Chefs, farmers, waitresses and caterers took their pots and pans to Parliament Square today to make their calls for further government support for the hospitality sector heard across Westminster.
Hundreds of workers from the food and drink industry urged ministers to provide fresh funding to save wide-scale job losses and venue closures, as further restrictions across the country look set to decimate businesses already on their knees after months of closure.
Michelin star chef and restaurateur Jason Atherton told City A.M. the government’s failure to offer sector-specific financial support alongside the new three-tier system was “reprehensible”.
“What Boris Johnson has done to our industry is criminal,” he said. “I think it’s just unbelievable what has happened to our country, from where we were a year ago to where we are today.
“I genuinely believe that we were one of the greatest nations on Earth, with London being one of the best capitals in the world. But now we’re in chaos. We’re in total chaos.”
Atherton, who owns Michelin star London restaurant Pollen Street Social, said he was “absolutely furious” that new restrictions across the country were not being met with further government support.
“Let’s not forget that [ministers] have given us government loans — which have got to be paid back. But that’s got us through the first wave, now we’re talking about getting through the next 18 months to two years.”
“Priti Patel just eight months ago said our industry was made up of ‘low-skilled workers’. That just shows the lack of respect the government has for our industry,” he added.
“And by the way — she was happy to sit in the Ritz the other night when me and my wife were having dinner. She was happy to be waited on hand and foot and have a beautiful Michelin star meal by ‘low-skilled’ workers. But she’s not happy to give out any further support,” Atherton added. “I’m furious.”
More than 25,000 UK hospitality venues have already buckled under the weight of the pandemic, with industry figures warning that hundreds of thousands of redundancies linger on the horizon as further restrictions sweep the country.
UK Hospitality, the country’s leading trade body for the sector, over the weekend warned that more than 200,000 hospitality jobs London face immediate peril as Tier 2 restrictions bite into ailing venues in the capital.
Rachel Harty, organiser of today’s demonstration, told City A.M some businesses would be better off being forced to close under Tier 3 restrictions than face the “limbo” of Tier 2 measures.
“If necessary the government should close places down and provide the support those businesses need, rather than forcing them to stay open without any help”, she said. “The furlough scheme is about to end and the chancellor’s Job Support Scheme is not applicable to lots of venues within our sector”.
Harty added that Britain’s hospitality industry has been “incredibly cooperative” in the face of new restrictions including social distancing measures, the 10pm curfew and a ban on indoor mixing between households.
“A lot of places are stuck in limbo right now — London in particular is in this sort of no man’s land. Today we’re urging [the government] to base policy on facts and science. Things like the 10pm curfew seem completely arbitrary and will wipe out a whole sector if the government doesn’t do more”.
It comes after the latest data from Public Health England (PHE) showed that pubs and restaurants caused less than three per cent of coronavirus transmissions in the week before the 10pm curfew was announced.
Just 22 of 772 incidents investigated by PHE were caused by the hospitality industry in the week up to 20 September, while schools and care homes were the root of more than two-thirds of transmissions.
London mayor Sadiq Khan voiced his support for hospitality figures protesting outside the chambers today, and called on ministers to act now to avoid “widespread unemployment”.
“The huge failures in the test and trace system have meant that further Covid restrictions are now necessary, but our bars, restaurants and other venues must now get the extra financial support they need urgently to stay afloat,” he said.
“The 80 per cent furlough scheme was a lifeline for many businesses at the start of the pandemic, and it is this level of support London’s hospitality sector now needs to prevent further widespread unemployment and ensure this world-leading sector can return to business when the virus is under control.”
The furlough scheme, which has propped up hospitality jobs during the pandemic by providing 80 per cent of wages to employees unable to work, is due to wind down on 31 October.
Sunak earlier this month unveiled an extension to the Job Support Scheme, announcing the government will pay two-thirds of wages for UK businesses required to close under local lockdowns.
But industry figures have warned that the new scheme “must go further” to avoid wide-scale job losses.
UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls told City A.M: “Worryingly, it does nothing to address the issues faced by sector businesses operating well below capacity due to restrictions and consumers avoiding travel and struggling to keep their workforce employed.
“The need now is no less — possibly is even more — than the first lockdown, so a more comprehensive package of financial support is crucial.”