrace that and train for that."

Von Der Heyde added: "As an industry we have a positive and vital role to play, in terms of the economy and the mental health of our team and communities. The sooner we have clarity, the better we will be able to support our nation."

Nick Mackenzie, Greene King chief executive, said: "We of course want to welcome back customers to our pubs as soon as we can, but the impact on our 38,000 people and our commitment to customer safety are our primary concerns. We are keen to avoid a false start and the support that the government has provided during the lockdown will also be needed during the recovery phase as maintaining social distancing will have a significant impact on pubs. We are working closely with our people and our tenants to put in place a reopening strategy that adheres closely to government guidance so that when we do open our doors again, it is with robust safety and hygiene measures in place for our team and customers."

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), said: "The industry was looking for a glimmer of hope today, a date to plan to and further financial support reassured, but it looks like we have more weeks of uncertainty ahead of us.

"With insufficient clarity as to when pubs will reopen, our sector remains in limbo and facing severe uncertainty and financial devastation. If Government plans to keep pubs closed until the final phase of release, as rumoured, this would make pubs first in and last out of lockdown.

"Despite this, the Government hasn't outlined any specific additional financial support for pubs to assure and help them through the extended lockdown hardship they face. We understand that pubs should only open when safe to do so, but extending the lockdown without offering additional support will be devastating.

"Our own research shows that 40% of Britain's pubs won't survive beyond September with the current level of financial support on offer from the Government. That's almost 19,000 pubs that won't reopen. The Government must understand that the current financial support they are providing, although welcome, does not go anywhere near enough to cover pub's costs through an extended lockdown. This is before we even consider an eventual reopening inevitably with vastly reduced revenue due to stringent social distancing restrictions in place."

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