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Wed 24th Feb 2021 - Reilley – We need to see measures that go beyond just simply extending what has already been provided in terms of support
Reilley – We need to see measures that go beyond just simply extending what has already been provided in terms of support: Loungers chairman Alex Reilley has said that if the chancellor Rishi Sunak does nothing more than extend the support that is currently in place for the sector “then the light at the end of the tunnel that Matt Hancock talked about will be nothing more than an oncoming train”. Talking to Sky News, Reilley said that the sector needs to see measures that go beyond just simply extending what has already been provided in terms of support when Sunak announces his Budget next week. Reilley said: “If the chancellor does nothing more than extend the support that is currently in place then the light at the end of the tunnel that Matt Hancock talked about will be nothing more than an oncoming train. It also has to be recognised that some of the support, like the furlough scheme, comes with significant cost. In the case of our business, it costs us over £100,000 a week in terms of our contribution to furlough, and we are currently generating zero revenue. We need to see measures that go beyond just simply extending what has already been provided in terms of support currently. We have got to be in a position where we see businesses that are teetering on the brink given a lifeline to get through and be able to reopen in May. More importantly beyond that we need to see an economic stimulus package which will encourage our sector to contribute, as we will do if we are in a position to financially do so, to the recovery the country must go through. We are a sector that generally bounces back very quickly from any kind of economic downturn but the balance sheets of most businesses, be that PLCs or small businesses have been decimated and we need to see that support from the chancellor next Wednesday.” Reilley said that “ultimately what was announced yesterday (Monday) was the equivalent of yet another lockdown for the sector because we will only be able to see a very partial reopening come on 12 April”. He said: “We all hoped as a sector that we would be reopening indoor hospitality sooner than the 17 May. It is a long way away and in view of the significant investment and measures the sector took specifically ahead of reopening in July last year, the hundreds of millions of pounds invested to make our venues covid secure, it seems quite unreasonable to expect us to have to wait five weeks after non-essential retail. The concern that we all have is that the sector has clearly been shut for a long time lots of businesses, particularly small businesses in our sector, are running on nothing more than fumes now and unless the chancellor delivers big time at the ballot box next Wednesday, we are going to see thousands of businesses in our sector go bust and see hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs. We have been looking at how many of our 170 sites we can trade outside of, and the issue is that regrettably this isn’t St Tropez and April Showers is a song we know very well. It is going to be very, very difficult or us to operate our outlets with just having outside trading only. According to the BBPA, 60% of all UK pubs will remain closed even if outdoor drinking is permitted. Ultimately what was announced yesterday (Monday) was the equivalent of yet another lockdown for the sector because we will only be able to see very partial reopening come on 12 April.”

Daily Telegraph – faster path to freedom if covid jabs exceed expectations: Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown could be accelerated if real world data on the effect of vaccines is better than expected, government sources have told The Telegraph. The newspaper reported: “On Monday, Mr Johnson set out a four-step plan that would see all restrictions lifted by June 21, but emphasised that the dates attached to the lifting of measures were the earliest possible on which they could be eased. However, The Telegraph has been told by others in the government that better than anticipated data about the vaccine could allow some of the roadmap timings to be reviewed. A senior government source said that if the positive results from an early Public Health Scotland study on vaccines were replicated in England ‘that would change the calculations’ on the timings. It is also understood that ministers are waiting to study the potential spread of covid in secondary schools when they reopen on March 8, and that uncertainty over the impact of the reopening has led to a cautious approach to unlocking shops, pubs and restaurants in April. Mr Johnson is understood to have decided to opt to delay the reopening of hospitality and shops until April 12 so he would not be forced to ‘cancel Easter’ if the data from schools suggested infections were spreading.” Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: “If the government is following the data, that should mean setting us free sooner if the data shows it would be safe. I very much hope the government won’t continue to rule that out.”

Government considering extending the ban on evictions from commercial property: The government is considering extending the ban on evictions from commercial property as the billions of pounds of rent debts accrued during the pandemic continue to mount up. The Times reports that further guidance on a possible extension is due to be published ‘shortly’, the ministry of housing, communities and local government said. A moratorium on evictions of business tenants who do not pay rent had been due to end on 31 March, a year after it was introduced to protect struggling businesses during the pandemic. A ban on landlords using winding-up petitions to collect unpaid rent in the crisis was also due to end on that date but could also be extended. The government is expected to publish a revised code of conduct to encourage landlords and tenants on how to negotiate an estimated £4.5 billion of rent debts accrued since the start of the pandemic. The property industry has criticised big retailers, including Boots, JD Sports and H&M, for not paying rent in the crisis, arguing that the moratorium was introduced to help the most vulnerable businesses. Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said that while the majority of property owners and tenants were working well together, in some cases relationships had ‘broken down’. She said that a supplementary code of practice guidance “could help unlock the stalemate and bring more businesses together”.

The Times – furlough, VAT cut and business rates holiday to be extended: The Times has reported that Rishi Sunak is preparing to extend furlough until the end of June at a cost of £4bn. The newspaper also claimed he the business rates holiday and the VAT cut for hospitality would be extended over the same period. However The Times also claimed that corporation tax could rise to between 23 and 25%.

TGI Fridays targets 14 openings: TGI Fridays owner Electra Private Equity has revealed it is targeting 14 new sites. At its AGM, the company stated: “TGI Fridays performed strongly across the massively fluctuating trading conditions of 2020. Fridays agility in responding to changing conditions and optimising opportunity, combined with careful financial and cash management, allowed it to end the year with its cash position virtually unchanged from March 2020. With substantial re-opening now likely to be in mid-May this leaves the business well positioned to emerge strongly from lockdown in a market with competition reduced by an estimated 20-30% from pre-covid levels by widespread restaurant closures. During lockdown Fridays continues to trade through delivery / ‘click and collect’ from 27 stores and nationally though delivery of prepare at home meals and Fridays cocktails. On resumption Fridays will re-open its 85 existing stores and in addition will open both its first ‘63rd+1st’ location in Cobham and a new Fridays store in Lincoln. ‘63rd+1st’ is a new brand building on Fridays heritage in cocktails to provide a smaller site format cocktails led experience with a focussed high quality menu. A pipeline of three additional ‘63rd+1st’ stores and two additional Fridays stores will open throughout 2021 with an additional nine targeted locations in varying stages of delivery across both brands.” 

Heathrow airport calls for more support in the Budget: Passenger numbers at Heathrow airport collapsed to 22.1m in 2020, more than half of whom travelled in January and February. Overall revenue fell 62% to £1.2bn and adjusted Ebitda fell to £270m. The airport stated: “Government policies over recent months have effectively closed borders. We have had no government support, other than furlough, and have not been given relief from business rates, unlike other airports, retail and hospitality businesses. The March Budget is the key opportunity for the chancellor to support the sector by providing 100% business rates relief, extending the furlough scheme and reversing the tourist tax.” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “2020 has been one of our most challenging years – but despite £2bn of losses and shrinking to passenger levels we haven’t seen since the 70s, I am hugely proud of the way that our colleagues have kept our passengers safe and the UK’s hub airport open for vital supplies throughout. We can be hopeful for 2021, with Britain on the cusp of becoming the first country in the world to safely resume international travel and trade at scale. Getting aviation moving again will save thousands of jobs and reinvigorate the economy, and Heathrow will be working with the Global Travel Taskforce to develop a robust plan underpinned by science and backed by industry. The Prime Minister will then have the unique opportunity to secure global agreement on a common international standard for travel when he hosts the G7 in June. In the meantime, we need next week’s Budget to support aviation’s recovery by extending furlough and providing 100% business rates relief.”

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