, , , , ,

To save our high streets ‘the hospitality sector needs clarity’ 

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan has welcomed a series of demands to urge the government to save British high streets on the day that non-essential shops in England are being allowed to reopen.

Although allowed to open from today in a further easing of coronavirus lockdown, shops have been told that they must meet Covid-19 guidelines for the safety of customers and workers.

But the official opposition has expressed concern that guidance has not been specific or clear enough on sanitising, protective equipment and other areas, and it has sounded the alarm over confusing briefings to the press.

Stephen Morgan MP is particularly worried about the challenges faced by the hospitality sector after listening to local businesses urging for sector-specific support measures.

The demands made to ministers by Labour are as follows:

  • Stop anonymous speculative briefings on social distancing guidelines. Social distancing guidelines are vital information for venues to prepare to reopen safely in respect of layout of venue and capacity of venue, both of which impact on revenue and financial decision making. Businesses will require clarity and transparency. As with other aspects of Ministers’ response to the Covid-19 crisis anonymous speculative briefings to the press are deeply unhelpful, confusing business and the public with mixed messages. Any changes to the guidelines should be led by the science and come about through a transparent and clear process.
  • Give guidance on business-critical issues such as sanitising, PPE for staff, security provision, use of toilets, the use of phone apps for ordering, vertical drinking and table service. Without this information, many business operators are struggling to plan their opening and short-term business model.
  • Set out what help will be available for operators who have to remain closed because the two-metre rule prohibits them from being able to open safely and/or it is not financially viable for them to do so.
  • Ensure furlough flexibility. Business wants clarity around the part-time furlough scheme and whether this can be brought forward. If outdoor areas are open from 22 June, this will not require a full-time complement of staff. For other businesses such as theatres, nightclubs, small indoor pubs and summer festival businesses for which social distancing makes opening not viable, the furlough top up will be impossible because they have no cash coming in.
  • Consider what flexible support can be given to other operators. For many businesses that do reopen it will be at significantly reduced capacity with higher costs such as more staff, security and PPE. They too need more flexible support.
  • Work with local authorities, take innovative action to help businesses expand operations and boost trade by reducing bureaucracy including:
    • Ensuring rapid license variations, on issues such as opening hours or setting up licensed spaces, which currently require long notice periods.
    • Reforming the operation of temporary event notices so they are not subject to time limits. Reduce five working day time limit for late temporary event notices to three working days.
    • Deregulating the sale of alcohol as part of any outdoor licensed seating area for the duration of the crisis, so that there is no requirement for separate premises licence/temporary event notice, to allow outdoor bars, or allow a fast track licensing scheme for this.
    • Enabling local authorities the ability to operate licensed spaces without going through full licence process or needing temporary event notices
  • Investigate the conversion of parking spaces and other areas into outdoor seating uses.
  • Build public confidence in going to pubs and restaurants, and the high street by ensuring the track and trace and other measures are fully in place.

Stephen Morgan MP said:

“We know nationally that one third of all hospitality businesses have not qualified for government grants, in particular larger employers, according to trade association UKHospitality.

The sector employs more than 3.2 million people, adding up to 10% of UK employment, and represents 6% of business and 5% of GDP.

Both nationally and locally the small businesses in our retail and hospitality sector have an important part to play in our economy. The government must finally give businesses long-overdue clarity”.

Lucy Powell MP, Shadow Business Minister, added: 

“It’s vital that ministers turn their attention to the hospitality sector, providing clarity and guidance so that businesses can plan to reopen in the coming weeks.

That means no more backroom briefings to Tory MPs, and more public advice and guidance to companies about how they can safely reopen.

Alongside this, we urge the government to publish an action plan which maximises economic viability, whilst minimising the risk to the health of customers and staff.

If they fail to act, our communities will lose much-loved pubs, bars and restaurants, and we’ll see a wave of closures and unemployment which will damage villages, towns and cities across the country.”

Pubs, clubs, restaurants, hairdressers, nail bars and beauty salons will have to stay closed until at least July as close contact involves a higher risk of coronavirus transmission.