Sacha Lord, Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, has warned over two thirds of the region’s hospitality and leisure businesses could go under if the Government’s Covid-19 financial aid isn’t provided faster.
As lockdown restrictions look set to be extended, Lord raised concerns today over the access to the financial aid promised, reflecting recent data from Altus Group which revealed only nine per cent of the money earmarked to help small businesses during the pandemic has so far been paid out by local councils.
Under the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant (RHLG), eligible businesses in England in receipt of the Expanded Retail Discount (which covers retail, hospitality and leisure) with a rateable value of less than £51,000 are eligible for a cash grants of £10,000 or £25,000 per property. However, difficulties have been raised from operators across the UK with regards to the speed of accessing these grants.
Sacha Lord commented, “To put it mildly, this is a very difficult time for all those involved in the hospitality and leisure industries. I’ve had messages from hundreds of restaurants, bars, clubs and hotels who are struggling, and even at the start of this month, we knew that 70 per cent of operators would not survive if they didn’t have cash in the tills within four weeks.”
“I’m very concerned by the lack of financial access available to these businesses. While the Government aid has been made available, and is something we can praise, the logistics of physically getting the money in the company bank accounts appears to be challenging.”
“The amount of paperwork needed to apply for the loans and grants offered is overwhelming and it’s slowing down the process in an already stressful time. A much faster system needs to be implemented otherwise we will see some of our most loved outlets go under before the help arrives.”
“It’s the independents on the outskirts of big cities which I’m most worried about – those who don’t have the parent companies to lean on or bail them out now that things have got extremely tough.”
As the lockdown restrictions remain in place, Lord predicts the difficulties will become even more apparent, and advises operators to start planning now to be in the best position when the controls are relaxed.
Sacha Lord commented, “The extension of the lockdown is inevitable as the NHS continues to battle the effects of the pandemic, and I have a feeling we will see quite a few operators announce their closure as we move into May.”
“The main priority is to keep people safe and so I expect that even if the restrictions are lifted at some point, we’ll see the social distancing measures continue for many months ahead.”
“While this may come as a further blow to operators, it’s imperative they strategise now for this slow and steady approach.”
“We may see ‘one in, one out’ measures come into force, coupled with temperature testing on entry, so I urge operators to plan how to implement these measures effectively to ensure customers feel safe from the outset. Also, from a financial perspective, they need to be aware of how the capacity reductions will affect business in terms of their offering and staffing levels and plan the necessary changes.”
Lord does predict, however, that it’s not all bad news for the sector and there could be a potential surge in spend as restrictions are lifted.
“Despite some hesitancy, I expect there will be a rush of people wanting to go out as the lockdown is lifted and we’ll probably see higher figures than pre-crisis in terms of spend which will be good for the sector.”
“Although limits on capacity will be frustrating, we could actually see the smaller bars, including those who might have been struggling before the crisis, benefit as the public spread out and explore options beyond just their usual bar.”