Hospitality and retail bosses appeal for help as stricter lockdowns loom

Paul Askew

Leaders of Liverpool City Region’s (LCR) hospitality industry have implored businesses not to abandon them in their hour of need as coronavirus infection rates continue to rise throughout the area.

The plea comes at the same time as new figures showed that footfall in the city centre fell by a third since its peak in August due to the latest lockdown restrictions, and ahead of far stricter measures expected to be announced on Monday.

Co-chairs of the Liverpool Hospitality Association, Art School Restaurant owner Paul Askew and Hilton Liverpool general manager Marcus Magee, have published an open letter to business leaders throughout the region outlining the contribution the industry makes to the local economy, and the impact lockdowns have already inflicted on it.

They wrote: “Despite being classified as ‘non-essential’, we employ over 50,000 people in the LCR and we contribute to over £4bn to the local economy on average every year. Our industry also supports wider supply chains that rely heavily on our businesses.

“So, when we talk about being one of the worst industries affected, we mean jobs, livelihoods, families and people from our industry and beyond.”

They highlight the measures already taken to ensure conditions can be as safe as possible: “Keeping our community safe and supporting the NHS is our priority and we can guarantee that we are doing everything in our power to keep our venues safe for everyone.

“Nevertheless, operating at a reduced capacity, observing a curfew, additional safety measures, new equipment and technologies, training, re-training … these all come at a cost and they all require investment of both money and time – both which are getting scarcer and scarcer, forcing more and more of our hospitality venues to close their doors.

“We are fighting to keep our staff in their jobs to be able to hang on in there.”

So, they have appealed directly to business owners to try and rescue what would normally be their busiest period over Christmas by supporting an alternative voucher scheme in place of the traditional office parties and after-works drinks events.

They say: “There is no doubt that Christmas will be very different this year, but that does not mean it has to be cancelled.

“This year, the small act of gifting your employees with hospitality gift vouchers will go a long way in supporting the businesses that make our region such a destination.

“Most of our vouchers are valid for one year and, although we do not expect everyone to redeem them straight away, this simple gesture will have a hugely positive impact on our businesses now, whilst giving us hope and prospects for the future – one where COVID is no longer a threat to our society and the LCR will be thriving once again.”

Meanwhile, data from Liverpool BID Company reveals 425,000 fewer people visited the city centre in the past month, compared with August, due to local coronavirus restrictions.

That represents a 10% drop week-on-week since the start of September.

The impact is revealed as Liverpool BID Company added its voice to a letter from business groups across the North of England sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for a new approach to the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Liverpool BID Company chief executive, Bill Addy, said: “The next five weeks is crucial for Northern cities. These are vibrant, successful, thriving city centres and visitor economies that risk being left to decline if they do not receive the support we have been calling for since early September.

“We are working to develop a coordinated response across the North, that includes lobbying together with business leaders from Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, York, Sunderland and Newcastle.”

He added: “Christmas is crucial for our high streets and city centres, not just in terms of spend but also footfall and tourism.

“Our businesses in Liverpool tell us they do between 30 and 50% of their annual trading in this period in the run up to Christmas.

“On retail alone, Christmas in store sales are worth £53.1bn according to the Centre for Retail Research. What is the Government telling these businesses to do? Write off 2020?

“People want a Christmas with their families, and cities and festive celebrations play a huge part in that. But we, along with businesses across the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are driving blind.

“We need clarity. We need to know the science behind these lockdowns that are gutting our high streets. The Government wants to level up the country, but it is leaving the North to fall.

“We need struggling businesses to be supported and that means funds now and clear recovery support lines in place. That means jobs being protected. We need a test and trace system that works so we can identify where outbreaks happen and drive numbers down.

“Retail and hospitality businesses have been one of the hardest hit, they have invested tens of thousands of pounds in safety measures, they have had to police the restrictions, been on the receiving end of abuse and, ultimately, been told their livelihoods are at risk. More has been asked of them than almost any sectors. They have played their part, it’s now the Government’s turn to play theirs.

“Our cities cannot close, the country can’t afford them to.”

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