Big cities call for changes to restrictions to prevent collapse of hospitality sector

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The leaders of Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester Councils have written to the Government warning that the hospitality sector is at risk of collapse unless there is a review of the current licensing restrictions and household mixing advice brought in due to COVID-19.

In a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Business Secretary Alok Sharma, the leaders and Chief Executives of each of the major cities say that hotel occupancy is down to around 30 per cent and footfall has dropped by up to 70 per cent.

Leisure and hospitality in Liverpool accounts for 20 per cent of the city’s GVA and provides half of the £270 million in business rates which funds essential services.

They write: “It is apparent though that the new restrictions are threatening an economic impact on the hospitality sector which will be huge, disproportionate and not what we believe the Government intended when designing the measures.

“Each of our cities have a thriving hospitality sector populated by good, responsible businesses, generating thousands of jobs with many providing quality training, apprenticeships and career paths into the industry. They are a vital part of our economies going forward.

“The stark reality is that these businesses are facing the prospect of a complete decimation in trade, not just in the short term but as we look ahead to the sector’s traditional lifeblood of the Christmas period and almost certainly continuing into spring/summer of next year which we know with certainty will result in mass market failure, huge levels of redundancies and depleted and boarded up high streets.”

They also raise concerns that the advisory guidance around not mixing with other households which is currently in place in each of the cities is “unenforceable”, “contradictory and confusing” and “hugely damaging to businesses together with the effect of undermining public confidence” because in law the rule of six applies.

They go on: “By not permitting the mixing of households in the sanitised and socially distanced conditions of licensed premises or coffee shops complying with the rule of six, it is genuinely creating a position which is the worst of both worlds in that the minority of people who flout the advisory guidance will continue to do so and the majority of responsible individuals will simply stay at home, with the unintended consequence of cities falling into a state of decline.”

They are calling on the Government to:

· Make the ‘no household mixing’ advice law and compensate business appropriately with a package of support – or allow for limited mixing via the ‘rule of six’ in controlled environments

· Where appropriate, review the 10pm curfew to help restaurants which thrive on the 8-9pm second sitting booking slot which can account for upwards of 40 per cent of their trade

· Engage with local authorities and businesses and discuss considerations in advance and work with councils to get the messaging right, highlighting and celebrating good practice and increase public confidence to visit city centres and venues when the time is right

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: “We need to find a way to adjust the restrictions to ensure a balance in protecting public health and the need to protect businesses, many of which are teetering on the brink.

“Liverpool is a city which has built its revival on the leisure and hospitality sectors and it is a massive contributor not just to employment but also to business rates which fund vital local services. The vast majority of our businesses have responded in the right way, investing heavily in providing safe, compliant environments and a place for people to enjoy themselves safely. The inspections we have carried out show a very high level of compliance.

“People in restaurants are in COVID-safe environments with high levels of sanitisation and appropriate spacing. Forcing people to leave at 10pm runs the risk that they then go on together to a house in a large group which does not have the same measures in place. It is also devastating for the restaurant trade because it is depriving it of a late sitting which makes up a substantial part of its takings and is the difference between survival or going under.

“We can’t have a one size fits all measure for the whole of the country – we need to be able to take account of local circumstances if we are to stand any chance of helping businesses through this intensely difficult period.”