This is a obviously a disaster for those of us in the industry; but it is also a threat to the national and local economies, to already vulnerable town centres, and to ordinary people up and down the country who love and value the experience of coming together that hospitality offers.
An outpouring of consumer support, along with the realisation that hospitality businesses are collectively responsible for millions of jobs, has led to real political power for our industry. Politicians are listening to us like never before.
I set up Hospitality Union on Monday 16 March, just a few hours before the Prime Minister advised everyone to “avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other social venues”. In a single month, we have grown into a group of more than 2,500 hospitality business owners, representing the whole spectrum of the sector large and small – speaking with one voice.
We kicked off by lobbying for a ‘List of Six’ specific actions from the Government. It has since delivered on five out of six. We have a one-year business rates holiday; a VAT deferral; a lease forfeiture moratorium to prevent locks being changed; the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and a £330bn loan fund. We’re still waiting for a debt enforcement moratorium, but the indications are we will get that, too.
These extraordinary measures have worked well to get thousands of pubs and their employees into the economic lifeboat. But hospitality businesses, having been the first and hardest hit by the virus, will also be the last allowed to reopen. Nobody in hospitality expects to get back to anything like normal until mid-2021 at the earliest.
That’s why our next, crucial step is to secure a #NationalTimeOut.
The #NationalTimeOut is a nine-month national payment pause. It would push back the next nine months of rent (April to December), so that no pub tenant pays anything until the first quarter of 2021.
To make up for this rent-free period, each corresponding pub lease can be extended by nine months (if the landlord agrees) so that payments aren't lost, just postponed.
And, to help landlords manage and bridge the inevitable cash-flow gap from three quarters of no rent, we do the same push back for them on the next nine months of their loan repayments, where the debt is secured on any pub benefiting from this rent postponement.
This proposal could be something that works for everyone – landlords and tenants – saving 2m jobs without costing taxpayers a penny more.
Hospitality Union has put this proposal to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and stands ready to work with the Treasury and everyone else effected to work it through. The Government has already shown it is willing to take radical and extraordinary measures. Our pubs are going to need something else extraordinary to get through.
Let’s rise to the scale of this crisis – and come together for a #NationalTimeOut.
Jonathan Downey is the CEO of London Union PLC, and the founder of Hospitality Union. You can follow Hospitality Union at @HospoUnion and sign up to the #NationalTimeOut at www.hospitalityunion.co.uk