Hopes and fears of Harrogate businesses over Boris Johnson's road map out of lockdown
It may only be seven weeks until the shops reopen fully under Boris Johnson's new road map out of lockdown and 12 weeks until the hospitality and tourism sector is set to return to normal but Harrogate business leaders have fired a warning that economic support measures remain crucial to any recovery.
The optimism of Prime Minister's announcement yesterday of a four-stage timetable" for easing Covid restrictions in England with the hope of an end to them all by June has been followed by today's unemployment figures showing unemployment at its highest in five years.
Data from the the Office for National Statistics showed the UK's jobless rate rose to 5.1% in the three months to December.
With the furloughing of millions of workers scheduled to end, pressure is also building on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend existing measures in next week's Budget.
The Prime Minister has warned that the process of emerging from lockdown will be dependent on the data on the pandemic and vaccination continuing on the right path over the next four months.
But the first steps on the route back to normality before society is fully reopened are still welcome to the Harrogate business community.
The chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District, Sara Ferguson, said she has been hoping for an earlier reopening of the economy but businesses in the town could at least start planning for the future at last.
She said: "“Speaking as the owner of two town centre businesses, I was hoping that a mixture of the current restrictions and the roll out of the vaccination would have seen businesses reopening sooner.
“However, that said we now have certainty and a clear timetable to work towards and businesses can begin putting in place plans to reopen safely for staff and customers."
Stage one, the reopening of schools and more social contact from March 8 is followed by stage two, from April 12, which will see the following:
All shops will be allowed to open.
Restaurants and pub gardens will be allowed to serve customers sitting outdoors, including alcohol.
UK domestic holidays away from home permitted, with self-contained accommodation able to reopen for use by members of the same household.
Gyms and spas can reopen for individuals and households.
Hairdressers, beauty salons and other "close contact services" can reopen.
Stage three, from May 17, will see the big bang for hospitality:
Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues can seat customers indoors.
Indoor entertainment such as museums, theatres, cinemas and children's play areas can open, though performances and large events will be subject to capacity limits.
Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can reopen to household groups.
Stage four, from June 21, will spell the end of all legal limits on social contact will be removed - even nightclubs will be allowed to reopen.
Harrogate BID says 2021 will still be a struggle for businesses but it is ready to offer practical help and it believes there are opportunities for the town centre to start bouncing back in stage three in seven weeks' time from now.
BID chair Sara Ferguson said Harrogate's hospitality businesses would once again make use of the outdoor tables and chairs BID purchased last summer.
In an additional piece of good news, existing pavement licences for bars cafes and restaurants in Harrogate from previous stages of lockdown will remain valid until October.
Sara Ferguson said: "“Hospitality businesses can once again make use of the outdoor tables and chairs BID purchased last summer, and the good news is existing pavement licences remain valid until October.
“Harrogate BID is working to ensure Harrogate town centre will be looking at its best as we welcome back customers to shop, eat and drink.
“Harrogate BID will continue to offer match-funding grants to help businesses in the BID district cover any reopening costs.
"This will ensure they can welcome back customers as soon as permitted to do so in what will be the ‘new trading norm’, which I’m sure will include some form of social distancing for a period."
Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday, outlining the plans for England’s roadmap out of lockdown, Welcome to Yorkshire Chief Executive James Mason issued a warning that many businesses, particularly in hospitality, "may not find a way through the latest restrictions, if they cannot open before summer and further financial support is not forthcoming.”
He said, while Welcome to Yorkshire acknowledge that there are merits in the latest announcements, including the specific dates set forward allowing businesses to reopen and a no tier system allowing for continued consistency of rules across the country, the destination management organisation would be lobbying on behalf of the tourism sector, for a clear plan from the Government to offer and outline crucial economic support for businesses.
Mr Mason's views were echoed nationally by the head of the British Chambers of Commerce.
Director general Dr Adam Marshall said: "“Even with the Prime Minister’s new roadmap, the future of thousands of firms and millions of jobs still hangs by a thread.
"Many hard-hit businesses simply don’t have the cash reserves needed to hold out several more months before they are allowed to reopen.
“All the key support schemes for business should be extended – through the summer and wherever possible throughout 2021 – to ensure that as many viable firms as possible can make it to the finish line and recover.”
Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce says it can for the first time see "green shoots of full recovery" coming in May.
But it chief executive Sandra Doherty said the hospitality sector was far from out of the woods yet.
She said: “It’s good to see the framework for the coming months, although it does seem like a long time before we can socialise in any meaningful way.
“The inconsistencies of beer gardens against pubs, and no mixing of households indoors will, I feel, make policing of these rules rather difficult.
“May’s abolishment of the rule of six outside is laughable.
"As we see people enjoying the warmer weather, who is going to count that there are no more than 30 people?
“At least May sees the green shoots of full recovery, with the full opening of the hospitality and entertainment sectors, and sporting events take place not behind closed doors."
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