The hospitality industry has told the government there will be “half a million redundancies within days” unless the chancellor reintroduces a “full furlough scheme” for pubs, bars and restaurants which could be forced to close in the coming days.
UKHospitality represents more than 700 companies in the sector, and its chief executive, Kate Nicholls, says its members are running short of cash and confidence after months of disruption.
Their fear is that the government is preparing to announce the enforced closure of premises in cities across the North of England, including Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Durham.
“Our message to the chancellor and other ministers today has been really clear, unless we see a return to full furlough at the same time as we see these new restrictions announced then we will see job losses across the sector as a whole,” Nicholls told ITV News.
“Our members have told us that 560,000 redundancies are in line. We’ve already lost 20,000 across the North of England in the last week since the closures and restrictions have been announced.
"So that is the minimum that we are anticipating seeing if we don’t get that support. Half a million jobs hang on this decision and that decision will be taken within days unless we get the announcement of full furlough at the same time as we get business closures.”
Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham on Covid-19 and pubs
In the last three weeks the government has introduced the “rule of six”, imposed a 10 o’clock curfew on pubs and bars and advised people to work from home.
Unsurprisingly, the impact on pubs, bars and restaurants has been profoundly negative - takings are, on average, down a third on last year.
In areas of the UK where there have been local lockdowns - in Bolton, in September, pubs and restaurants were ordered to shut for almost four weeks and were only allowed to offer take-aways - sales are down around 70% on last year.
The hospitality sector wants the government to revive the original version of the Job Retention Scheme for those businesses who are affected by the next wave of restrictions.
Under the original scheme, employees were paid 80% of their income by the taxpayer and employers didn’t have to make a contribution.
The scheme is successful but extremely expensive which is why the chancellor is replacing it with the jobs support scheme by the end of this month.
Rishi Sunak says the new scheme will keep people in jobs but has repeatedly said he also "stands ready to do more as the situation evolves".
The situation is desperate. In the last few weeks Deltic, Whitbread, Wetherspoon, Thwaites, Youngs, Fullers and Stonegate have collectively announced 10,000 redundancies.
The industry warns far more are imminent unless the chancellor goes further.