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Chloe Shakesby

"Industries cannot be held in limbo": Businesses react to lockdown roadmap delay

Business leaders across the UK have reacted to the news that final lockdown restrictions will remain in place for an additional four weeks.

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday that the remaining restrictions in place across the country - including the continued closure of nightlife businesses, £travel restrictions and capacity limits for hospitality and event venues.

The measures were originally slated to lift on June 21, but that date has been delayed by four weeks until July 19, with the government citing the rise in the delta variant of coronavirus as the reason for increased caution.

Figures from across the business community commented on what the delay could mean, with calls for extended financial support from the government to clearer definite guidelines on when restrictions will lift.

Michael Kill, Night Time Industries Association

“Night time economy businesses have waited patiently for their opportunity to open for over 15 months, many have not survived, some are on a financial cliff edge, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost, a huge pool of talent has been swept away and others have been left to suffer extreme financial hardship.

“We should not underestimate the importance of June 21 to these businesses, employees, entertainers and freelancers, a day when they should be given back there opportunity to trade, regain their livelihoods, careers, social well being and the day that the Government is due to give culture back to the UK.

“Many of these businesses and individuals have adapted, overcome and survived for an exceptional length of time with the bare bones of support, and have arrived at this opportunity to find that it could be ripped away from them.

“Any delay will drive confidence in the sector to a new low, culminating in workforce leaving the sector, and customers who are starved of social engagement, attending illegal unregulated events in place of businesses that are well operated, licensed and regulated.

“These businesses are overburdened with debt, so any decision to delay will make them heavily reliant on the government to extend financial support and relief, including additional restriction grants, exclusion from furlough contributions, extension of loan repayment holiday for CBILS/BBS as well as business rates and VAT relief for the next 12 months, not forgetting the £2.6bn in commercial rent debt left unresolved.

“The government must understand the human impact of this decision, not only considering the public health challenges of the virus but also the people within our sector who are suffering terribly and the real health risks that this represents, given the overwhelming confidence in the vaccination rollout, and the ability for the sector to deliver Covid safe environments.

“Distressed industries cannot continue to be held in limbo, as businesses are left to fall, any decision to delay without clarity on when they can open will leave us no other option but to challenge the government, standing alongside many other industries who have been locked down or restricted from opening for an extreme length of time, through no fault of their own, and at their own cost.”

Andy Chamberlain, Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed

“The delay to the easing of lockdown restrictions will be another sharp blow to freelancer-dominated industries such as events, the night-time economy and the creative sector.

“These are industries where you can find many of the million freelancers who are still excluded from support and the delay will make matters even worse for them.

“These sectors have been pummelled by the financial damage of the pandemic, and many freelancers working in these areas are running on fumes and taking on debt just to get by.

“Although there may be a clear case for delaying the easing of restrictions, government must match this with further and more targeted support to these devastated sectors and the freelancers who work in them.

“We are urging government to introduce a sectoral support and stimulus package to protect the most affected sectors: to support them through the continuing restrictions and also enable them to get back on their feet quickly when the economy reopens.

“These are some of the biggest sectors for freelancers, and some of the most significant for the UK economy: they must not be an afterthought in the government’s roadmap.”

Claire Walker, British Chambers of Commerce

“Businesses will be disappointed by this setback to the reopening in England. This delay to the removal of restrictions will come as a hammer blow to those firms who must remain closed, and to those who continue to see their ability to trade severely restricted.

“Many firms have fought incredibly hard to stay afloat throughout the pandemic and are struggling with the damage done to their cashflow and revenue.

“They are desperate to play their part in the recovery. We must ensure they receive the support, and the clarity, that will give them a chance to do that.

“It would be extraordinary if we saw government retracting support to businesses now, given that some firms will remain unable to fully trade and others effectively forced not to trade at all.”

Mike Cherry, Federation of Small Businesses

“So many small businesses will have been waiting for June 21 with bated breath as their chance to be fully operative without most of the restrictions and closures that have dogged us for much of the past 15 months.

“But despite a successful vaccine programme and all the best efforts from small firms, they will be bitterly disappointed to find they face at least another month of restrictions.

“For many people, it probably feels like life has been getting back to normal. But take a moment to remember that some small businesses, for example nightclubs, have remained closed throughout the entirety of the pandemic.

“They have gone 15 months without income, all the while doing their best to support their staff, and they have now had their hopes of reopening on June 21 dashed. These sectors, and their supply chains, need ambitious and targeted support.

“It is fully understandable that as this pandemic evolves, the goalposts too will move, but many small firms who have been hanging onto the edge will be left wondering if they can survive further periods of restrictions without additional support.

“Previous local lockdowns were confusing and did not work, so we are glad to see that we are not facing a return to these today.

“July 19 must be the final date for when these restrictions will be lifted, it’s crucial that we also understand the impact that these delays have on livelihoods as well as mental health.

“The decision to ease restrictions for weddings will come as a welcome announcement for those involved, especially suppliers, venues and organisers who have seen the sector decimated over the past 15 months.

“But in all our talks with the government during this crisis, we’ve made it clear that support must be proportionate to the restrictions in place. These business support measures have been critical to saving thousands of businesses and jobs. But we now must push for more, at a time when so many small firms need that helping hand to survive.

“So, for others who remain restricted about how they can operate, these firms need urgent support. The Business Rates 100 per cent relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sector, which is due to end on June 30 should be extended beyond this next set of restrictions.

“Employer contribution changes that are due to take hold on July 1 should be delayed until all restrictions have eased, thereby minimising the immense financial burden that small firms are facing.

“Many who have been unable to open are now faced with paying back their Bounce Back Loans. Government should consider writing off spent Covid loans for the most restricted firms.

“Small firms need support now, they understand the need to take a cautious approach out of lockdown, but not at the sacrifice of businesses, jobs and livelihoods. So, the Government must act to prevent further economic casualties.”

Alan Thomas, Simply Business

“The confirmation of a minimum four-week delay in lifting restrictions is a set back for the entire country – but particularly for the self-employed and those who own small businesses. Of course, public health is paramount and the sooner we can overcome the pandemic, the better. Until then, millions of SMEs are set to continue facing severe trading restrictions.

“Our research shows that Covid-19 will cost SMEs £22,461 each on average. Over half (54 per cent) previously found reassurance in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, but it’s likely there will be fresh waves of uncertainty among the small business community following today’s news.

“SMEs account for 99 per cent of all businesses in the UK, 33 per cent of employment, and 22 per cent of all turnover. Put simply, if the UK’s to recover quickly, we need small businesses to bounce back – they’re the lifeblood of our economy and communities.

“Thankfully, the past year has shown that the UK’s SME community is resilient, resourceful and optimistic. As we continue to emerge from Covid-19, and in light of this most recent delay, it is vital we continue to support local businesses, shop small, and help small businesses survive and thrive.”

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