The past five months have felt the longest in my career. How we’ve managed to get here, through the stresses, turbulence and confusion of the summer is a miracle in itself, but somehow we have trudged into autumn with at least some small semblance of normality.
August has been a good month for our sector, and one we needed. The Eat Out To Help Out scheme has worked fantastically well for food-serving pubs and bars, and I’m particularly proud of how operators have adapted and overcome the immense challenges they have faced this year to benefit from the scheme - from changing staff rotas and taking a punt on stock which I’m sure they were nervous about buying, to opening on days that perhaps weren’t in the plan only two months ago.
Moving into autumn, there is some trepidation about what lies ahead, especially as grant applications have now been closed, rent holidays cease and the furlough scheme winds down to its eventual end in October.
These changes are something our Mayor, Andy Burnham, and I are working hard on in Greater Manchester, alongside the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) and UKHospitality (UKH) more nationally, as we look to press the Government into continuing the financial aid.
While some sectors such as retail can revert back to normality, there are parts of the hospitality sector which cannot yet reopen to pre-pandemic levels, and some who still can’t open at all, and it is these venues which need ongoing support.
Government support needed
In addition, the seemingly daily occurrences of bars being linked to new transmissions, here in the UK, as well as in Spain, USA, Vietnam, France and others, and the subsequent local lockdowns as a result, demonstrates the vital need for our operators to continue to adhere to measures.
But it will be hard and the real test will come over the next 30 days. As the autumn weather draws in, the outdoor spaces we’ve learnt to love will be packed up and we’ll all be packed inside.
Not only does this create questions once again on how operators can be even financially viable given the capacity limits imposed, but it also sparks concerns regarding the spread of Covid indoors where physical distancing is not as easy, and how we as a sector can prepare and overcome this.
While the majority of venues are working extremely hard to keep customers and staff safe, we’ve already seen many closures here in Greater Manchester of pubs, bars and restaurants who have squeezed customers in, ignored social distancing measures and disregarded advice on household mixing.
While these operators have clearly acted selfishly and dangerously, the potential financial devastation they’re facing has unfortunately - in their eyes - forced them to do so. It’s therefore ironic and sad that by avoiding measures, they have now been forced to close anyway or fined substantially under the new enforcement rules.
As we move forward, I do fear these cases will become more frequent as operators struggle financially to stay afloat, and this is exactly why the Government needs to continue support for a sector.
Enforcing capacity and guest restrictions while withdrawing furlough, refusing to extend rent holidays, and ending grant schemes with no further financial aid will be a kick in the teeth after such a positive month and will devastate a sector already broken.
Our operators will be pushed to breaking limits, and for some that may mean breaking the rules to stay alive.