Covid: Pubs and restaurants warn time running out to help

THE chancellor needs to “get his act together” and provide support for struggling hospitality businesses, the boss of two restaurant chains has said reports the BBC.

David Page, chairman of the firm which runs the Real Greek and Franco Manca, said Rishi Sunak needed to provide financial help “in the next 24 hours”.

He said the country was in “lockdown by stealth” due to government advice to limit social contacts.

The government is yet to offer further measures for struggling businesses.

“The chancellor better get his act together otherwise it’s going to be a really horrible Christmas for our sector,” said Mr Page, chairman of Fulham Shore.

“If you want a choice of restaurants the chancellor, needs to do something very, very quickly.

“I’m not sure any of the cabinet understand cash flow and cash flow is the problem at the moment, over the last week or two and over the next 10 days.”

Restaurants and pubs have been dealing with large numbers of cancellations in the run-up to Christmas as fears have risen over the spread of Omicron.

The hospitality industry has estimated takings in December will be down by 40% – with the damage up to twice that in London.

Mr Page said that while city centre branches of Fulham Shore’s restaurants were experiencing a dip in sales, trade in commuter areas across England was up.

“We have got a geographical spread, that helps us. If you’re exposed to central London and you’ve only got one or two sites, you’re in trouble at the moment,” he said.

Nick Mackenzie, boss of pub chain Greene King, said bookings had been “decimated” across the business amid the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

He agreed with Mr Page that the country was in lockdown “in all but name”, due to government messaging.

He called on the government for “urgent” help, with others saying firms needed support “in the next 24 hours”.

Greene King, which manages 1,700 pubs and rents out 1,000, faced an “incredibly difficult” situation during what would usually be its busiest trading period of the year, Mr Mackenzie said.

“Demand has dropped, bookings have been decimated, in some parts of the country we are 70-80% down on 2019,” he said.

Mr Mackenzie said the government “should be commended” for the measures it brought in to help hospitality businesses earlier in the pandemic, but added that the situation was “urgent again now”.

“We need them to move towards things like furlough support for [pubs] that we are having to close or those severely impacted, business rates relief, and removal of the cap on business rates.”

The government has not ruled out bringing in further Covid restrictions before Christmas, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show there were “no guarantees” in a pandemic.

Greene King said if it had to close sites due to government restrictions, the shut down and then reopening costs to the business would be about £5,000 per pub.

Chancellor Mr Sunak met with representatives from the hospitality sector last Thursday to discuss their concerns, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised people to “think carefully before you go” out to socialise. The UK’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty also urged people not to “mix with people you don’t have to”.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “The chancellor has spoken to a range of business and industry leaders in recent days.

“We recognise how important the festive period is for so many businesses and the government will continue to engage constructively on how it can best provide ongoing support to the businesses and sectors affected.”

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