Sacha Lord leads legal challenge on government’s ‘unlocking’ pledge

Sacha Lord
X The Business Desk

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More than 45 hospitality, tourism, weddings and events companies have jointly written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson today (June 17) to threaten legal action should the July reopening date face further delay.

The open letter, led by Sacha Lord, Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, calls for sector-specific support following the four week extension to the COVID-19 roadmap.

Johnson had targeted June 21 for a final ‘unlocking’ of restrictions from the pandemic, but has delayed it until July 19, due to a rise in infections caused by the ‘Indian variant’.

Urging the Government to reconsider its decision to withhold financial aid, the letter has been signed by industry names including William Lees-Jones, MD, JW Lees Brewery, Rob Pitcher, CEO Revolution Bars, Harry Hastings, CEO, Ocean Holidays, the UK Weddings Taskforce and North West restaurateur Paul Heathcote.

The change to the roadmap came as a bitter blow to the sectors who were preparing to reopen fully on June 21. The hospitality sector, in particular, is expected to lose £3bn over the course of the four-week delay. Reports show the sector has already lost £87bn over the past year and has accounted for a third of job losses during the pandemic.

The letter reads: “We wish to put you on notice that Mr Lord and the representatives with whom he is in discussion are jointly considering taking legal action to challenge the government, should the easing of restrictions fail to take place on 19 July as promised.

“All of these industries have suffered enormously due to the repeated closures and reopenings, the ongoing lack of certainty, draconian social distancing measures and the illogical rules implemented and then removed, as areas have grappled with the constantly changing tier systems, and the local and national lockdowns.

“It has been impossible for the affected sectors to operate anywhere near their pre-COVID levels, and for each day that the COVID restrictions remain in place, sectors such as hospitality … continue to suffer enormous losses.

“The treatment of these sectors’ employees and business owners is deplorable and cannot continue. Industries such as Hospitality, Events, Exhibitions and Travel simply cannot endure further hardship.”

Sacha Lord, who successfully pushed the Government to drop the 10pm curfew and substantial meal restriction, said: “As of the end of the month, we’ll not only see a 10% increase in furlough contributions, but the relief rate for hospitality drops from 100% to 66%. Factor in that huge parts of the nightlife sector are not even open yet, and we have a clear and inevitable crisis about to take place.

“We demand absolute confirmation we will reopen on the 19 July and we need urgent financial support to give businesses the best possible chance to survive until then.”

Chris Naylor, managing director at Boutique Hotel Group and chairperson of the UK Weddings Taskforce, said: “Whilst we welcome this week’s announcement regarding weddings, the contrast between our sector and others has been brought into sharp contrast this week as the football, cricket and horse racing industries roar back to life.

“By the 19th July, we will be into 18-months of low season or heavily restricted trading and the sector is simply unable to cope. With the help of testing at weddings – by nature highly organised and meticulously planned occasions – weddings can and will be safely operated.”

He added: “Businesses have suffered enough and we call on the Government to stick to the 19th July and let people make their own choices, taking responsibility and learning to live with a virus which is here to stay. We remain deeply concerned about the mental wellbeing of our wedding sector workers and the couples we serve, and desperately need to retain any remaining confidence in what is left of our summer season.”

Supporting the move, Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), said: “The eleventh hour delay to reopening announced by the Prime Minister on Monday was yet another devastating blow to nightlife businesses, and the Government then rubbed salt into the wounds by indicating that support programmes like furlough and business rates relief would not be extended.

“Our sector simply cannot countenance another delay. That is why today – along with a number of trade bodies and businesses from other affected sectors – we are putting the Government on notice that we intend to take legal action should they deviate from the extended roadmap with full reopening on July 19th.”