Hospitality cash welcomed but businesses fear Omicron squeeze

Adnams properties director Nick Attfield

Adnams properties director Nick Attfield - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/Archant

Hospitality and business bosses have welcomed Rishi Sunak's announcement of a £1billion support fund, but are warning it doesn't go far enough.

The Chancellor's help for the hospitality and leisure sectors in England includes one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the affected sectors in England - but pub chiefs say this could be "just a drop in the ocean". 

The cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences will also be covered for firms with fewer than 250 employees.

Nick Attfield, director of properties at Adnams, based in Southwold, welcomed the package - but said more support was likely to be needed.

The former publican said: "It's really pleasing the Treasury has done this. Over the last days, we have been saying, 'Hang on, we need help'. But I just hope they keep it under review, because we don't know how long a period it's going to have to cover.

"If the whole of Christmas disappears and then New Year gets cancelled, it will be a drop in the ocean."

Mr Attfield said all pubs had seen business "dropping away" in the run-up to Christmas, despite doing "everything right" to keep customers safe.

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"We have 35 pubs that we run as tenancies and 10 that we manage, and everyone is saying they have lost between 40 and 60% of their Christmas trade."

He said it had all happened quite suddenly. "Until about three weeks ago, before the Omicron variant arrived, we were getting excited and planning for a really great Christmas. 

"Being on the coast, we are usually really busy between Christmas and New Year's Day, and we are waiting to hear if we will lose that this year."

He said a huge number of people were employed across the hospitality industry, as well as associated sectors, and their jobs and livelihoods needed to be protected. 

Gareth Harper, owner of Bar Twenty One, in St Nicholas Street, Ipswich

Gareth Harper, owner of Bar Twenty One, in St Nicholas Street, Ipswich - Credit: Charlotte Bond/Archant

Gareth Harper, the owner of the new Ipswich bar and restaurant Bar Twenty One, said the help was welcome, but more financial support was needed than the package which had been announced.

"I do welcome it, but it's definitely not going to go far enough. We only opened up just over a month ago, and it was going really well until Omicron.

"As soon as the first announcement was made, people started cancelling meals and parties or not turning up to their bookings."

Even though the Prime Minister had advised people not to cancel Christmas parties, Mr Harper said the advice had been confusing.

"We have had parties of 50-plus who have just not turned up, and people in offices having their workplace shut down and cancelling their parties. We have lost thousands of pounds' worth of business."

Mr Harper said businesses like his bar in St Nicholas Street would be waiting to know how much money they would receive and how long a period it would have to cover.

He also runs another business, My Fat Wedding Disco, and said that had been very hard-hit by Christmas party cancellations. "During the first lockdown last year, it lost £120,000 of revenue in one week.

"Usually, after the wedding season we start doing Christmas parties, but a lot of them have been cancelled."  

John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce

John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce - Credit: Suffolk Chamber of Commerce

John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce said: “This is good news for qualifying businesses in Suffolk’s important creative, hospitality and leisure sectors in the short term.

“We are especially pleased that the Chancellor has listened to the real world challenges faced by our members at this time."

He said Suffolk Chamber had been lobbying intensely along with other Chambers nationally, via the British Chambers of Commerce who met with the Chancellor last week.

"We have secured some welcome respite for many of those businesses who have been hit hardest by the latest Covid measures.  

“We are now looking to our local government partners to distribute the promised grants as speedily as possible, as these will provide vital financial lifelines over what should have been the busiest trading period for many firms."

However, Mr Dugmore added: “Whilst these measures are a positive starting point, if restrictions persist or are tightened further, then we would need to see a wider support package, equal to the scale of any new measures, put in place.

"We also repeat our call that the government lays out these provisional plans sooner rather than later to avoid any further damaging trading cliff edges for the business community.”