Birmingham’s hospitality sector has been dealt a devastating blow by Boris Johnson’s extension of lockdown to July 19.
June 21 had been earmarked as Freedom Day for the removal of all remaining restrictions.
It would have seen the reopening of remaining closed settings, including nightclubs, and also allowed the largest theatre performances and other live shows to go ahead.
All the key announcements from latest Boris briefing on lockdown
Currently, under Step 3 of the roadmap, controlled indoor events of up to 1,000 people or 50 per cent of a venue’s capacity, whichever is lower, are permitted, as are outdoor events with a capacity of either 50 per cent or 4,000 people, whichever is lower.
But the latest press conference from Boris Johnson means nightclubs must stay shut and large performances still can’t go ahead, because of the spread of the Delta variant.
Birmingham’s Southside District BID says this will hit the city hard.
The Southside business improvement district contains the Hippodrome theatre, Chinatown, Snobs nightclub, the Arcadian complex, and the Gay Village including the Nightingale Club.
Julia Robinson, manager of Southside District BID commented: “The delay in lockdown restrictions lifting is yet another devastating blow to a severely beleaguered hospitality sector that, in many cases, is on its last legs.
“It’s easy to assume that our city’s venues are riding high – particularly after a weekend where people have enjoyed being out and about meeting friends and family, and when it can be hard to get a table at the city’s hotspots.
“But the reality is that with reduced capacities enforced, and businesses only taking up to 50 per cent of their expected sales, the sector has no hope of recouping the estimated £87billion in lost revenue.”
She added: “Many businesses in the night-time economy, including nightclubs, have been forced to remain closed throughout, and the limited financial support ended in March.
“As the rent moratorium ends, business rates payments start up again and employer contributions to furlough are introduced, sadly we can expect that this will be the last straw for many and we call on the government to urgently confirm additional grant funding.
“As a result of the huge uncertainty and continued restrictions, the hospitality sector is facing an unprecedented recruitment crisis and, coupled with the financial strain on operators, these pressures are having a huge impact on mental health.
“Behind every struggling business are people trying to make a living and support their employees, and as a BID we have huge concerns that this pressure – particularly for independent operators – is just too much to bear.”
Snobs nightclub, on the corner of Smallsbrook Queensway and Hurst Street, said some events on its reopening programme would have to be rescheduled.
It said events would be moved ahead by four weeks and people could apply for a refund if the new dates were unsuitable.
The Night Time Industry Association, a trade body representing late-night venues including clubs in Birmingham and across the UK, has issued a statement on the latest delays to Freedom Day.
Michael Kill, CEO of the NTIA, said: “This is a hugely devastating blow for the very industries that have been hardest hit by this pandemic; in a very real sense, the Prime Minister has ‘switched the lights off’ for an entire sector.
“Many businesses have not survived this pandemic and others are on a financial cliff-edge, unable to operate viably. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have already been lost, a huge pool of creative talent has been swept away, and we have been left to suffer extreme financial hardship.”
“This delay will drive confidence in the sector to a new low, culminating in more of our workforce being forced to leave the industry, and customers, who have been starved of social engagement, attending illegal unregulated events in place of businesses that are well-operated, licensed and regulated.”
He said the sector needed a “robust financial support package” including additional grants, exclusion from furlough contributions, extension of loan repayment holidays, and business rates and VAT relief for the next 12 months.
Mr Kill added: “Distressed industries cannot continue to be held in limbo, with thousands of businesses left to fall. This delay, which again offers no clarity on when businesses can open, is leaving many in the industry angry and frustrated, alongside other industries who have been locked down or restricted from opening through no fault of their own, and at their own cost.”
The Prime Minister’s lockdown delay has also been described as a “catastrophe” for the theatre and live entertainment sector elsewhere.
In a statement, Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squire of Trafalgar Entertainment said: “This delay is yet another bungle from a Government that wouldn’t be given a single star in a review of its performance. The confusion and muddled messages are reminiscent of a West End farce.”
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They argue the Government’s own data shows a trip to the theatre is less dangerous than going to the pub, restaurant or supermarket, and stressed the sector’s importance to public life.
Sir Howard and Dame Rosemary, who have two West End productions due to start next month, added: “With the data supporting a return to live events at full capacity – and with risks now diminishing – we urge the Government to act before it’s too late.
“During the pandemic this Government has been fond of three-word slogans. Hands, Face, Space. Build back better. Today we ask them to consider a few more. Open our theatres. Enough is enough. Let audiences in.”
In its roadmap documents, the Government admits that the arts, entertainment and recreation sector “has been hit very hard by the pandemic.”
Pre-Covid, this sector was worth £18.3 billion across the UK, including £15.5 billion in England, and had 473,000 jobs (400,000 of those in England).
The net income of the arts, entertainment and recreation sector fell by 46 per cent in April 2020 as the first lockdown took hold, and then to 33 per cent in November that year.
The sector has also had a high take-up of the furlough scheme, with 455,000 furloughed at peak in spring 2020, and 293,000 furloughed at the end of November 2020.