'Peace of mind for a good many people across Harrogate' - Major employer welcomes moves to give financial reassurance to town's hospitality workers

One of Harrogate's leading hospitality managers has welcomed the Government's call to shut all pubs, clubs and restaurants while also praising Chancellor Rishi Sunak for his plan to cover 80% of staff wages.

Friday, 20th March 2020, 7:48 pm
Updated Friday, 20th March 2020, 8:40 pm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a lockdown on the hospitality industry as he looks to halt the spread of coronavirus, with pubs, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs and gyms all asked to close their doors from Friday night.

Simon Cotton. Group Managing Director of HRH Group, which owns The Yorkshire Hotel/ Scran Restaurant and White Hart Hotel/ Fat Badger, believes the decision to shutdown premises will end any ambiguity over whether people are allowed to go out, and give some security to many staff across the tourist town who were fearing for their jobs.

Managing Director of the HRH Group which runs The Yorkshire Hotel and White Hart Hotel, Simon Cotton.

Coronavirus has resulted in similar lockdowns across Europe, but Mr Johnson held off on such action, choosing instead to just urge people not to go out. Something which caused great frustration within the hospitality sector.

"While we are not too surprised by the decision, things had been looking as though this would happen, we are pleased that it has finally been made official and the sense of ambiguity has been removed from the situation," said Mr Cotton. "It was not particularly helpful earlier in the week when despite not been told to close, people had been urged not to come out and see us.

"It is good that we now have crystal clear advice from the Government, we know where we are and we know what the situation is. There is some uncertainty over how this affects our hotels. Obviously, we want to continue to provide a service for our residents who are currently with us and we have been seeking immediate clarification on that issue. We will now be shutting down completely for all non-residents."

With so many employees in the hospitality sector working on zero contract hours, Mr Cotton was relieved to see provision made by the Government which will protect the majority of their wages for those forced to stop work.

"The most important part of this from our point of view was the announcement that the Government will pay up to 80% of staff wages for employees who are unable to work during this time," he said. "So many of our employees are working on zero hours contracts and this provides peace of mind for a good many people across Harrogate tonight who are working within our industry and would have been worried sick about their futures and how they were going to pay their bills.

"The Government have gone as far as it needs to go at the moment and it seems they are willing to do whatever it takes to get us through this and I applaud them to be honest. But we all know that there could be more to come in the future."

Like many other businesses across the district, Mr Cotton says that his teams are now concentrating on how they can diversify their operations, including the offer of takeaway delivery and collection services at both Scran Restaurant and the Fat Badger.

They have been preparing for the last couple of weeks bringing in takeaway boxes and sorting out additional drivers so that they can maintain some semblance of service to the people of Harrogate.

"As far as our business is concerned, we have been preparing for this over the last few weeks when we realised what was going to happen and we are now in a position to turn our business into a takeaway service with online delivery either through collection or delivery. We will also have a full drinks menu available." he said.

"We do have a number of bookings on Mother's Day this weekend and we will be contacting those people to ask if they would like to cancel or whether they would like to order from the menu and come to collect the food from our premises."

A number of businesses across the town have followed suit including Bettys, Mama Dooreens, The Harrogate Tea Rooms and Graveley's.