Coventry’s night-time economy could be a ‘very different place’ in future – with up to half of venues forced to close down.
That’s the stark warning from a bar manager in the city as calls are made for the government to offer more support to industries struggling to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Darren Piper, general manager of the Yard, said it’s not just the industries themselves that are facing difficulties but the reams of staff, DJs, performers and technicians who work in them.
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Coventry’s night-time economy is ‘without a doubt at risk’, he added.
“Unless something is done in terms of support from the government, it is going to be a very different place,” he told CoventryLive.
“I estimate that 50 per cent of businesses – not only bars and pubs but restaurants as well – would be forced to close.”
Coventry North West MP Taiwo Owatemi estimates that more than 500 people are employed in the night life industry in her constituency alone, including 175 people in nightclubs and 450 people in pubs and bars.
She criticised Chancellor Rishi Sunak for not doing more to offer government support and claimed he had dismissed the jobs as ‘unviable’.
Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry South, has also raised the issue in parliament.
She urged the government to act to stop people working in the hospitality industry facing unemployment and destitution, and to stop businesses facing bankruptcy.
In response, Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health, said that support for the sector was “under review”.
“It’s very hard to get a job in another sector”
Darren Piper, manager of the Yard, a popular bar and club in Bull Yard which offers cabaret and event nights, said that at the start of the pandemic he had been impressed with the furlough scheme rolled out by the government.
Like other venues, the Yard was closed earlier this year during lockdown and reopened when restrictions eased.
Now that Covid cases are once again rising there is uncertainty about what support will be on offer.
Mr Piper said: “I would say we are now going into a second wave and we are unsure as to what support is going to be there. I’m convinced we will be going back into lockdown again at some point to curb this spike.”
He added that, while the confidence he had in the government earlier this year was ‘brilliant’, he was not confident that he and the industry can count on the same level of support again.
“It’s not just the bar staff,” he said. “We employ DJs, lighting technicians, drag acts.”
Mr Piper said he wanted to see a return to the furlough scheme offered in March and throughout lockdown if bars and pubs were ordered to shut again.
“It’s easy to say people should just go out and get another job but those jobs are not always there,” he added.
“A lot of our guys are just out of university, it’s very hard to get a job in another sector if you don’t have the skills or experience.
“Plus our guys have been very loyal to us. That speaks volumes.”
Curfew ‘tarnishes’ experience of a night out
The 10pm curfew has already hit the venues employees as well as the business itself, with the restriction cutting up to 10 hours a week off a member of the bar staff’s rota.
And for the customers it’s changed the experience of a night out.
“When there’s a timer, you don’t enjoy yourself as much, the experience of going out and having a good time is tarnished with watching the clock all the time,” Mr Piper said.
“They were thriving businesses before Covid”
Ms Owatemi also spoke out in support of industries such as the wedding sector, events and conferences and sports as well as hospitality.
She said: “The Chancellor appears to be pulling the rug from under these local businesses and consigning whole sectors of the economy to the scrapheap, which will damage livelihoods and threaten the economic recovery in Coventry.
“These are not just viable businesses; they were thriving businesses before COVID restrictions and hubs of our community here in Coventry.
“Behind each figure and statistic are real people, families, friends, colleagues and the Government must recognise that their scheme risks damaging not only our economy, but our community too.”
Unemployment ‘crisis’ is looming
Ms Sultana said: “Hospitality workers and businesses in Coventry South need the Government to step-up, protect jobs, livelihoods and businesses.
“This pandemic is far from over and we have to do everything we can to stop an unemployment crisis this winter.
“There needs to be targeted financial support for workers and businesses in the industries still badly affected.”