Dismay from hospitality sector over roadmap delay as Harrogate businesses face new blow

Harrogate's hospitality sector got the news it feared from Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night - a delay to the roadmap.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 9:39 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 9:42 am
Bar manager Jade Lacey serving the pints indoors at Devonshire Tap House pub in Harrogate which reopened in stage three of the roadmap after months of being mothballed. Picture Gerard Binks
Bar manager Jade Lacey serving the pints indoors at Devonshire Tap House pub in Harrogate which reopened in stage three of the roadmap after months of being mothballed. Picture Gerard Binks

The Government's announcement that there is to be a four-week delay to the final lifting of remaining coronavirus restrictions in England, has been labelled as a "hammer blow" to businesses whose survival is dependent on the crucial summer season.

Scientists had been warning the Prime Minister of a "significant resurgence" in people needing hospital treatment for Covid-19 if stage four of easing the lockdown went ahead as planned on June 21 thanks to the more transmittable nature of the Delta strain of the virus.

But many had hoped the success of the vaccination programme - the last set of figures showed 79.2% of adults in the UK have now had their first dose of vaccine, while 56.9% have had both doses - meant it was safe to return to normality.

The Prime Minister told the nation last night that he was "determined" that the fourth and final stage of the roadmap to normality which he started in February would now happen on July 19.

But the reaction of businesses to the latest false start for those sectors of the economy most damaged by lockdowns and Covid rules is turning from patience to exasperation with complaints of lack of support, except for furloughing.

Even the news that the number of guests at weddings and wakes will no longer be limited to 30 has been met with dismay from wedding planners and hotels that social distancing will continue with dancing among the activities still not allowed on people's big days.

As a result of the roadmap delay, capacity limits will remain in pubs, cafes, restaurants and cinemas and theatres and nightclubs will largely stay shut.

Industry groups say the delay will have a critical impact on already struggling businesses and cost UK hospitality £3bn in lost sales.

The British Chambers of Commerce said Government support for businesses had to be stepped up rather than being phased out, as was about to start happening with the return of business rates and VAT.

Claire Walker, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "This delay to the removal of restrictions will come as a hammer blow to those firms who must remain closed, and to those who continue to see their ability to trade severely restricted by the rules.

“It would be extraordinary if we saw government retracting support to businesses now, given that some firms will remain unable to fully trade and others effectively forced not to trade at all.

The Government must provide further cash grants, at least equivalent to levels provided during the first lockdown, and delay the tapering of Government payments into the furlough scheme, planned for the start of July.

The Government should also consider extending the trade credit reinsurance scheme beyond the end of June to minimise possible disruptions in insurance coverage.

“Government should work with lenders to ensure that appropriate forbearance is in place for those who have used Government lending schemes and already started to repay their loan without being able to open fully.

“An extension of the VAT deferral scheme and the 100% Business Rates relief for eligible businesses should also be considered given the length of the delay and the impact on hospitality and leisure firms.”

UK Hospitality, which represents pubs, bars and restaurants, said it recognised the Government had a balance to strike, but it said many businesses were already deeply in debt and called for greater levels of government support.

The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS), which represents caterers in the festival and events sectors, including mobile and street food businesses, is appealing to the Government to give immediate financial support to the sector.

The Night Time Industries Association, which represents nightclubs among other venues, said businesses had been waiting to open for more than 15 months and many had made financial commitments ahead of the now delayed June 21 date.

It said 54% of businesses it surveyed had ordered stock, 73% had called in staff and 60% had sold tickets.

The trade group has even threatened to legally challenge the delay, arguing that levels of mortality, hospitalisation and infection are still relatively low.

A string of music festivals planned for June and July were cancelled or postponed after the Prime Minister's announcement last night.

And the Society of London Theatre said the roadmap delay would "have serious implications for many theatres".

Although the Government has made £2 billion available to the arts through its Cultural Recovery Fund to the benefit of several venues in North Yorkshire itself, including Harrogate Theatre, many arts organisations complain they have yet to receive a penny in support.

The final funding round of £300m arts funding is expected to be announced shortly.

The UK has recorded 7,742 new coronavirus cases, according to the latest update by the Government with the total number of new cases of the past week 45.5% up on the previous week, albeit from a lower starting point than at the peak of the pandemic last year.

Public Health England figures show the most recent infection rate for the Harrogate district is 52 cases per 100,000 people - up from 16 this time last month.

The latest figure is also above the North Yorkshire average of 41, but below the England average of 70.

Meanwhile, more than 111,000 people in the district have now received their first Covid jab and over 92,000 their second.

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