Property and hospitality businesses in the city-region expressed a mix of anger, frustration, fear and dismay after mayor Andy Burnham’s attempts to secure more funding to accompany tougher Covid-19 restrictions crumbled on Tuesday.
Talks between Whitehall and the Greater Manchester mayor broke down last night, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson refusing to stump up the £65m Burnham had requested to support businesses during a ‘tier 3’ lockdown starting on Friday.
Greater Manchester has been subject to tier 2 restrictions since 13 October (and similar rules for more than a month prior to that), including a ban on mixing with other households indoors and a 10pm pub and restaurant curfew.
Under the heightened restrictions – which are already in place in Liverpool, Merseyside and parts of Lancashire – non-essential travel in and out of the city-region will be discouraged and pubs and bars must close unless they serve “substantial meals”.
“It’s a real kick in the teeth, especially as restaurants and bars would have planned their operations – ordered stock, staff rotas and budgets – based on the tier 2 restrictions imposed on Greater Manchester a week ago,” Jake Ogden, co-founder of the Manchester Hospitality Network, told Place North West.
“I don’t think you’ll find anyone in the sector who wasn’t fully behind Burnham as he persevered with the Government on a funding package, because [support equating to] two-thirds of a barman’s salary just won’t cut it.”
William Lees-Jones, managing director of brewer and pub operator JW Lees, said: “I’m 100% behind what Burnham is saying. At the outset of the crisis, he wanted to close hospitality, but we’ve since invested and worked hard to make pubs safe.
“We’re the only part of the retail sector properly doing track-and-trace, but the data is not being used [to sufficient effect].”
Lees-Jones warned of increasing ill-will towards the Government among Greater Manchester hospitality businesses. “I’m reminded of when Ken Livingstone was mayor of London and Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, and the prospect of civil disobedience around this worries me greatly,” he said.
“It seems so unnecessary: the parties are so close on the numbers and we really can’t afford brinkmanship when it looks to be a straightforward process to resolve the impasse. After all, it was George Osborne who insisted that Greater Manchester had a mayor and that powers were devolved.
“You can’t say you want that, and add that additional layer of power, and then say you don’t like it when [the mayor] digs his heels in. All the work that’s gone into the Northern Powerhouse now looks as though it might have been a waste of time.”
Thom Hetherington, chief executive of hospitality events business Holden Media, added: “There is huge sectoral support for both Burnham and Sir Richard Leese [leader of Manchester City Council], as well as the other MPs and political leaders around Greater Manchester who stood up to be counted.
“Operators genuinely believe that local leaders are fighting their corner, and that trust and belief is a potent thing. They support the fight.
“Of course, there are many different types of hospitality businesses, each affected differently, and conflicting opinions within the sector about the best way forward in this crisis.”
Peter Kinsella, co-founder of Spanish restaurant Lunya, which closed its Manchester outlet during the first Covid lockdown but has two Liverpool outlets operating, said he remained “optimistic that we will survive”, but that the tier 3 restrictions in Merseyside make that ever less likely and the same threat faces businesses in Greater Manchester.
“For businesses that rely on footfall, for example, people spontaneously going for a drink and then maybe ordering food later on, it may not be worth staying open with all the overhead costs and the reduced footfall in the city centre,” he said.
“In Liverpool, police are going around actively checking that people have ordered food with their drink, and we’re not clearing people’s plates after they’ve finished eating so that we can show ‘evidence’ that they ate and drank – and none of that makes for a great experience.”
That said, Liverpool is directing its funding package from Whitehall at the hospitality sector by way of grants, which could make things easier, Kinsella added. His business is seeing a dramatic uplift in revenues from its online and deli offerings – which, “while it doesn’t replace lost revenues, is a brilliant injection of extra cash”, he said.
Hospitality firms have the support of the wider property industry, too. Will Lewis, co-founder of property agency OBI, said: “Across Greater Manchester, people have invested heavily in making bars, restaurants and workplaces Covid-safe – these are places that are safer than home environments, and easier to monitor, so introducing harsher measures seems to fly in the face of that investment.
“Not everybody has a home environment that supports their mental and physical wellbeing, and we fear that’s being forgotten.”
Mike Ingall, chairman and chief executive of developer Allied London, whose Spinningfields district in Manchester city centre is home to numerous hospitality businesses, told Place North West: “Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking back, this was inevitable.
“We should have been much more carefully managed coming out of lockdown in June and July, but instead people were handed a tenner to encourage them to go out and eat.
“I am not criticising any decision makers, as this virus has a mind of its own, but I am saying that had more stringent controls been in place, I think we would be in a very, very good place right now.
“We are paying a huge price [for our initial unchecked freedoms] and it’s very frustrating.”
Evening footfall rates in Spinningfields were higher in August and September than they were pre-Covid, he added, and turnover from the district in the same months was also up on the previous year.