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Thu 2nd Jul 2020 - Trade bodies clarify reopening rules for operators and councils
Trade bodies clarify reopening rules for operators and councils: UKHospitality, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) and the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) have produced updated FAQ guidance to help operators understand the government’s reopening guidelines. The organisations have also written to the Local Government Association warning against the blanket imposition of conditions on businesses. Since the announcement of the reopening, UKHospitality said it had heard from businesses unclear about a number of issues including what’s permitted in venues and enforcement of new guidelines. In particular, businesses voiced concerns about councils seeking to impose blanket restrictions on businesses such as the mandatory use of personal protective equipment, installation of plastic screens and other equipment, and a ban on showing live sport. The FAQ document, which can be viewed here, is intended to make interactions with environmental health officers easier. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The government’s guidelines provide enough flexibility to allow businesses to develop their own workable solutions for reopening. Unfortunately, it seems this flexibility has come hand in hand with confusion about how the guidelines should be applied. Some local authorities have taken a hardline approach to this and we’ve heard from some members worried they will be subjected to unnecessary, onerous and retrograde restrictions that would seriously undermine their ability to make reopening a success. This document collates the common themes and queries and, we hope, should make it easier for businesses to understand what they are and aren’t permitted to do. This is a learning process for everyone.” BII chief executive Steve Alton added: “Our members are fully committed to opening their venues safely and need a consistency in approach from all local authorities.” BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “We are urging local authorities and enforcement agencies to collaborate with pubs in a positive manner and for a pragmatic approach that doesn’t go beyond government guidelines.”

Sector bosses say consumer confidence is key concern as they plan gradual reopening: Managed pub, restaurant and bar operators plan to start a gradual reopening from this weekend but are feeling both cautiously optimistic and anxious about trading levels, according to the latest Business Confidence Survey from CGA and Fourth. The findings reveal almost three-fifths (59%) of businesses in England plan to reopen some sites on Saturday (4 July), while a further 18% intend to open the following week. On average, operators plan to open only three in five sites during the first week back and only one-quarter plan to initially open all their sites. When asked about reopening, consumer demand was found to be the primary concern for business leaders, with more than four-fifths (84%) listing it as their biggest worry. City and town centres also pose a challenge, with 75% of respondents expecting consumers to be reluctant to visit them after lock-down. Despite 83% of leaders stating they have confidence in their supply chain, the majority of businesses will reopen with reduced menus. More than four-fifths (82%) of respondents said they were cutting food menus to core options, while 41% indicated they would strip back their drinks menu, with cocktails hardest hit. The survey also revealed the scale of concern in the sector regarding site closures and job losses, with two-thirds (67%) of industry bosses believing they will have to lay-off staff rather than bring them back from furlough. On average, they expect to cut more than one-fifth (21%) of their workforce. Fears of widespread closures also remain, although they have eased. Now more than two-fifths (43%) of leaders expect not to permanently close any sites, up from 37% in April. On average, the data suggests about one in 12 sites may remain closed for good but the survey points to some recovery in business confidence. The poll in April found a record low of 15% of leaders optimistic about their business’ prospects during the next 12 months. Three months later that figure has more than doubled to 32%. The proportion feeling optimistic about the market in general has risen too, from 5% to 16%. However, both figures are still barely half the level of 12 months ago – 58% and 30% respectively. The survey also revealed rent negotiations remain the most pressing challenge, with operators having only modest confidence in the government’s new code of practice for tenant negotiations. Looking at the long-term impact of coronavirus, 44% of business leaders expect an increase in home delivery frequency after lock-down, with 55% listing delivery as a revenue stream they are prioritising. More than half (51%) of respondents indicated technology, in particular ordering apps, would become a priority.

Prezzo pushes the button on sale process: Prezzo, the Karen Jones-led chain, has become the latest sector operator to push the start button on a sale process. Sky News reports the group has asked FRP Advisory to lead an auction of the business. The company, which has been working with FRP since April to consider its post-coronavirus funding options, has begun the process after receiving a number of expressions of interest from unnamed parties. The move comes less than two years after Prezzo underwent a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) that saw one-third of its circa 300 sites close and a subsequent debt-for-equity swap. The group currently operates 180 sites under its eponymous brand and the company said all were profitable before the coronavirus outbreak. It is understood the group’s backers plan to sell the company as a going concern and there would be nothing to gain from the business undergoing another restructure. One source told Propel the company believed the CVA in 2018 had been “comprehensive enough”. Prezzo, which employs about 3,000 staff, is part-owned by US private equity group TPG along with a number of other funds. A source close to the business told Sky News its shareholders had decided the company would benefit from a simplification of the ownership structure. The company will start a phased reopening of its estate on Saturday (4 July). Propel understands the business will reopen eight sites for dine-in initially, including those in Bath, New Brighton, Lincoln and Kings Lynn. A further 12 restaurants, including those in Milton Keynes, Chelmsford and Crawley, will reopen the following week. It’s thought it plans to have 35 sites reopen in the coming weeks with the remaining 145 relaunching during the summer. Another US private equity firm, Carlyle Group, which recently looked at Azzurri Group and Casual Dining Group, ran the rule over Prezzo two years ago.

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