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National lockdown would be ‘devastating’ for hospitality, industry leaders warn

Helen William, PA
·3-min read

A national lockdown would be “absolutely devastating” for the hospitality industry and “resilience is at rock bottom”, businesses leaders have said.

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chairman Mike Cherry and British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director-general Adam Marshall all said that firms will need urgent help to survive.

Ms Nicholls told BBC Breakfast: “People have borrowed up to the hilt and spent money in order to get Covid-secure.

“There is no spare capacity in the tank to be able to fund a lockdown, even for three to four weeks.”

She pointed out that a quarter of businesses have not yet been able to reopen and 80% are trading at a significant loss.

Coronavirus – Sat Oct 17, 2020
People pass empty tables outside bars and restaurants in London’s Soho (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Noting that “resilience is at rock bottom”, she added: “It is a very anxious period of time for all our businesses, who are trying their very best to give people job security, to look to the future and plan.

“We just need some certainty about what is going to be happening and some funding to be able to get through this and restart the economy when we come out the other side.”

She added: “Businesses just need to have that certainty and security that it would be short lockdown, that there would be a route map out of this, and that they will have the support to get through this closure period – otherwise I fear job losses and business failure.”

The business leaders’ fears come after reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering imposing stringent new national lockdown restrictions for England within days after scientists warned that half a million people are being infected with coronavirus each week.

Ms Nicholls pointed out that firms are still dealing with guidance that only came in on Friday for the new Job Support Scheme and the sector does not know which businesses could be hit by further measures.

This means that firms are finding it difficult to plan. They would ideally need
a week’s notice to enable premises to be safely closed.

Coronavirus
Whitley Bay’s shops and amusements, bars and restaurants are almost empty (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The prospect of a pending lockdown is “particularly frustrating” for businesses in the fresh food supply chain which are already buying stock, Ms Nicholls added.

This amounts to an immediate hit of “millions of pounds” of lost stock.

The FSB’s Mr Cherry described the Government’s messaging throughout the Covid-19 pandemic as “confusing”.

He said that firms, which have spent thousands to improve safety, would need more support to try to protect jobs.

He told the programme: “We really do need to see a strong message of what things are being put in place to see a route out of this so that businesses can do something to plan ahead for their future, whatever that maybe.”

Any good communication with the Government has been undercut by there being “too short notice” to enable businesses to properly plan ahead, he suggested.

Dr Marshall said that “yet again anxious businesses have to wait and worry” as market confidence is being “further eroded” by speculation of a lockdown.

The BCC chief said: “The Government needs to speak honestly with the nation, setting out a clear plan, the evidence for its actions, and significant increases in the support available for businesses and employees facing the hardship of no demand or the crushing blow of closure.”

He also called for information on how any lockdown time would be used to fix the test, trace and isolate system.