Business groups call for more support for firms after Johnson unveils roadmap out of lockdown

February 22, 2021

The South West’s largest business organisation has said many of its members will be “disappointed” with the government’s roadmap for taking England out of national lockdown.

Business West, which runs Bristol Chamber of Commerce, said following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement in the House of Commons on Monday the onus was now on ministers to ensure measures were in place to support firms over the next few months. 

Managing director Phil Smith, pictured, said of the plan: “It certainly does not give many of them real hope of surviving the next few months – particularly in the hospitality sector where so many restaurants and nightclubs will not be open until June.”

The body representing Bristol’s hotels also said the government’s plan would cause “short-term pain” for its members – who will not be able to open fully until at least June 21 – but added that it would, hopefully, result in “long-term gain”.

However, the CBI, which counts many of the South West’s largest companies as members, was more upbeat, saying the roadmap offered hope that the country could get back to business in the coming months.

Under the proposals, all non-essential shops will not be able to open until at least April 12.

Restaurants and pub gardens will be allowed to serve customers sitting outdoors from the same day, including selling alcohol.

Indoor entertainment such as cinemas will not be able to open until at least May 17, with performances and large events able to resume from the same date with some limits on attendances.

Mr Smith said it was now vital that Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced support for hospitality businesses in particular in his Budget next Wednesday.

“We must now have a meaningful extension to the furlough scheme, perhaps with some training and re-training commitments included,” he said

“I have to say that I am hopeful this support will be forthcoming from the Treasury as the Prime Minister promised business: ‘We will not pull the rug out’.

“That gives struggling companies some hope that they can hang on with further furlough support. We also hope that Rishi Sunak can also extend the business rates holiday for companies.”

He also said that the return to school of all children on March 8 would be a huge boost for their employees, who have had the difficult burden of home schooling. 

“What we saw today was a cautious Prime Minister who was intent on not falling into the trap of overpromising and not delivering,” he added.

CBI South West director Deborah Fraser, pictured, described the roadmap as “a good starting point to the hard yards ahead and caution is rightly the watchword”.

She added that businesses in the South West backed the step-by-step approach to re-opening and an end to damaging stop-start restrictions, while getting children back into the classroom first was as much a priority for business as it was for families across the country.

“We now need to turn this roadmap into genuine economic momentum. The Budget is the second half of this announcement – extending business support in parallel to restrictions will give firms a bridge to the other side,” she said.

“This is particularly needed for sectors that will have to wait for up to three months to re-open and have an anxious 10 days ahead before the Budget.”

Meanwhile, businesses were committed to working with government to refresh practical guidance for firms and to fast-track the roll out of tests in workplaces in the months ahead, she said.

“With good news coming every day on the vaccines, the roadmap offers a pragmatic and safe route out of lockdown in England. South West businesses will play their full part in doing so with public health in mind and the confidence to kickstart a recovery.”

The Bristol Hoteliers Association (BHA), which represents 40 venues operating 4,000 rooms in and around the city, said its members were disappointed at not being able to open earlier – something they say they are ready for – but welcomed the government’s commitment to do everything possible to avoid any further lockdowns.

BHA chair Raphael Herzog said: “Once again, our plea for hotels to be treated fairly and equally to the likes of non-essential shops has been ignored.

“We have invested significantly in making our premises as Covid-safe as possible; it is safer to stay in a hotel having a drink at a table, with dinner served, than it is visiting a shopping mall or a grocery store.”

He also said it was safer for people to socialise in Covid-secure hotels and restaurants rather than have parties in their flats, houses or gardens.

“We are ready to open now. Since we have to endure this short-term pain for long-term gain, we are looking to Rishi Sunak to ensure hotels get all the support they need, and we would like to hear from him before he delivers his Budget next week,” he added.

“One of the most difficult things about the end of last year is that restrictions were lifted, many hotels started to re-stock and plan events, as well as organise adequate staffing, only to be placed under lockdown again.

“If the government’s roadmap strategy means that, when we are allowed to open again, there will be a much lower risk of their being another lockdown, then in the long-term this will be much better.

“At least it gives us time to prepare properly, and I hope that it also means we will be able to open without any restrictions, except for sensible social distancing.

“We are all hoping for a surge in bookings when restrictions are lifted, as people will be desperate to take a well-earned break and escape from their own four walls. We think staycations are going to be extremely popular later this year.”

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