One of the more disturbing scenes to emerge in the last week or so were not ones that I watched on the TV but rather ones I listened to on the radio. They were of 10 o’clock closing time on the streets of Liverpool where the number of people were seemingly engaged in what sounded like a street party would have done credit to a World Cup final in the capital city of one of the countries in the final. I only pick on Liverpool because that is the city centre I happened to listen in to but would not be in the least surprised if such scenes were replicated in other city centres across the UK. And in fairness there was probably no party at all for all I know; what was happening was more likely what happens when thousands of people out enjoying themselves in a perfectly legal fashion all come out on the streets to go home at the same time.
The hospitality sector poses special pandemic management problems. For one thing, on the public health front there is an argument to say that having people in close proximity especially when they are from different households increases the risk of infection; but as a counter-argument those working in the sector might argue, often with justification, that they have spent a lot of money on ensuring that social distancing is properly in place. They might also argue (and some that I have heard have done so) that not shutting everything down at the same time actually makes for better safety measures as leaving times are staggered and the burden on transport e.g. taxis is more spread out.
There is also an economic issue here too. Giving evidence at the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee the chief executive of UK Hospitality Kate Nicholls gave credit to Chancellor Rishi Sunak for his furlough scheme but warned that if it was not extended 900,000 jobs could be at risk. Subsequent measures to put in place a partial extension of the scheme may modify this somewhat but clearly it will not save all jobs in the sector (100,000 have been lost already since the start of the pandemic). Further evidence of problems emerged this week when Simon Emeny, the boss of the pub chain Fuller's, announced that he may have to lay off 10% of the workforce, about 500 employees. This he blamed in part on the government's recent encouragement for people to work from home wherever possible and partly on the 10 p.m. pub closure which he described as both 'illogical' and 'ill conceived'. It follows similar warnings from JD Wetherspoon and Whitbread which owns Premier Inn and Beefeater and has stated that 6,000 jobs may be at risk.
Mr Emeny (whose company sold its brewing business to the Japanese outfit Asahi last year) pinpointed London as the major area for concern as Fullers has many pubs and hotels there. His comments suggest that two impacts of the pandemic are creating a double whammy. One is the quietness of city centres (though anecdotal evidence I have heard suggests that more local outlets in the so-called provinces may be beneficiaries of this trend) and the other is the early closing regulations. City centres such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool will be particularly badly hit by the early closing measures as they are hospitality hotspots with thousands of jobs at stake; yet they are also statistically at the heart of the upsurge in cases. Will the measures taken work as desired; and are the economic impacts likely to be as severe as some are warning? These are difficult to questions to answer let alone reconcile and only time will tell for sure what those answers are.
Wayne Bartlett is an author for accountingcpd. To see his courses, click here.