Bristol city centre shops and bars at risk of collapse with mass job losses, BID warns

June 18, 2020

More support must be given to protect Bristol’s retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, the city centre Business Improvement District (BID) has said amid a growing threat to jobs in these sectors.

The BID fears the government’s furlough scheme is concealing the true picture of unemployment while many city centre pubs, bars, restaurants and cafés are also still missing out on grant aid.  

The BID and the Bristol Association of Restaurants, Bars and Independent Establishments (BARBIE) are backing a nationwide campaign calling on government to raise the threshold for its Retail, Hospitality & Leisure Grant (RHLG).

Without this, they warn, hundreds of Bristol employees who have been protected by the Coronavirus Job Retention (furlough) Scheme could find no business and therefore no job to return to when the scheme ends.

BARBIE is working with 60 Bristol businesses which have not been eligible for government grants, 14 of them employing a total of 200 people are considered at high risk of not re-opening when the lockdown is lifted on hospitality venues.

Businesses such as pubs, bars, restaurants and cafés are only eligible for the £25,000 grant if the premises they operate from has a rateable value of less than £51,000.

This means leisure and hospitality businesses based in larger buildings in Bristol city centre are cut off from the financial support offered to smaller outlets.

Those affected include popular, successful venues such as the Milk Thistle on Colston Avenue and No 1 Harbourside.

Both are backing the campaign, along with dozens of others.

Bristol City Centre BID has joined the #RaiseTheBar campaign to call on central government to expand the rateable value threshold for eligible businesses to access the £25,000 grant from £51,000 to £150,000. 

Access to this support, campaigners say, could be the difference between survival and bankruptcy for thousands of high street businesses in Bristol and across the UK. A number of London councils, including Camden, Hackney and Lambeth, are using their additional discretionary grants to support the hospitality sector.

They also maintain the furlough scheme is hiding the true picture of unemployment in Bristol and across the UK, by providing support to employees while their employers are facing closure.

Adjustments to the scheme have also created an unlevel playing field of support – with some businesses missing out on vital funds to stay afloat while their employees are able to remain financially supported on furlough.

The situation is likely to reach tipping point next Wednesday, June 24, when the next quarterly rent is due – ratcheting up the pressure on businesses already at risk of closure as overheads pile up and cash reserves are at further depleted.

Bristol City Centre BID operations director Keith Rundle said: “The furlough scheme has been a life-line for thousands of Bristol employees as we continue to battle all that the Covid-19 pandemic throws at us. 

“But it will all be wasted if as the scheme is wound up, staff find themselves with no employer or business to return to. With rents due and costs of putting in protection measures prior to safely re-opening, businesses need access to financial support now more than ever – to ensure they can get back up and running, keep people in jobs and help get the economy moving again.”

BARBIE co-founder Brendan Murphy added: “There are so many businesses that have been left out of government grants, some because they are over the £51,000 rateable value cap and others that don’t fit the eligibility criteria which seems to be different depending on which council you are with.

“Urgent intervention and support are required to stop the industry collapsing and that support is required now, not in three months’ time.”

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