Harrogate's plea to Boris to pledge more economic support and clarity over ending lockdown

Harrogate and Knaresborough’s MP has joined forces with local businesses calling on Boris Johnson to deliver some sort of road map for the economy to recover from Covid in a safe way.

Thursday, 18th February 2021, 4:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th February 2021, 4:32 pm
Battling for its future - Retail areas in Harrogate town centre such as Cambridge Street will need more Government support if they are to survive a prolonged lockdown over Covid.

With the success of the vaccination programme and current lockdown encouraging businesses to look for a way to bounce back later in the year, Andrew Jones says he has been pressing the case for the Government to focus on jobs in the Budget in just under two weeks’ time.

The MP said: “Customers may not all come back from day one, but costs will.

“That is why I would advocate ongoing financial and logistical support while businesses start their recovery journey.

“I have fed in to the Budget planning process that jobs, jobs, jobs must be the Government’s focus.”

Although thoughts of reopening may be raising business spirits a little, doubts over when this will happen or in what way it will happen are still causing serious concerns for traders in Harrogate.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will set out “what we can” in a road map for easing restrictions in his briefing next Monday to mark achieving the Government’s goal of vaccinating the 15 million people most vulnerable to Covid.

But, in the absence of any quick full reopening, Harrogate’s business community aches clarity and is seeking additional forms of practical support to enable it to survive 2021.

Sara Ferguson, chair of Harrogate BID said she would like to see all non-essential shops and the hospitality industry back open in time for Easter but, whatever happened, BID was ready to help town centre traders bounce back.

The BID boss said: “Ideally, we would like to see all non-essential shops and the hospitality industry back open in time for Easter.

"This traditionally marks the start of the tourism season, and with hopefully warmer weather and lighter nights, those in the hospitality sector will again be able to make use of the pavements and other open spaces.

BID will be giving targeted support to those town centre businesses that have been forced to shut their doors and lay off staff during the three national lockdowns.

"“Our cleaning programme is to commence again in March, and along with additional floral displays, will ensure the town is looking the best it can as we come out of this lengthy Covid winter.”

"We also need to ensure that the public feels confident in returning.”

Harrogate Lib Dem leader Coun Pat Marsh said she wanted to see restrictions eased sooner rather than later - but only if it was safe to do so.

Coun Marsh said: “I would like to see all non-essential shops and the hospitality sector to open as soon as possible but we must be led by the science.

“Local authorities and the Government need to lay down clear, concise rules on how to allow the opening of businesses safely.

“There should also be encouragement from local authorities and the Government to the public to help them to return to the shops, pubs, cafes etc safely.

“The opening would lift the spirits of everyone but we must also make sure the appropriate precautions are in place.

“We, as shoppers and customers, have a duty to abide by the rules and directions given.”

The Harrogate and Knaresborough MP says relaxing lockdown on its own may not be sufficient if the town is to enjoy a successful economic recovery.

Mr Jones said: “As businesses emerge from lockdown we need to bear in mind that they won’t resume the position they were in at the beginning of 2020 straight away. They will need ongoing support to recover.

“This may take the form of reductions in their cost base looking at items like VAT, business rates and furloughing.

“Much of this will be part of the Chancellor’s budget on March 3.”

With furloughing due to end on April 30, speculation is growing that lockdown measures will start to ease at Easter.

Under pressure from the science and medical community to wait for the figures to show the danger of the pandemic has truly passed, Boris Johnson has said any decisions will be based on the data for Covid.

Harrogate's MP Andrew Jones also says Harrogate needs certainty but he, too, is opposed to setting arbitrary dates for the end of lockdown.

Mr Jones said: "Businesses generally want certainty. Coming out of lockdown and going back in to it, often with little warning, is the worst possible future for the economy.

"I think trying to give people exact dates when things will happen as we respond to what is still a new and comparatively little understood virus would be a mistake.

"Setting arbitrary dates without the right knowledge is not a helpful approach."

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