What next for Bristol hospitality?

For the attention of:

Mr. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Mr. Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer

CC: RT Hon Members of Parliament for Bristol:  Kerry McCarthy, Thangam Debonnaire, Darren Jones and Karin Smyth

Regional Mayor of West of England Combined Authority, Mr. Tim Bowles

and Mayor of Bristol, Mr. Marvin Rees

Re: Bristol food and hospitality: surviving the winter

Dear leaders,

In the face of Saturday’s unexpected announcement about a second full-national lockdown, our regional food and hospitality sectors have again been thrown into uncertainty.

Despite all our best efforts to evolve and innovate over the last 9-months, hospitality businesses and the suppliers that depend on them have been asked to close for at least the next 4-weeks.

Without the enforced closure of schools and Universities we anticipate being shut for longer.

Whilst we understand the need for the UK to get control of spiraling r-rates during a global pandemic, we can’t help but feel frustrated. This situation was entirely preventable.

July re-opening

When food and hospitality businesses opened back in July, we invested heavily in PPE, customer safety systems, and staff training. £330million was spent nationally on ensuring our venues would be safe for guests. As a result, your graphs at Saturday’s press conference showed a clear increase in transmission, not when hospitality reopened in July but when schools and Universities went back in September.

Eat Out to Help Out

In August you announced ‘Eat Out to Help Out,’ a government initiative to encourage the public to enjoy subsidised meals. We were pleased to be back and happy to be busy, but with smaller teams and fewer chefs in the kitchen, we ran ourselves ragged to keep up with demand.

10pm curfew

In spite of hospitality venues being responsible for less than 3-5% of transmitted infections nationally, in September you took the decision to impose a 10 pm curfew. You’ll understand our frustration. Having re-opened trading at an average of 40% capacity, sales took another 30% hit as we lost our second sittings. To have guests out by 10 pm, we could no longer take bookings after 8 pm. Your own Ministers have admitted the curfew was not based on scientific evidence, but on the need to ‘send a message’ to the wider public. Our carefully managed systems of customer protection went out the window, and we watched in dismay as crowds flooded town centers, public transport, and off-licenses.

Christmas

We’re sure you’re aware that the hospitality industry depends on a strong Christmas season to survive a quiet January-March. We had resigned ourselves to a year without corporate parties but worked to create alternatives. We hoped to make the best of a bad situation. When the second lockdown was announced on Saturday, plans for the festive season became useless days before they were due to launch. This habit of changing direction every few weeks is making it almost impossible for us to plan effectively.

We return to the drawing board to design takeaway or delivery models that will generate a fraction of the income, in a saturated marketplace where we are forced to compete with our peers for a small slice of the home-delivered pie.

Food Matters

Since the weekend, we have thrown ourselves back into the fray. We are making meals for the vulnerable, packing Christmas food hampers, and ensuring our city stays fed. We are redesigning Christmas offerings, figuring out delivery services, and deciding what best to do with our staff. But we’re reaching the end of our ability to carry on.

We’ve lived off our reserves, innovation, and optimism for the last 9-months and we’re running on empty. We implore the government to stop holding the hospitality industry accountable for transmission not proven by the evidence. Your decision to use us as a behavior-change tool for your restrictions is causing long-term damage to our regional food supply chains, our livelihoods, and the mental health of our teams.

Like last time, we’ve made some recommendations that might help


We’ve made some recommendations that could help

Nationally

  • We urge the government to urgently engage in talks with the Bristol Mayors Office (and mayors from all other regions) to ensure an adequate package of financial support is offered, which includes provision for economies that are significantly dependent upon hospitality, tourism, live events, and creative industries
  • We request a minimum 6-month extension of the current reduced rate of VAT (5%) beyond January 12th
  • We request an extension of the debt enforcement moratorium, which currently expires on December 31st. Any business open is paying rent while trading at about 10% for at least the next month. The moratorium incentivises landlords to engage and be fair.
  • We support Bristol City Council in calling for clarity around our exit strategy, and a realistic assessment of whether lockdown is likely to end on December 2nd. Re-opening in 4-weeks means we start planning now. We urgently need clarity around a realistic length of full closure, and what restrictions are likely to be in place when we get there.

Regionally

  • We urge the West of England Combined Authority to engage in talks with Bristol’s mayor’s office to agree on a sector-specific hospitality support package for the South West, which includes funding for an additional discretionary grants fund to help meet fixed overheads and to support those who can no longer afford the top-up costs of retaining staff.
  • We ask that you extend sector business rate relief for those who need it

Signed for and on behalf of the Bristol Food Union by Executive Director, Aine Morris and Non-Exec Directors, Martino Burgess, Steve Ashworth, Dominic Borel of Bianchis Group, Kieran Waite of Season & Taste Group, Tessa Lidstone of Box-e Restaurant, James Koch of the Gallimaufry, and Benjamin Pryor of Poco Restaurant