Regional firms called for continued financial support in response to last night’s “unacceptable” news that it will be another month before final Covid restrictions ease.
The hospitality and events industries in particular remained concerned over the impact of continued social distancing restrictions on their businesses.
“The announcement of a delay in full reopening was in no way surprising,” said Vaughan Allen, chief executive of Manchester’s city centre management company CityCo, and of Manchester BID (business improvement district).
“However, whatever date social distancing is lifted, the same issues remain for the hospitality sector: support loans coming due for payment, eviction suspensions being lifted, business rates coming back into place and, above all, a staffing crisis.
“Given good weather, many hospitality businesses in the city centre have been thriving in the past few weeks, but all are facing this tidal wave of problems. We should now be looking to the future and taking positive action to help the hospitality sector with a package of targeted aid, aimed at long-term survival and growth.”
Bill Addy, chief executive of Liverpool BID Company, went further, arguing that there is little evidence to suggest that it is unsafe to continue easing restrictions. Liverpool has staged two pilot large-scale events in recent weeks, which the city council said caused no detectable spread of the virus.
More than 13,000 people attended two nightclub events, a music festival and a business conference, in April and May.
“We need to see the figures, because what we understood from the Liverpool pilot was that, with a negative test before the events, there was no Covid outbreak. Show us the data that shows it isn’t safe to reopen,” Addy said. “Clarity is vital here. There is a lot of frustration around this, and it is understandable.”
He added: “We are disappointed to see the 21 June date pushed back, especially for our city’s famous night-time economy and events industry, which has been among the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.
“We would urge the government to ensure that support is linked to enforced closure so that our creative industries and hospitality sector is not hit even further by being forced to lay dormant.
“We are talking about an industry that is used to negotiating contracts with international artists, managing complex venues, selling thousands of tickets, adhering to government guidelines – they understand the challenge and they are determined to be able to open safely. Work with them on how to do that. Don’t just bolt their doors closed. The same goes for our hospitality sector.”
Liverpool BID Company is working with trade group Liverpool Hospitality to identify the key challenges the sector is facing right now, from recruitment to VAT, and plans to communicate its findings to the Government.
“Support must continue if businesses are not able to open their doors and if there is reduced demand,” Addy said.
UnitedCity, which represents more than 120 businesses in Manchester, described the Government’s latest change in tack as “inconsistent and incoherent”. Its founder members, including ex-footballer Gary Neville, Bruntwood chief executive Chris Oglesby, OBI director Will Lewis, PR director Lisa Morton, and Downtown in Business chief Frank McKenna, said in a statement they are “deeply disappointed”.
“Having pushed out a strong message that vaccinations, along with a strong testing regime, would save our summer, Johnson and his colleagues have now seemingly abandoned that strategy, and moved the goalposts once again.
“We accept that infection rates, as was inevitable, have increased. However, hospitalisations and coronavirus deaths have, thankfully, dramatically reduced.
“But ministers now appear to be moving to a position where they want to eradicate Covid completely before allowing the country to open up normally once again. That is both unrealistic and unacceptable.”
Last night’s announcement will be “catastrophic for many businesses, and for a good number of them this will be the final nail in the coffin” the statement added.
“As much as the Prime Minister has suggested he is ‘confident’ that the delay will end on 19 July, there will be understandable scepticism about his latest dangled carrot.”
Others adopted a pragmatic stance in their response to the news. Alan Cavill, assistant chief executive of Blackpool Council, said: “It was inevitable I suppose, given where we are with the infection position, unfortunately.
“But it’s going to be difficult for businesses that were expecting a release from lockdown. There are businesses on the edge, undoubtedly. The Government needs to think of those businesses and what they can do to help. A lot of their support has been very welcome but less targeted than it could have been.
“[In Blackpool], we will try to do everything we can to support them and make sure they can make it through to 19 July. It appears now that the infection rate is not driving huge numbers of people to hospital or indeed causing many tragic deaths. Long may that continue.”
And Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, said: “Many businesses will be disappointed but realistic in their response to the decision to delay the full reopening of our economy.
“So many lives and livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic and the restrictions it has brought upon the country. The process of unlocking must be irreversible – the last thing anyone wants is a return to greater restrictions – so a pause can be justified if it’s a means to that end.
“However, what must happen next is a renewed, strong commitment to providing targeted support to those sectors which will be most adversely affected or undermined by this latest delay, including hospitality and the arts. We encourage a full reopening of our economy as soon as is practically possible.”