Step 4 of Roadmap for easing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in England deferred until 19 July

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has today (14 June 2021) deferred until 19 July 2021 implementation of the fourth step within the Government’s roadmap for easing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in England.

Within his statement (that you can download below) he said: “As things stand – and on the basis of the evidence I can see right now – I am confident we will not need any more than 4 weeks and we won’t need to go beyond July 19th”.

This is confirmed in the updated Government Guidance entitled ‘(COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do’ (that you can download below) that states: “It is expected that England will move to Step 4 on 19 July, though the data will be reviewed after 2 weeks in case the risks have reduced. The government will continue to monitor the data and the move to Step 4 will be confirmed one week in advance”.

That guidance states as follows in relation to hospitality and entertainment venues:

Businesses and venues which can reopen

Indoor areas at hospitality venues (cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs, social clubs, including members’ clubs) can reopen. At any premises serving alcohol, customers will be required to order, be served and eat/drink while seated (“table service”). Venues are prohibited from providing smoking equipment such as shisha pipes, for use on the premises.

Indoor entertainment venues such as bingo halls, bowling alleys, and casinos may also reopen, as can indoor parts of outdoor attractions such as theme parks and animal attractions. Outdoor and indoor performance venues such as cinemas and theatres are also permitted to reopen.

Businesses eligible to host childcare and supervised activities for children are able to host these activities (including sport) for all children, regardless of circumstances. Indoor play centres and areas may also reopen.

Businesses and venues which must remain closed

To reduce social contact, some businesses, such as nightclubs, must remain closed or follow restrictions on how they provide goods and services.

There is further guidance on restrictions on businesses and venues in England which explains which restrictions we will seek to ease at Step 4, subject to the outcome of the events research programme, social distancing and COVID-status certification reviews.

Commenting on the deferment, UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls has said:

The decision to delay is hugely disappointing but the Government has judged the evidence and acted as it sees fit. It does, however, jeopardise the return on investment that the Government has afforded hospitality and it’s crucial that further support is announced to push us over the line.

The hospitality sector has already lost more than £87bn in sales in the pandemic leaving businesses deeply in debt and at risk of suffering “economic long Covid” without further support. Our businesses face incredible levels of debt and will now face a huge cost hike, with business rates payments set to recommence and rent accruals due at the end of the month. An swift indication that the business rates holiday will be extended would go a long way to bringing succour to a battered sector – paying any amount of tax while still unable to trade viably would save businesses and, in turn, tax receipts in longer term.

This four-week delay to lifting restrictions will cost the sector around £3 billion in sales, put at risk 300,000 jobs and have a knock-on impact on bookings throughout the summer and into the autumn. Simply put, if the supports provided by the Chancellor are not sustained and adjusted, businesses will fail and getting this far will count for nought.

A final lifting of restrictions is the only way to save the sector from disaster and enable it to play its part in a national economic recovery, to support the Government’s Jobs Plan, delivering jobs, growth and investment at pace and across all the regions. A single ray of light is that the limit on weddings will be lifted but support must be granted and, crucially, delivered, to the vast majority of other hospitality businesses. Not least, it must reach those who are still unable to trade at all, including  nightclubs and those who still cannot operate their main income streams, such as soft play centres, as well as businesses such as contract catering, who operate from other businesses venues and so have been unable to access many reliefs and grants.

Businesses need a swift, publicly-stated commitment that such support will be in place in the event of any delays, giving them much-needed reassurance after more than 15 months of closure and severely disrupted trading. Hospitality is desperate to get back to what it does best and can play a key role in the economic recovery of the UK – but only once it is given permission to trade freely. The Prime Minister asked for one more heave to get us out of restrictions – hospitality, too, requires one last heave, to be able to drive recovery.

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, has added:

Delaying the removal of COVID restrictions by four weeks is incredibly hard for our sector to stomach. The delay will cost our pubs £400 million for this period alone, but inevitably much more as confidence deteriorates and as a key part of the summer season is lost that is so critical to our sectors viability. Each week of the delay will cost pubs £100 million.

Pubs and licensees are struggling to recover with the current restrictions they face and debts are accumulating. Every week the current restrictions stay and uncertainty continues, the likelihood of pubs being lost forever increases. A full package of Government support is now critical for our sector until it is guaranteed to open fully without any restrictions.

Our pubs require as a minimum an immediate three month extension to the business rates holiday, the ability to defer loan payments due now and a further extension of VAT support. Grants for businesses particularly affected, such as those pubs who cannot still reopen because of the current restrictions, must now also be put in place.

UPDATE: Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industry Association (NTIA), has added to the criticism, saying:

This is a hugely devastating blow for the very industries that have been hardest hit by this pandemic. In a very real sense, the Prime Minister has ‘switched the lights off’ for an entire sector.

Many businesses have not survived this pandemic and others are on a financial cliff-edge, unable to operate viably. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have already been lost, a huge pool of creative talent has been swept away, and we have been left to suffer extreme financial hardship. This delay will drive confidence in the sector to a new low, culminating in more of our workforce being forced to leave the industry, and customers, who have been starved of social engagement, attending illegal unregulated events in place of businesses that are well-operated, licensed and regulated.

These businesses are overburdened with debt and so any decision to delay the full reopening of our sector must be paired with a robust financial support package, including additional restriction grants, exclusion from furlough contributions, extension of loan repayment holiday for CBILS/BBS as well as business rates and VAT relief for the next 12 months, not forgetting the £2.6bn in commercial rent debt left unresolved.

The Government must understand the human impact of this decision, not only considering the public health challenges of the virus but also the people within our sector who are suffering terribly and the real health risks that this represents. This is particularly important given the overwhelming confidence in the vaccination rollout, and the ability for our sector to deliver COVID-safe and regulated environments.