Why businesses fear a Harrogate winter of economic discontent

Even as pressure grows for tougher restrictions to counter rising Covid figures, worried Harrogate business leaders are warning any such moves would be “devastating” for the town’s economy.

Friday, 16th October 2020, 4:01 pm
Updated Friday, 16th October 2020, 4:02 pm
Bars and cafes on Montpellier Hill in Harrogate - Rather than being reassured by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s latest package of economic measures, the town's hospitality sector has grown more worried in general.

Rather than being reassured by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s latest package of economic measures earlier this week, most business figures the Harrogate Advertiser talked to said they did not go far enough.

What’s more, they added, the new financial help would be found to be totally inadequate should Harrogate itself face additional restrictions under the Government’s new three-tier system of local lockdowns.

Harrogate Borough Council’s leader Coun Richard Cooper understands their concerns. He said: “I would welcome as nuanced an approach as it is possible to get but there are few easy decisions. None of what is happening is fair.

“I want to see our community and our businesses roaring forward when we start to recover from this second wave of Covid.”

But Sandra Doherty, Chief Executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, said a lot more help was needed, even in Harrogate.

She said: “The hospitality industry in Harrogate is struggling already. Rishi Sunak’s new winter package of support hardly dents the surface of the deprivation caused by the loss of jobs or businesses closing down.

“If we were to go up a level or even go back into shut down, the results will be immediately felt and devastating for the town.”

Harrogate BID Acting Chair Sara Ferguson, who co-owns two town centre restaurants, added: “While we recognise the need to protect the vulnerable, at the same time we need to bear in mind the health of the economy, and the very real prospect that if there are further lockdowns, businesses will close for good and jobs will be lost. Even with financial support, any lockdown would sound the death-knell for many pubs, cafes and restaurants.”

Andy Barnsdale, DoubleTree by Hilton Harrogate Majestic Hotel & Spa general manager, said: “Travel restrictions, food and beverage curfews all cost jobs.

“As calls for a second lockdown become louder, we would need major financial support to enable our survival and to safeguard the jobs of 110 people we employ, many who live in Harrogate.”

Robert Thompson, owner of seven independent bars in Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon, including the Devonshire Tap House, said: “I fully understand the medical concerns about the pandemic but, for hospitality businesses, if Harrogate went into the third tier, it would have a catastrophic impact on customer numbers.”

Despite expressing disappointment that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Job Support Scheme - to replace the furlough scheme from November - did not go far enough, the Harrogate business world is not giving up the fight.

This week has seen traders on Commercial Street set up a new retailers’ group to work together to promote the area to locals and visitors.

Harrogate's economic prospects: What businesses said in full

Sandra Doherty, Chief Executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce

“So many of Harrogate’s workforce are employed within this broad industry and its dependent businesses. I personally fear for so many of the jobs in Harrogate in the coming months.

“If we were to go up a level or even go back into shut down the results will be immediately felt and devastating for the town.

“Rishi Sunak's new winter package of support hardly dents the surface of the deprivation caused by the loss of jobs or businesses closing down.

“Very little has been offered to the self employed especially those who had only just started and had insufficient information or too little revenue to claim any benefits.

“Perhaps a minimum wage could be developed for those unable to work for a variety of reasons to save a large percentage of people suffering hardship this winter.”

“The hospitality industry in Harrogate is struggling already from the lack of visitors both leisure and business.

"The first group due to the worry and misinformation around Covid. Such a lot of our regular visitors are. perhaps, of the older demographic who fear all outside contact.

"Our shops restaurants and cafes have tried so hard in most instances to ensure that customers are safe.

“The second group, who come often for conferences and exhibitions in the Convention Centre, obviously are not coming due to the Harrogate Convention Centre being used as a Nightingale Hospital, and then the ‘rule of 6’ preventing other venues such as the Yorkshire Event Centre being used.

“Please remember that hotels and guesthouses have also had a devastating drop in guests wanting to stay, those who do come are really only wanting one night, namely Saturday, which just isn’t enough to sustain the number of beds we have available.

“Other businesses who rely on visitor numbers are perhaps not quite as obvious, but for instance taxis and other transport operators are struggling, too."

Harrogate BID Acting Chair Sara Ferguson

“We are soon to be entering what should be one of the busiest times in the retail and hospitality calendar, but have to accept this year is going to be extremely difficult for many businesses.

“Town centre businesses have gone to great lengths to open in a safe manner for both customers and staff, but hospitality restrictions including social distancing and reduced opening hours are meaning a reduction in sales.

“Whilst we recognise the need to protect the vulnerable, at the same time we need to bear in mind the health of the economy, and the very real prospect that if there are further lockdowns, businesses will close for good and jobs will be lost.

“Even with financial support, a proposed two/three week ‘circuit breaker’ would sound the death knell for many pubs, cafes and restaurants.”

Andy Barnsdale, DoubleTree by Hilton Harrogate Majestic Hotel & Spa general manager

“As one of the largest businesses and employers in Harrogate town centre, we are consistently anxious of what the future holds for the hospitality industry.

“We have so far survived and adapted to all regulations that have been advised by the government ensuring the safety of both guests and staff. We will soon be erecting tepee in our grounds to enable us to continue our alfresco offering.

“As the number of cases of people with Covid increases, and the calls for a second lockdown become louder, we would need major financial support to enable our survival and to safeguard the jobs of 110 people we employ, many who live in Harrogate.

“Travel restrictions, food and beverage curfews all cost jobs, I’d like to stress we do understand the importance of lowering the “R rate” and to survive the pandemic.”

Robert Thompson, owner of seven independent bars in Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon

including SO! bar in Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon, Tap On Tower Street - Harrogate, Devonshire Tap House - Harrogate, The Groves - Knaresborough, Hart - Knaresborough

"My concern as a small business owner in the Harrogate area is firstly the increasing uncertainty and apparent ever changing regulations, its just impossible to do any long term planning we are just working from week to week. Its impossible to think about Christmas, investments, increasing activities to drive sales as we just don't know from week to week what restrictions we are going to be following.

"Even since Monday with the restrictions being announced in Northern Ireland today, Wales and the push from the media and the Labour party that maybe a short sharp shock is a better route, it makes you wonder as a business how long the English regulations will be in place until they are changed again. that sort of uncertainty is impossible to deal with.

"Secondly, for hospitality businesses if Harrogate should go into the third tier this is obviously the worst case scenario for ourselves and other businesses in the area.

"The third tier states that pubs can trade as restaurants offering alcohol with a substantial meal, again not only causing confusion as to what is a substantial meal, this means that pubs will not be closed, meaning we cannot benefit from any of the government's support for closed businesses.

"This means we potentially could be trading in a period with high Covid levels, limited consumer confidence, toughest restrictions and no ability to close and get government support.

"This triple whammy is the worst case scenario as it will obviously have a catastrophic impact on customer numbers but we will have the same overheads and no additional support from our current situation.

"We have from day one made sure our bars are covid safe and we believe we have extremely strong processes in place to keep people safe, but I fully understand the medical concerns about the pandemic here and as a business we are fully supportive of any measures to keep people safe and to fight the virus even if that means closure.

"However, if that is the case, it doesn't matter what business sector it happens in, the government needs to provide the right levels of support to get everyone through so we keep everyone employed, until we can get out the other side of this.

"With this comes the wish for them to offer a more coherent, stable and short to medium plan.

"Without doubt the winter months are going to be the most challenging we have faced in the 18 years of trading in the Harrogate area and that's without any more restrictions or lock down which are likely on the way."

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