Pubs were one of the first high-profile victims, as customers steered clear from social gatherings before the lockdown put the majority of businesses out of commission altogether. At present, it is difficult to see any salvation, but there are certainly reasons to not despair, even if it is difficult to summon up outright positivity.
A near-constant stream of pressure on the Government, often, I am proud to say, spearheaded by UKHospitality (UKH), but also in partnership with other bodies when appropriate, has resulted in a package of support that is wide-ranging and will help many businesses survive the storm, will safeguard jobs and will, hopefully, put us in the best possible position to help rebuilding the economy in the future.
The speed of developments has been so rapid that it is perhaps helpful to remind ourselves of everything that has been secured so far, and to give our sectoral efforts the recognition they deserve. Who would have imagined a situation in which we would be given a 100% business rates holiday for the entire year, with the scheme extended to Scotland and Wales? Or a Government support package for employment, paying 80% of wages, allowing more flexible business planning, and augmented with ongoing support for the self-employed.
Business interruption loans are available for small businesses and changes from the Bank of England have accelerated funding with fewer strings attached. Generous grants have also been announced and UKH is currently pressing for this to apply per property and with a higher threshold to help more businesses. We have been given a deferral of VAT payments for three months and greater use of ‘Time To Pay’ to defer others.
The Government has also listened to hospitality, looked at the practicalities of the crisis and given us leeway. Pubs and restaurants are still able to offer takeaways and workplace canteens can continue to operate. Staff in our sector have been designated as key workers meaning food production staff can continue to work.
Legislation has also been introduced to prevent commercial evictions. A three-month moratorium on forfeitures, time for non-payment of rents and the suspension of the Insolvency Act gives protection to directors while working through restructuring.
It is also great to see businesses in our sector working proactively to support each other and those who are working hard to keep us all secure. Businesses across hospitality have provided 20,000 beds for key workers and vulnerable groups, initiatives are helping staff to redeploy and others like #UnitedWeStand, driven by The Morning Advertiser and its sister outlets are helping to pool resources and knowledge to support businesses that are still working hard.
It may seem like there is little reason to be optimistic at present but, when we get the occasional moment to breathe and reflect, it is worth remembering that there is certainly reason to hope, and that we have come far in a short time.