Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the latest restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 will last for six months and Mersey business leaders says it is a ‘huge blow’ for the economy. Tony McDonough reports
Businesses in Liverpool will urgently need extra support from the Government if the latest COVID-19 restrictions are to last for another six months, business leaders say.
Days after LBN revealed Liverpool’s hospitality and tourism sector had already sustained losses of more than £1bn due to the COVID-19, new restrictions have come into force designed to limit contact between people and halt slow a second wave of the virus.
In particular, hospitality venues such as bars and restaurants will now have to close their doors by 10pm each night, even at weekends. The restrictions were already being imposed on Liverpool from Tuesday but now Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said they will apply nationwide and, he warned, could last up to six months.
Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, said the six months of restrictions were a “huge blow” to the city’s business community. And he called for extra Government support.
He added: “Businesses need absolute clarity on their obligations going forwards, an extension or replacement of the furlough scheme and other support schemes and a commitment that measures to maintain the strength of the economy are balanced with the needs of public health.
“There are many businesses that are exemplars, implementing the new measures, are COVID-safe and they need our full support. It is important for businesses to determine with their employees what the relationship is between working from home and working in the office and this is a directive we have responded back to the Government with.”
Liverpool’s visitor economy has boomed over the past decade but many hospitality businesses, already reeling from six months of losses, are now bracing themselves for a prolonged period of plunging trade.
Taking to Twitter, leading chef and restaurateur Gary Usher, said he feared another significant downturn in trade with the initial lockdown only ending in early July. He operates a number of restaurants across Liverpool city region, including Wreckfish in Liverpool, Burnt Truffle in Wirral and Pinion in Prescot.
He posted: “I’m not sure the general public appreciate what closing at 10 means. Most places do f*** all at lunch. Our restaurants might do six at lunch on a Friday and 86 in the evening. It’s not knocking a mere 60 minutes off. It’s saying our last booking is now 8pm.”
Downtown in Liverpool chief executive Frank McKenna is calling for an “emergency economic statement” from the Chancellor. He said: “The latest restrictions announced by the Prime Minister today will be the final nail in the coffin for many hospitality venues.
“However, for those who have a chance of survival, the Chancellor must extend some of the initiatives that are due to end at the end of this month. Targeted furlough must now be put in place for those in the hospitality and events industry.”
Bill Addy, chair of the Liverpool Visitor Economy Network, added: “Restaurants and bars have more than played their part, investing large amounts of money to ensure their venues are safe for customers and staff alike.
“However, despite the very low number of infections coming from hospitality businesses, the Government has dealt the industry another devastating blow with these new measures and that is evidenced by us receiving a slew of cancellations on top of what was already limited business.
“If these measures really are necessary, then they need to be swiftly followed by an announcement of comprehensive support for the hospitality sector – an extension of the furlough scheme for the many staff who will not be working and the direct supply chain, action on rents and rates and an extended VAT cut. This will be the difference between these businesses surviving or not.”
And another restaurateur, Paul Askew, chef and owner of The Art School Liverpool, said: “Liverpool’s hospitality businesses have overwhelmingly complied with COVID measures, but it is imperative to make sure that absolutely everyone does and we fully support Liverpool City Council in enforcing this.
“The restrictions introduced have already severely impacted businesses. If this trend continues and the Government stipulates that restaurant bookings must only be for one household, that would be catastrophic for hospitality businesses – the numbers simply don’t stack up if you need to rely on tables of two.
“A further 30-50% loss on revenues that have already been drastically reduced will only result in closures and job losses, and we must do everything to avoid this.”
There is also concern that impact of Brexit, which looms at the end of the year, could provide a double whammy for businesses across many sectors with the possibility of a no-deal break from the EU stoking peoples’ fears.
Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of Mersey Maritime which represents the city region’s £4bn powerhouse maritime sector, said: “Businesses are telling us they need certainty now and in the crucial next few weeks, one way or another on these issues.
“Just like they did around the debate last autumn on the Withdrawal Agreement, the people who ensure the jobs and economic activity which is vital for the economy to prosper, now require the same degree of certainty on this next phase.”