Wednesday 28 October 2020 6:35 am

Majority of London offices cancel Christmas parties in face of new restrictions

Almost all London offices have parked the tinsel and cancelled their Christmas parties this year, according to new research, as the capital faces a bleak festive season under Tier 2 restrictions.

More than 95 per cent of London businesses have cancelled bookings for traditional office parties this Christmas, after the capital’s move to “high” alert earlier this month saw a ban on indoor social interactions.

Almost 40 per cent of City businesses said they would don their Santa hats for a virtual bonanza this year, according to outsourcing firm Moneypenny. 

Meanwhile 11 per cent of 1,000 London firms surveyed said they would tank the turkey altogether and postpone party plans until restrictions were lifted.

Left out in the cold

Hospitality firms have warned that cancellations would be a “further blow” for businesses already on their knees from months of closure and the 10pm curfew. 

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), told City A.M: “December is the busiest time of the year for our sector and work Christmas parties are key to the business models of many pubs.

“Companies scrapping their Christmas parties is a further blow to many London pubs who could really do with a boost right now.”

McClarkin urged the government to review restrictions ahead of the Christmas period.

“Pubs and hospitality in London have already been devastated by the 10pm curfew, rule of six and lack of tourism and office workers. Clearly people not going to offices is going to damage Christmas trade as well as normal trade it has already devastated,” she said.

“The government needs to review restrictions and advice across the board to help restore our trade and public confidence to visit our pubs.”

Almost two-thirds of businesses in the hospitality sector would rather shut for a two-week circuit breaker now if it meant they could open as usual during the Christmas period, according to the latest Hospitality Leaders poll.

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls last week slammed the government’s refusal to provide extra financial support for the sector as “catastrophic”, warning that pubs and restaurants under Tier 2 restrictions have already “taken a hit due to the dip in inbound tourism and with people increasingly working from home”.

Government guidance

The government yesterday warned restaurants not to abuse an apparent loophole in coronavirus restrictions that allows “business lunches” to take place indoors. 

While office workers are currently exempt from a ban on social interactions between different households indoors under Tier 2, it is not clear whether office parties will be exempt from the list of restrictions. 

A spokesperson for Number 10 said: “We can’t speculate on what the guidance will be by December.”

But the indecision has led some City firms to scrap their Christmas plans and bank on Zoom to see their festive celebrations through.

A spokesperson for Lloyd’s of London told City A.M. the firm “has decided not to hold a formal end of year party in 2020” and is instead exploring “how we can connect virtually with colleagues over the festive period.”

HM Revenue & Customs is set to launch a consultation this week over whether to extend Christmas party tax breaks to cover virtual events.

In the UK, eligible employers can make use of the annual function exemption, which scraps usual tax and national insurance contributions for costs relating to annual social events organised for employees.