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Pubs and restaurants demand more help to avert 'devastation'

Hannah Uttley
·3 mins read
Waiter serving customers in London
Waiter serving customers in London

Beleaguered pub and restaurant bosses have called for urgent government support to avert “devastation” if widespread new restrictions are imposed to combat a sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

The Government is reportedly considering the move in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid. There were 4,322 new cases reported yesterday - the most since May 8.

While schools and offices are expected to be allowed to remain open, pubs, restaurants and other outlets face closure or reduced trading hours.

Bosses have hit back at suggestions that pubs and restaurants - open since early July - are linked to the surge in cases.

Tim Martin, chief executive of JD Wetherspoon, said: “If lockdown means closing pubs, it will be counterproductive. Data shows transmissions are much higher within homes than in pubs, probably due to hygiene and social distancing practices in the latter.

“The wayside is littered with failed or failing hospitality companies, so increased devastation is assured if there are lockdowns without government support.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said this week he would “find ways of effectively helping people” when the furlough scheme ends on October 31, but industry chiefs have called it to be extended.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “Unless we have ongoing additional support from the government through a potential lockdown then the trade-off will not just be in terms of closing pubs and keeping schools open, it will be about jobs, livelihoods and business success or failure.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said a two-week closure would have an “astronomical” cost, while Young’s boss Patrick Dardis urged ministers to provide hospitality firms with business rates holidays for a further year. UKHospital has made a similar call.

Coronavirus UKLA current
Coronavirus UKLA current

More than 1.7m jobs in retail and hospitality were still furloughed at the end of July, according to official figures on the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.

The two sectors account for more than a third of the total 4.8m jobs still furloughed. Annie Gascoyne, CBI economic policy director, said the need for further support was “absolutely critical”. The business group is calling for a more permanent short-time working scheme similar to Germany’s Kurzarbeit scheme.

She warned: “Saving jobs today is easier than picking up the pieces tomorrow.”

Retail sales jumped 0.8pc in August as the sector benefited from fewer people holidaying abroad, a release of pent-up demand after lockdown and a continued DIY-related surge. Spending on household goods was 9.9pc higher than in February.

However, economists warned that the rebound was unlikely to last, especially if unemployment rises sharply.

“Consumer spending has undoubtedly rebounded strongly, but it feels a bit too early to say that it has recovered fully,” said Andrew Wishart of Capital Economics.

“And it may yet stutter as the furlough scheme is wound down and unemployment rises, weighing on household incomes and job security.”

The Bank of England signalled further steps towards negative interest rates this week after saying it would hold talks with the Prudential Regulation Authority over the practicalities of the potential move.