Boris Johnson has been warned that the hospitality sector could lose one million jobs if he doesn’t commit to reopening pubs, restaurants and venues, as Labour continued to call for an extension to the furlough scheme to stem mass redundancies.
The Prime Minister will announce a “roadmap” out of lockdown on Monday, but trade body UKHospitality warned the struggling sector could be overlooked and urged him to name a date for its reopening.
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Kate Nicholls, chief executive at UKHospitality, told The Independent uncertainty was “crippling” investment when many businesses were running out of cash and facing collapse.
“Our big fear is that we’re not going to get clarity on Monday,” she said.
“That would just mean that businesses can’t plan at all. And I think that if that’s the scenario, you will accelerate decisions about redundancies and business administrations.”
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Meanwhile, Labour has called for an extension to the furlough scheme, which sees the Government pay up to 80 per cent of workers’ wages and has already been extended once until the end of April.
Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, told Sky News the Government has to “learn from the mistakes of the past” and continue to provide help for struggling industries.
“It is really important for the Government on Monday to confirm that our hard-pressed businesses will be getting the support they need,” he said.
“We need an extension of the business rates holiday, an extension of VAT relief, an extension of furlough [and] increased support for those self-isolating to support our businesses during this difficult time.”
Khan added it was important for individuals’ livelihoods that lockdown was lifted sensibly and support for the most vulnerable was continued.
“I’m afraid the Government has also got to realise that the health of individuals is linked with the health of our economy.
“They are intertwined. That’s why it’s really important we don’t prematurely come out of lockdown This must be the last lockdown we have.”
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The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show more than a million people working in the hospitality sector were still furloughed at the end of January.
Hotels, pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues have been shuttered for much of the last 12 months as repeated lockdowns have forced them to close. UKHospitality claims the industry lost £72 billion in sales in 2020.
Last summer, Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, offering diners subsidised meals in a bid to inject life into the struggling sector.
But after another two national lockdowns, industry leaders said a firm open date was needed to save jobs and businesses.
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Yesterday, UKHospitality announced its own “roadmap” out of lockdown and Nicholls said it was clear hospitality could safely resume from April.
“It’s clearly important the Government follows the data, and we understand the point, but the data is showing that we can move swiftly, safely and sustainably to reopen hospitality in April,” she said.
“Businesses need firm dates to plan their reopening strategies, so they can bring back staff, negotiate their rent with landlords and re-engage with all their suppliers.
“We urge the Government to provide that certainty and to underpin the recovery with business support: extending the 5% VAT rate and the business rates holiday will stimulate consumer demand and help reduce costs.
“These measures are vital in returning hospitality to being an engine of economic and employment growth.”
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