Hospitality bosses demand certainty amid fears of delay to easing lockdown

·3 min read

Hospitality chiefs have demanded “certainty” from the Government and said further support is urgently needed if it chooses to push back plans to ease pandemic restrictions further on June 21.

The Prime Minister is due to announce on Monday June 14 whether or not the fourth stage of the Government’s road map out of lockdown will continue as planned.

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of pub owner Shepherd Neame, has said the Government must confirm a firm date for the axing of all restrictions if there is any delay and avoid recurrent reviews.

He told the PA news agency: “The key thing right now is certainty. If there has to be a delay then it should be short and time specific because we need to be absolutely certain that things will change from that date.

“What we absolutely can’t have is a return to a cycle of five-week reviews without knowing how things will end up.”

Shepherd Neame chief executive, Jonathan Neame
Shepherd Neame chief executive, Jonathan Neame (Shepherd Neame/PA)

The company runs more than 300 pubs in London and the South East and said the end to social distancing must not be cast aside.

Mr Neame added: “The basis has always been the justification that we need to reduce hospitalisations and decrease the burden on the NHS.

“We’ve seen the strength of the vaccine rollout so it appears we have been doing what’s needed to achieve this so lets not move the goalposts now.

“The end will also have to see the full end of social distancing. It’s one thing if you are looking at a country pub with a large garden but it is essential to remove distancing to make so many bars and pubs viable.”

The latest industry figures revealed that pubs, bars and restaurants reported a 26% sales plunge in May despite the easing of restrictions, with bar firms the heaviest hit.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, also highlighted that thousands of operators will continue to lose money until the last phase of the road map out of lockdown restrictions.

She said: “Hospitality businesses cannot continue to operate under conditions that leave them unable to trade profitably and so we echo the importance of Government support should there be any delay to the complete lifting of restrictions on July 21.”

Ms Nicholls added there will need to be a rethink regarding financial support which is due to vanish or change from the end of June.

Currently, the moratorium on rent payments is due to expire at the end of the month with the business rates holiday for retail, leisure and hospitality firms due to change from full relief at the end of this month to a discount limited at £2 million.

“Among other measures, the Government must postpone business rates payments until at least October and extend the rent moratorium while a long-term solution is found,” the trade body boss said.

“Businesses need a swift, publicly-stated commitment that such support will be in place in the event of any delays, giving them much-needed reassurance after more than 15 months of closure and severely disrupted trading.

“Hospitality is desperate to get back to what it does best and can play a key role in the economic recovery of the UK – but only if it is given the proper support.”