Harrogate businesses: Why we cannot afford any more roadmap delays by the Prime Minister

Harrogate business leaders are warning the Government against any further drift in the roadmap with the message that another delay is simply “unthinkable”.

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 2:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th June 2021, 3:01 pm
The remaining lockdown rules such as social distancing and face masks are impacting on the hospitality sector including bars, even popular ones like the Devonshire Tap House on Skipton Road in Harrogate, pictured.

After Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that there would be a four-week wait for the lifting of all Covid restrictions beyond June 21 - due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant - there was understanding but also dismay.

Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive David Simister said: “Thanks to the Herculean efforts of the vaccination programme, more than half the population has already had at least one jab.

“I know we must keep an eye on the infection rate, but the numbers being hospitalised is minimal.

“Many businesses are simply at their wits end, in particular those in hospitality, leisure and entertainment.

“For some, another month’s delay will be too late for them.”

The reaction in Harrogate and elsewhere suggests a tipping point between fear of the virus and fear for the economy may now have been reached as a result of the success of the Government’s vaccination programme.

It is being predicted that sticking with the current stage three restrictions, including social distancing, until at least July 19 while the vaccination programme is rolled out to younger age groups will have a major impact on hospitality, weddings, the arts and live shows.

Those business leaders the Harrogate Advertiser spoke to after the Government’s confirmation of the delay all agreed it had come as no surprise with figures for the virus on the rise once more.

They also praised previous Government financial support packages such as the furloughing scheme.

But they also warned it was nearing the time when priority had to be given to the economy as more and more people were vaccinated against the Covid virus. If the delay were to be extended even further, the Government needed to step up finanical support, not phase it out as planned.

Simon Cotton, managing director of the HRH Group which owns the Yorkshire Hotel, the White Hart Hotel and the Fat Badger pub, said: “We have to respect the fact that when the roadmap was laid out, Boris Johnson said that all the key stage dates were the ‘earliest’ that changes would happen and it was always subject to the science and numbers. But the July 19 date being pushed back any further is unthinkable to be honest.

“The summer months are far too important to the hospitality and tourism industry as a whole. Without a good summer, I foresee many business being in serious financial trouble and throwing the towel in early in the start of 2022.”

Harrogate’s bar sector has been particularly badly affected during the pandemic with social distancing rules making it virtually impossible to make a profit.

One of Harrogate’s leading independent breweries whose beers can be found in local bars, Roosters, told the Harrogate Advertiser that time was running out for many businesses.

Ian Fozard said: “I understand and respect the Government’s logic but, as the Prime Minister said, we have to learn to live with Covid and the vaccine will help us do that.

“But I want to stress that any subsequent delays or restrictions will have serious repercussions for businesses that are close to running on empty. Under the current restrictions pubs and bars cannot operate anywhere near normal occupancy and it is the last 10/20% of customers that make them profitable.

“If you couple that with the higher number of staff required to operate a 100% table service culture, you have a recipe for disaster.”

The types of businesses affected by the roadmap delay ranges from weddings, hotels, live venues, bars, cafes and restaurants. Key parts of the British economy, they also matter hugely to the Harrogate economy and the future prospects of town centres across the district.

The British Chambers of Commerce is warning that the VAT deferral scheme and the 100% business rates relief, which were both scheduled to be phased out from June 30, must now be extended to prevent a wave of closures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged the new July 19 target will be the “terminus date” for the remaining restrictions on social contact to be lifted in England. But doubts remain and patience is wearing thin.

Mr Simister added: “The Government needs to listen to the combined voice of business, and we need to accept that, like flu, Covid is here to stay. If we don’t open up in five weeks’ time, then I’m afraid we never will.”

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